SINGAPORE: South Korean mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Chan Sung Jung on Mon (Jan 23) said the benefit of a non-combat posting during his army conscription was a new and improved version of himself.
Shortly after completing his mandatory two-year military service stint in October last year, the 29-year-old was named alongside American Dennis Bermudez as the headlining draw for a Feb 4 event in Houston held by global MMA promotion Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Jung last fought in August 2013 against current featherweight (66kg) champion Jose Aldo - a long absence by any measure - but the man more commonly known as “Korean Zombie” told Channel NewsAsia he was “not really worried too much”.
“I did government work in an office-type setting, so I was able to live at home... I worked starting early in the morning and finished in the afternoon, so I was still able to train most days,” he explained.
“I suppose I was fortunate in that regard. If I’d been in a regular military role, I think it would have taken me much longer to get back into the Octagon (the UFC cage where fights take place), as I wouldn’t have been able to train MMA at all.”
Jung also said a combat vocation would not have allowed him to rest and rehabilitate a litany of nagging injuries - including surgeries on shoulders, wrist, nose and orbital bone - which, to begin with, were the reason for his military assignment to a desk job.
“I couldn’t train at full intensity, but I did a lot of work on practicing and improving my skill set. Physically, I feel 100 per cent better than I when started my service,” said the taekwondo, judo and hapkido black belt.
Jung will now look to improve his record of 13 wins and four losses against No.8-ranked Bermudez. “It’s not a lot of time for a bout like this,” he acknowledged. “But it was a good opportunity, so I felt like I couldn’t really turn down the offer.”
“If I hadn’t been able to train regularly, I’d be more concerned… But I’ve been able to get a full two-month (training) camp in and my preparations have gone very well.”
Jung (right) lost to Aldo in their championship bout in 2013. The Korean was knocked out after dislocating his shoulder during the fight (Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
THE FIRST ASIAN UFC CHAMPION?
During his time away from the limelight Jung also became a father to two daughters, and earlier this month told Korean media that with a family to feed, beating Bermudez would also be key to securing a new UFC contract.
Asked if this newfound significance of good health and a winning paycheck would see him deviate from his signature combative, gunslinging approach - which has spawned highlight-reel jiu-jitsu submissions, knockouts and fights - Jung admitted he would not know until his first step back inside the Octagon.
“My first and foremost goal is to win the fight. That’s all I’m focusing on right now,” he said.
Becoming a parent also harkens back to a time when a 20-year-old Jung graduated from university only to immediately embark on a fighting career, to the horror of his folks.
“Like any Korean parents, my parents were against me being a professional fighter,” he recalled. “But once I started winning and continuing to do well, they started to change their minds.”
“When they realised I would be able to make a living doing it, my parents became very supportive and now they watch me on TV every time I fight.”
Now into his 10th year of professional competition, Jung sees Asian MMA fighters as having made big strides in a sport with roots in Japan, Brazil and the US - but in more modern times, dominated by fighters hailing from the latter two countries.
“But I think, overall, we still have a long way to go,” he added. “There are a few Asian fighters who are elite level, but in general the skill level of Asian fighters is not as high as the Americans and Brazilians."
“I have a lot of improvement to make as a fighter, myself… One of my goals is to be the first Asian UFC champion. I’ll continue to strive to be a better fighter and make my dream come true.”