When it comes to the dichotomy of UFC featherweight Chan Sung Jung -- a polite sportsman outside of the cage and an absolute savage within it as his alter ego, "The Korean Zombie" -- traditional American fighting behaviors like trash talking have never been part of his arsenal.
All of that seemed to change during an interview with ESPN's Ariel Helwani in February which Jung (16-5), speaking through translator and American entertainer Jay Park, accused Brian Ortega of "running from him" by pulling out of their scheduled fight two months earlier with a knee injury.
The aftermath got messy as Ortega (14-1, 1 NC) approached Park in the Las Vegas crowd at UFC 248 and slapped him as retribution for Jung's words. The coronavirus quarantine, which immediately followed the March 7 incident, allowed for cooler heads to prevail (in the form of an Ortega apology) and Jung to rethink his surprising shift in character.
"The reason why I talked about Brian Ortega running away from me during Ariel Helwani's podcast was because I thought my fans would enjoy the trash talking," Jung told CBS Sports through a translator last week. "I now realize that trash talking only puts me in stressful situations and I no longer want to participate in it."
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Armed with a new date to face the 29-year-old Ortega on Oct. 17 in a five-round main event of a UFC Fight Night card expected to take place on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, Jung is much more willing to let his hands and feet do the talking for him in the same manner he has previously done throughout his 13-year career.
Although the biggest headline entering the bout centers upon Ortega's injury-fueled layoff, which will reach nearly two years by fight night, Jung isn't expecting he will see anything but the very best version of the fighter who last appeared in December 2018 showing tremendous heart in a TKO loss to then-featherweight champion Max Holloway.
"Injuries are inevitable when you are an MMA fighter. There were times where I had to cancel my fights due to my injuries, too," Jung said. "I had a three-year-and-six-month hiatus before returning to the ring. Being away for that long, I could feel that I was lacking in sensation, but I knew that I was prepared and more than ready to go back into the ring.
"Ortega isn't the only fighter to have a two-year gap, and I know for a fact that he is not the type to experience ring rust."
In 2013, following a TKO loss to then-champion Jose Aldo, Jung announced that he was entering a two-year military service which was mandatory in his native South Korea. It wasn't until 2017 that Jung returned, looking as good as ever in a first-round knockout of Dennis Bermudez.
The stoppage win kicked off a four-fight stretch which carries Jung into the Ortega fight and seemingly on the verge of a second title shot considering his 3-1 mark over that span, with three victories by knockout. Even Jung's lone defeat since his return -- a fifth-round knockout loss to Yair Rodriguez -- came in a somewhat freak finish with one second left and Jung leading on the scorecards.
"While I was away in the military, I realized the importance of MMA and the role that it played in my life," Jung said. "I never take it for granted, and I have learned to appreciate every single one of my fights."
Jung, who also claims an impressive 2012 submission win over Dustin Poirier to add to recent knockouts of Renato Moicano and Frankie Edgar, credits most of his recent success inside the Octagon to the emergence of his family. He and his wife, Park Sun-Young, have two daughters and a son, all of whom were born after the conclusion of his military service.
"Before my kids were born, I fought simply because I enjoyed to fight," Jung said. "I loved the publicity that I was receiving, as well. Now, I fight for my family, and that is the only reason. Although earning money is important, my main priority is to have a happy and healthy retirement."
Jung refuses to put extra stakes on the Ortega fight by declaring it as some form of de facto No. 1 contender's bout, even though both fighters are ranked right behind Holloway in the No. 2 and 3 spots by the UFC in the chase for Alexander Volkanovski's 145-pound title. From his perspective, "nothing" is at stake at all, noting that he'll have to fight everyone in the top 10 eventually when he becomes champion, so stressing out about whether he faces them now or later is irrelevant.
One person he has plenty of respect for is Volkanovski, the diminutive Australian champion whom he calls "one of the smartest fighters" he has ever met.
"The world of MMA is definitely changing, both strategically and technologically," Jung said. "For someone of his stature and physique to become UFC's featherweight champion despite all of the challenges proves to me that he is a strong and intelligent fighter."
Although Jung is a deceptively calculated striker, his calling card has long been his aggression. It almost goes without saying that each time Jung steps foot inside the cage, fans can expect the very best of him thanks to the transformation which takes place from civilian to supernatural action hero.
"This may sound a bit funny, but whenever I get into the ring, I try to forget that I'm Chan Sung and repeatedly remind myself that I am 'The Korean Zombie' instead," Jung said. "Chan Sung is just an average guy. But when it's time to get down to business, I transform into 'The Korean Zombie.' That's why I'm so comfortable once I get in the ring."
Jung is well-aware of what fans expect from him given his reputation for blood and guts. It's something he traces back to his WEC days when he first believed it was his "responsibility" to give fans something to remember him by.
Somewhat ironic given his frenetic style, Jung credits his ability to stay calm and poised with allowing him to essentially serve both masters as being both a consistent threat for fight of the night without compromising his pursuit of a UFC title.
As far as anyone he believes is currently on his level within the UFC in terms of their reputation for delivering all-action fights every time out, Jung has circled the names of a trio of lightweight stars in Poirier, Tony Ferguson, and Justin Gaethje.
"Their fights are very entertaining, and they do an excellent job at grabbing the attention of even the people that know nothing about MMA," Jung said. "I consider those guys to be real professional fighters. It will be an honor if people viewed me the same way one day."