If you ever want to get under Chan Sung Jung's skin -- and lord knows why you would unless you have an uncontrollable urge to find out what it's like to spend a few months sipping your dinner through a straw -- one surefire way to do so would be to sport an outfit based on the Japanese "Rising Sun" flag in his presence.
You may recall the former featherweight contender's outrage earlier in the year when Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre walked to the cage wearing a Rising Sun-patterned gi for his title defense against Nick Diaz at UFC 158 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, back in March.
According to Jung, that just ain't cool, bro.
He contends the Rising Sun flag is symbolic of Japanese war crimes committed during the country's invasion of China and Korea during World War II. As far as the free-swinging 145 pounder is concerned, decking oneself out in a Rising Sun-patterned gi is as offensive as walking to the Octagon in a Nazi uniform complete with swastika armband.
GSP issued a swift apology following his faux pas, after a letter from Jung pointed out the flag's controversial past in Asia. However, other fighters, such as Japan's Ryo Chonan, felt the uproar was much ado about nothing.
Now, the Korean Zombie is once again up in arms over another high-profile mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter rocking the Rising Sun look, after he caught wind of UFC Women's Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey wearing a ZUFFA-produced PRIDE FC shirt that features the Japanese military flag on recent episodes of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF).
Below are excerpts of the letter Zombie recently sent to UFC President Dana White and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta (via Bleacher Report):
Hi, Korean Zombie here. I'm delivering this message on behalf of over 800,000 members of Combative Sport Café, one of the biggest MMA blogs in Korea. We have decided to take the time to speak up for what we know is right, because we do believe this is something that UFC management should absolutely be aware of. Let's get straight to the point.
It's about 'Rising Sun Flag' outfits. And our point is that this design is the symbol of war crimes, and that every single item designed after this symbol of war crimes should be kicked out of the UFC, firstly for justice, and then for the company.
...Let bygones be bygones? Get over it? Unjustified invasion, torture, massacre, military and sexual slavery, medical experiments on living prisoners of war and many other war crimes scarred too many people. It can never be forgotten. This is a tragic history for all of us. Furthermore, the Japanese government never gave a sincere apology, and is even trying to justify and distort their dirty, nasty history. Still to this day, so many victims are dying in pain, heartbroken, without being properly compensated
Perhaps it's worth noting here that the Rising Sun flag -- or Kyokujitsu-ki as it's known in Japanese -- was used as a military flag during the Second World War and is still the current naval ensign flown by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense force.
It is distinct from Japan's national Hinomaru flag that features a red circle against a plain white backdrop.
While for some Asians the Kyokujitsu-ki may drudge up memories of wartime atrocities committed by the Japanese military, for millions of contemporary Japanese the flag is seen as a benign symbol of their culture.
This makes using the flag on merchandise a particularly landmine-ridden issue to navigate for UFC, in that its perceived offensiveness or lack thereof relies on how one views complex, geopolitical issues.
Given the hornet's nest use of the Rising Sun flag seems to stir up -- and the inroads the promotion wants to make into Asian markets -- it may be a good idea for UFC to avoid slapping the design onto future merchandise.
As things sit now, UFC is in the position of either offending potential customers in Korea and China by keeping the controversial PRIDE FC shirts on the market, or of giving Japanese fans the impression they are siding with other Asian countries against Japan.
When you're a decision maker for a multinational company like UFC, it's always best to avoid being put in the position of picking sides in thorny international grievances in the first place. Whatever they decide to do, expect some sort of public reaction from UFC to Jung's statement over the coming days.