Chan Sung Jung and Dennis Bermudez figure out if the wait for the undead was worth it this February 4, 2017 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
One sentence summary
David: The Korean Zombie returns to find out if his career is directed by George Romero, or Zack Snyder remaking a Romero film.
Phil: We find out whether KZ rotted or evolved in his time away, in an appropriately blood-spattered action fight.
Record: Korean Zombie 14-4 Dennis Bermudez 16-5
Odds: Korean Zombie +170 Dennis Bermudez -200
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: Chan Sung Jung. How we’ve missed you. He had a tough WEC career (following up a silly decision loss thanks to clueless judging with a KO to George Roop of all people) but his UFC stint blossomed into something better than PPV curtain jerker. He’s been away thanks to South Korea’s mandatory military service. Could all countries use this? Could all countries use this form of conscription so that it’s not just 1% of the population that does “the fighting”? Might this assist in the psychological gauge of a nation’s approach to foreign policy, and keep the gap between how we think of foreign and domestic interactions as more closely aligned? Or am I getting ahead of myself? For selfish reasons, Jung’s absence sucked, but he left with grace. Now it’s just a question of whether or not that grace has made him a better fighter, or a rusty one. Bermudez is nothing if not a stuxnet of four ounce baby gloved violence.
Phil: KZ managed to get as much weirdness packed into his WEC career as (undead) humanly possible. 7-second KO over Hominick? FOTY brawl against Garcia? Twister in the rematch? The aforementioned time when he got punted upside the head by Redneck Skeletor? Even his title fight against Jose Aldo ended strangely. So it's appropriate that we have an odd, hard-to-pick but undoubtedly thrilling fight for his return. On the national service tip, I'm just not sure. England used to have it (due to his birthday being on the first of January, my Dad missed it by one day!), and in a bunch of countries which have either done real well in recent years (South Korea) with some of those which have... not (Greece, which is not only economically tanking but reportedly has the fattest kids in Europe now). Would it help our poor, confused younger generation in a way which vagina hats and Pepe memes can't? Who knows.
Only one thing to do. We need to judge the efficacy of national service by the available data, namely how well Chan Sung Jung performs in his return.
David: I feel like I’m as clueless as ever when it comes to Bermudez. He’s somehow more erratic than it needs to be, but as economic as he should be. After losing to Brandao, he went on a fantastic run and then got derailed by some quality fighters. His bouts against Kawajiri and Jason felt like symbolic steps forward, but MMA is unkind to metaphors, so whether or not his current success foretells future victory is anyone’s guess. This feels like a good matchup for him, but any single spastic exchange could transform the fight into a coin toss fate.
Phil: Bermudez has toned down his original borderline-insane levels of aggression into something more of a control fighter, but he should not be mistaken for any kind of defensive wizard. Those defensive lapses are what has kept him just out of the top of the division: a tendency to get close, but then get laced by an offensive specialist. He's basically Charles Oliveira filtered through American stereotypes rather than Brazilian ones.
What’s at stake?
David: Hard to say. Both fighters are in weird spots. Jung still has a promotable name and brand. Everyone loves a Korean Zombie, whether they want your brains or not. But he’s been away for so long. Maybe it doesn’t matter. He racked up fantastic wins before losing to Jose Aldo, and even that fight was enjoyable until its anti-climatic finish. A win for Bermudez will just be seen as “FW prospect beats up rusty Korean dude”. That may or may not be a valid Saturday statement.
Phil: Upward mobility is kind of a dead thing in today's featherweight division. Until Holloway heals up his foot he's not going to be fighting anyone apart from this poor bear and until Holloway and Aldo fight, the conveyor belt is not functioning.
Where do they want it?
David: Jung has an awkward approach on the feet, with his somnambulent gait towards proximity offense. With his left hand down, and right hand chambered from his scoliosis pose, he poses, in theory, a very open target. However, it’s a little bit of a smokescreen. Lunging in with his jab more often than not, he blades his leg kicks into opponent’s thighs with an Alec Baldwin-like malice. His overhand right resembles a bungee chord taken over by a poltergeist, and it’s all packaged in a Korean revenge film of submission grappling spoliation.
I think it’s there that Jung stands out among the elite fighters in the division. Watching his fight with Dustin Poiriererer again, I completely forgot how dominant it was. Not just on the feet, where he dominated the clinch, but on the ground, switching transitions (reverse sprawl!), going from triangle choke to armbar to eventual D’Arce. Sure the Twister win over Garcia was fun, and got all of the Eddie Bravo fans to light a bowl in triumph, but it still understates how much vision and ingenuity is involved catching it during an actual prizefight (make fun of Garcia all you want, but he has an okay grappling pedigree for a fighter of his caliber).
