At the end of the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), the make or break experiment for the UFC concluded with a rousing success. The fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar all but assured the promotion would not only survive but thrive en route to becoming a major sporting powerhouse.
Last year World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) was in a similar boat. Having been the subject of merger talks for years, the sister company plugged along on Versus with minimal ratings and paltry purses. The end seemed nigh for the blue caged promotion.
Before they gave up the ghost, they dove into the pay-per-view (PPV) game with WEC 48: "Aldo vs. Faber" and a lineup of some of the company's best and brightest. Much like the UFC does, two fights were aired on free TV before the paid portion of the event to help sway any fence-sitters who had yet to make up their mind.
One of those fights was Leonard Garcia taking on WEC debutee Chan Sung Jung and while it didn't have the same impact as Griffin/Bonnar, the fight -- two men giving their all, leaving everything inside the cage -- seemed eerily familiar and cemented its place in any "best of WEC" compilation that will ever be made.
Jung takes on Mark Hominick this Saturday at UFC 140: "Jones vs. Machida" so we'll take a look back at the "Korean Zombie's" star-making turn, a bout that made up in fun and heart what it lacked in technique.
Let's dive right into it.
The "Korean Zombie" opens the fight up with a stinging leg kick before stalking his opponent around the cage. Back against the fence, Garcia opens with a combination that misses its mark and eats a body kick for his troubles. He circles out, lands a leg kick, and circles around again. A minute into the fight, it seems Garcia's strategy -- hard to believe the brawler ever even has one -- is to stick and move, waiting for the right moment to land the big shot.
"Bad Boy" checks a leg kick and narrowly avoided a missile-like straight from his opponent while whiffing a left of his own. Both fighters crudely connect with right hooks and that's when the fireworks really begin.
Garcia is known by some for his reckless abandon and by others for his sloppiness inside the cage. They're one and the same, to be honest. "Bad Boy" often taps into that primal, visceral part of many MMA enthusiast's fandom with the way he swings his wild, looping hooks and sticks his chin out. For half a minute, Jung delves into that same territory -- a devolution or not is up to the viewer -- and engages Garcia is an all-out brawl.
Thirty seconds later, they're clinched up against the fence as heartbeats -- both inside and outside the cage -- begin to slow down. Only a minute passes before "Korean Zombie" begins to press onto the gas. Bullying his opponent against the cage, he lands punches and knees, forcing Garcia to circle around and once again adopt the strategy from the early minutes of the fight.
A huge right hook from Jung misses its mark but immediately a left smacks right onto Garcia's jaw, sending the Mexican-American to the mat in a heap. The crowd explodes as "Korean Zombie" goes in for the kill. But there's still some fight left in Garcia as he immediately begins to threaten with a submission attempt. Jung walks away from the fracas unscathed and with arms intact and the two continue the fight on their fight.
It's here that Jung begins to pull away from Garcia. His strikes land with more frequency and power and by the end of the round, it would be obvious to any passerby on the street which of the two men had just been involved in a fight.
The second round begins with the same whirling dervish that was the highlight of the first stanza. Swinging wildly, both fighters are looking to score one big punch to put an exclamation point on an already exciting fight. Jung controls early but when you swing as much as Garcia does, one is bound to land and land hard.
"Korean Zombie" is staggered by a big punch and loses his footing temporarily but is able to recover quickly. Midway through the round, after a minute or so of throwing leather, Jung takes advantage of a missed strike on Garcia's part and takes the Greg Jackson-trained fighter's back. Threatened with a rear naked choke, "Bad Boy" starts to work towards reversing the position and nearly does before his opponent releases his hold and both fighters once again go vertical.
The second round ends with both fighters simply standing in front of each other -- technique be damned -- and throwing just about every single strike each has in their arsenal in hopes of getting the other to drop. It's altogether exhilarating and sloppy, fun and clumsy.
The final five minute set proves that this bout is a one of a kind fight. While fighters usually start off crisp and tight before regressing into a survival instinct-filled brawl, these two men went the opposite route. Brawl first, technique later. The third round is almost nothing like its two predecessors as both Jung and Garcia opt to pick their strikes carefully and utilize a strategy beyond "keep punching and hopes he drops before I do."
Hotter heads prevail and that all goes out the window in the final minute as they're unable to keep from just wailing on each other. As the seconds tick away on the clock, "Korean Zombie" and "Bad Boy" stand toe to toe, both refusing to relent. They're not only fighting for themselves, they're going to war for the fans.
Punches miss more often than they connect, kicks only graze their intended targets, knees land but without the force to put someone to sleep ... and the crowd absolutely loves it. It's a culture that lauds fighters who "go out on their shield" and decries those who do just enough to earn a judge's decision.
It's why -- after three losses in four fights -- Garcia remains employed in the UFC. It's why Jung is one of the most beloved fighters despite losing the WEC 48 bout which was also his stateside debut.
Sometimes MMA fans want to see a fight. Not a contest, not a sporting event but a fight.
"Korean Zombie" and "Bad Boy" were more than happy to oblige us.