Saturday's UFC 163 blockbuster from the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has the perfect concoction at its nucleus: one of the sport's most dominant and mercilessly punishing champions, alpha-featherweight Jose Aldo, and one of its most lovably talented brawlers in Chan Sung Jung, better known as "The Korean Zombie" -- who also has a proven penchant for defying the odds and peeing in everyone's Cheerios.
The general consensus is that Muay Thai machine Jose Aldo (22-1) will coast through this championship bout, which is his seventh-consecutive title defense since snaring the strap from Mike Brown at WEC 44 in 2009. And why wouldn't he? Chan Sung Jung (13-3) was just making his WEC and stateside debut the year after Aldo's ferocious reign began and, despite having a snappy nickname and being the catalyst in a Fight of the Decade slobber-knocker, the young Korean had nothing but a big fat donut-hole in the win column.
Even worse, the mythical lore of his reputation had been disastrously tarnished. The mythical lore of "The Korean Zombie" sprang from Jung's uncanny knack to trudge forward undaunted while punches, knees, shins and any other weaponized form of the human anatomy bounced off his chin like arrows deflected by an iron shield. With one crisp and perfectly placed high kick, George Roop thundered home a painful dose of reality. And if a mid-tier kickboxer like Roop can kill the undead, why wouldn't a perennial pound-for-pound champion and cold-blooded assassin like Aldo do the same?
The answer, of course, is that he can. The vast majority of common fight factors, such as top-level experience and offensive and defensive effectiveness, all tilt the scales strongly in the Aldo's favor, who will also be fighting in his own backyard and fueled by the raucous adoration of his fellow Brazilians. To top it all off, Jung doesn't have the commanding wrestling of a Chad Mendes, the pristine overall technique of a Mark Hominick or the lustrous history of unending title bouts like Frankie Edgar.
Well, damn ... does Chan Sung Jung even bring anything worthwhile to the table?
Yes. For starters, he erupts into an indiscernible propeller of highlight-reel-worthy violence. His electric boxing combinations consist of long, rubbery punches that loop outward with considerable snap; they're uncorked from unusual angles, they arc in atypical trajectories and they connect with an off-tempo cadence. As the auteur of the the first and only tapout via Twister in the Octagon, we can't really consider Jung's ground game to be under-rated any more, but it's still much more venomous and complex than he gets credit for. Perhaps taking its place is the firmly overlooked aspect of Jung's functional array of takedowns, as evinced by his authoritative 83% takedown accuracy.
But most of all, "The Korean Zombie" just has a knack for pulling off superhuman feats. Top-shelf MMA competitors are fortunate to exact one single performance that's deemed amazing or indelible, yet Jung has rattled off jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring performances in each of his UFC victories.
And regardless of his perceived chances on paper ... you're excited for this fight. Yeah! You. Fighters like Chan Sung Jung embody the reasons why MMA is like heroin to us. Whether it's because he's such a humble and likable guy, or you enjoy cheering for the underdog in the vein of Rocky Balboa or just love the palpable anticipation that something earth-shattering could happen, even those convinced that Aldo will steam-roll this challenger will probably admit that this fight is almost guaranteed to satisfy.
Real talk -- Aldo is the best striker in featherweight history and among the most feared in all of MMA. I daresay that certain facets of his style are damn near perfect, such as his stance, defense, bone-rending low kicks and overall striking characteristics.
Mentioning that Aldo struggled the most with Hominick, who Jung vanquished tidily in a mere seven seconds, holds about as much water as the MMA Math equation with Jung and Roop. The distinct uniqueness and unpredictability of the Zombie style has an equal set of pros and cons: there's no question that, despite his notable improvements with hand position, shelling and head movement, Jung's balls-out style poses some serious defensive liabilities. It's a simple and proven formula -- the more outrageously aggressive and offensive one is, the more their defense is compromised. Conversely, like the crowded population of lifeless cadavers on Wanderlei Silva's resume found out, placing yourself in the epicenter of a forward-moving gunslinger's wheelhouse is no picnic -- no matter how obvious the defensive holes or lack of traditional fundamentals may be.