Phil: Like Bermudez, one of the interesting things about Jung is that he started becoming far more measured and strategic over time. The Twister win is interesting not only for the pure technical details and the wince-inducing thought of a spine-lock submission, but because KZ went for the takedown with such alacrity in the rematch of a fight where they'd both dusted the cage with their own brain cells for 15 minutes. The Hominick KO demonstrated clean counterpunching rather than winging brawling, and the Aldo fight was almost shockingly measured. So we have an interesting thought: if KZ became more measured over time, is that better in a Dennis Bermudez fight... or worse? Just flinging out tons of offense probably isn't a bad way to fight Bermudez at all (see Stephens, Jeremy), but if he tries to play a more thoughtful approach, does that give Bermudez time to set up his takedowns?
David: Bermudez started out as the Greco-Roman version of Diego Brandao; a loose canon with skill, and will, but rough around the edges. Since then he’s smoothed out his striking, making for an attack that is seamless instead of aimless. Last time you described his change as “like a train running away down the tracks rather than as a truck careening out of control”, and I don’t know anyone that can top that analogy. He chambers a brutal overhand right, and with access to uppercuts and chopping leg kicks to transition into takedowns, he’s now a committed fighter of propulsion. His transformation into Gilbert Melendez isn’t complete though. Like some clone gone wrong, right down to the eponymous Reebok misspelling, he lacks the awareness to forego transition fighting in favor of advantages he’s already laid the foundation for, be it with his wrestling or boxing (see the Jason fight for an example).
Phil: I think Connor nailed Bermudez' problem in fights. He's not defensively bad in a vacuum, but as soon as he starts throwing, it all disappears. He throws good strikes, but his head stays on the centerline and he hangs around to see what happened. This in a way probably contributes to why he has to throw quite so much offense and phase-shifting: things like takedowns at the end of his combinations are likely thrown in not just to keep his opponent guessing, but to function as a kind of safe zone where otherwise he might be hanging about to get cracked. This in itself can become predictable, however: watch Bermudez duck his head straight into Jeremy Stephen's knee.
Insight from past fights
David: Watching the Jason fight again, you see what I mean with his transition awareness. He was blistering Jason with leg kicks, and had him bleeding from all four lobes of Jason’s brain. But a lot of his offense became punctuated by takedowns. Did he really need those? Because he has this image of offense as correlating with momentum, his NCAA genes couldn’t keep him from switching it up. As if “moar attack” equates to efficiency. This is feeds perfectly into Jung’s supernatural scrambling abilities. It gives Jung options on the ground, in the scramble, and even on the feet (Jung is pretty good with his knees). If he sticks to jab, punch, leg kick, there’s an obvious route to victory. And with his power, a knockout isn’t out of the question either. But the quickest way to lose this fight is retreating to the ground. Bermudez has learned how to better sequence his attacks, but rearranging and adjusting his attack is something I’m waiting for him to figure out.
Phil: The thing which impressed me in both the Jason and the Kawajiri fights is that Bermudez took on two powerful, scramble-heavy opportunists and nullified and/or beat them up on the ground. This is also reflected in Aldo-KZ: the story of that fight was Aldo hitting counter takedowns, and then controlling Zombie from the top.
David: I doubt South Korea’s conscription left Jung eating cheesecake and sipping fine wine watching Kim Jee Woon films. Still, three years, and all that cliched sports talk about ring rust
Phil: Yeah, it's the biggie. We just don't really know how Jung looks.
David: This is insanely competitive. If Bermudez sticks and moves, he has a clearer path to victory than Jung. Not an easy one, because Bermudez is flawed on the feet himself, but a path that’s easier to outline. Jung, meanwhile, would have to take Bermudez down, which likely won’t happen, and his striking lacks the raw athleticism of his ranked peers. However, I feel like Bermudez’ instincts play right into Jung’s wheelhouse, especially over the course of five rounds, which I don’t know that Dennis the Menace has the durability for. Plus, who doesn’t secretly for the Korean Zombie, casually or professionally? Korean Zombie by D’Arce, round 5.
Phil: The fact that Bermudez is becoming a better control wrestler is concerning for me. While Jung's underrated counterpunching and long-range game could give Bermudez fits, as could his general phenomenal opportunism. Flying knee vs takedown attempts is a very Korean thing to do. However, I think the more cautious, technical Zombie may actually give Bermudez more room to attack with his takedowns. Dennis Bermudez by unanimous decision.