The sheer speed at which Aldo chambers off his dictionary of Muay Thai strikes is one of his best assets, but Jung will look to compensate for that with a four-inch reach advantage (74" vs. 70"). Jung's noodley length also considerably complements his corkscrew-style punches, his frenetically paced stalking, his clever arsenal of trips and throws from the clinch as well as his serpentine submission grappling.
For example, Aldo's leg kicks have sensibly been asserted as a key tool in this match up, as they are in almost all of Aldo's outings. Jung's gangly proportions and counter-punching skills could pose substantial consequences in the form of return-fire via strikes and knifing into clinch range to threaten with takedowns or explosive in-fighting. Jung is not averse to pinging long kicks of his own from the fringe either, but, granted, they're not of the sizzling Muay Thai assortment and don't pack the same wallop as the champ's.
Perhaps due to the change in mentality from a hungry challenger with something to prove to a heralded legend protecting his legacy, it seems Aldo's striking psychology has shifted. In place of the double-barrel flying knee he blasted Cub Swanson with or planting his feet while endeavoring to relegate Urijah Faber to a wheelchair with leg-kick salvos, Aldo has -- quite wisely, I might add -- ratcheted his killer instinct back a little bit in favor of a more calculating approach. He's gone, though subtly, from the proverbial hunter to the one being hunted. Obviously, beheading Chad Mendes with a picture-perfect step-in knee shows that Aldo hasn't gone soft or anything like that, but he's definitely a bit more tame.
The point is that Aldo isn't really the one-shot killer he used to be -- he chops the tree down methodically, with a gradual and machine-like coldness, rather than looking to fell it with one fatal swoop of the ax. While still a tribute to his evolution and maturity as a fighter and champion, that volume-based style is a better fit for Jung and his trusty steel-cased chin.
As mentioned by Bloody Elbow Judo Chopper Connor Ruebusch, Jung has a habit of catching low kicks and cradling the offending limb in order to deluge his one-legged opponent with straight punches. Considering Jung's length, punching power and moderate height advantage (5'9" vs. 5'7"), that strategy could pay dividends. However, the classic reaction to the leg-catch counter is to switch gears and come high with the roundhouse kick, which can mean curtains if the defender drops his lead hand in anticipation of a low kick, only to notice too late that a shin is streaking over his shoulder and directly towards his jaw.
Overall, Aldo deserves the nod in this category by default over any featherweight in the biz, but that doesn't mean that Jung is without merit here.
This is a tricky section to assess, as Aldo typically looks to eject from standing tie-ups in order to impose his striking in open space, while Jung is a multi-threat in the clinch. He's pursued a wide range of trips and throws (with exceptional success when he has underhooks or the body lock), he's hung out in the clinch and worked rugged knees or dirty boxing, he's affected strong control with the single or double collar tie and also quickly released the hold, jumped back to create space and unloaded the cannons.
His slightly bigger and longer frame will favor him here as well, so Jung's size, diversity and unpredictability -- along the fact that Aldo generally looks to escape the clinch -- gives him a slight edge in his category.
This is not an easy factor to analyze either. Aldo's rarely on the ground and his wrestling is usually employed in reverse, and his takedown defense and defensive wrestling is nothing short of phenomenal. The Nova Uniao black belt is undoubtedly highly skilled with submission grappling, but the lack of consistent evidence -- and, as much as I hate to be "that guy", the time he spent underneath Hominick -- leaves a few questions about the champ's true grappling voracity.
Regardless, based on status of past opposition alone, Aldo deserves the nod here. (See? I can be unbiased.) However, I'm fine with writing off their divergent wrestling tendencies as a wash but I think Jung has the more creative, technical and effective submission grappling acumen. It's just like ... my opinion, man.
If fight predictions were based solely on accomplishments and tangible facts, this is all Aldo. Hell, even if you account for more subjective measures, the evidence points toward Aldo. It's why he's the most dominant featherweight in MMA history and a top-three or top-five candidate in the pound-for-pound rankings.
But ... brains. It shouldn't be a surprise that I'm picking a sentimental favorite and, if it is ...
My Prediction: Chan Sung Jung by decision.