Former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar steps up on short notice to take on The Korean Zombie Chan Sung Jung at UFC Busan, in a fight that’s over a year in the making. The two were scheduled to face off last November but an injury to Edgar forced Yair Rodriguez to step up and take on the zombie in one of the greatest fights of all time. But this time its Edgar stepping up on short notice to replace an injured opponent and hopefully we get similar results.
This is such an interesting matchup because both men take on vastly different styles. As a small featherweight and an even smaller lightweight, Edgar relies on overwhelming opponents with his constant movement and quick in and out boxing. Zombie, on the other hand, is a bloodthirsty striker who thrives in high paced exchanges in the pocket and literally never moves backward. Neither man has fought somebody with the skillset the other provides so today we are breaking down how they match up and coming up with possible game plans.
The Answer to The Zombie?
With 25 UFC fights and over 7 hours of time inside the octagon, Edgar is one of the most well-documented fighters on the roster. This can be a blessing and a curse. Edgar can use the opponents’ expectations against them, but the opponents and their teams can analyze every aspect of his game and have many examples of how he deals with assorted styles of fighters. But at 38-years-old and on the last leg of his career, it would be surprising to see Edgar add anything new to his game. And honestly, he doesn’t need to. Even at the end of his career, Edgar is dangerous enough to beat anybody in the division as he proved in his surprisingly close decision loss to Max Holloway earlier this year.
As a small featherweight and an even smaller lightweight, Edgar had to fight smarter than most from his era to make up for his size, which allowed him to become one of the most cunning strikers in the UFC. One tactic Edgar had to perfect to keep up with bigger opponents is his liberal use of feints and fakes. Out of a long-bladed stance, Edgar will circle around his opponents while throwing a variety of jabs and feints to draw a reaction out of them. The constant circling allows him to take dominate angles for his strikes; the jabs help draw a reaction from opponents so he can counter, and the feints allow him to see how they will react to his leading attacks before committing to them. Fighters relying on feints and footwork are all the rage these days, but when Edgar was coming up in the early 2000s it was an intangible that made him special.
Edgar came into the sport as a wrestler and competed collegiately at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. But Edgar soon realized he needed to focus on his striking to compete at the highest levels as the sport started to favor well-rounded fighters rather than single disciplined athletes. He has relied on his wrestling background to win fights in the past, most recently against Yair Rodriguez. But now it’s about how he uses the threat of his grappling. Going back to his focus on feinting, Edgar is the gold standard for using the threat of his wrestling to set up strikes and limit the opponent’s options on the feet. Throughout a fight, Edgar will routinely reach for a single-leg with no intention of landing a takedown. This keeps the opponent on their toes and allows him to work off the reactions to his feints to shoot for a determined takedown later in the fight. He’s also fond of countering opponents kicks with a takedown attempt. Even if he fails to land it, opponents know he will attempt a takedown every time they are off-balance, which severely limits their recourse on the feet. Edgar is also great at striking off grappling exchanges. He will grab a leg or simply lower his hips and then immediately come up with a strike. Since opponents are focused on defending the takedown and probably lowered their hands, their head is wide open for punches.
Something Edgar should incorporate is the Shovel punch or what some call a Hookercut because it’s essentially halfway between a hook and an uppercut. It’s the perfect technique to use with level change feints and fighters like Khabib Nurmagomedov have had immense success with it.
Working off his feints from throughout the fight, Edgar now has an idea of how the opponent will react to his advancing attacks. Edgar is picky with the spots he chooses to come forward and usually doesn’t throw more than 3 strikes before resetting at range and going back to his footwork and feinting. The most important thing to watch for is how he mixes in body shots and more feints when leading. He likes to lead with a hook to the body to get the opponent to drop his hands and then follow it up with a rear hook to the head. He will also burst forward with quick feints to the body and head to overload the opponent’s reactions before he commits with a punch.
Something that should be on the game plan for Edgar is a healthy dose of leg kicks. Since his approach relies on being the quicker and smarter fighter, low kicks are the perfect technique to restrict the opponent’s movement and ability to react to his speed.
It’s also worth noting that Zombie’s plodding forward style leaves him wide open for leg kicks which Yair Rodriguez exploited early and often in their fight. He even threw in some foot stomps and low line kicks to the shins to stop Zombie from advancing.
A fighter so reliant on feints and reading the opponent is bound to be a good counter striker. Edgar generally chooses to evade rather than stand his ground and counter but some of his best finishes were started with a quick counter combo. Edgar has surprising power for someone his size which always makes me wonder what he could have done as a bantamweight. He doesn’t have a ton of knockout wins, but his finish over Chad Mendes proved his power should always be respected, especially against the chinny Zombie.
While Edgar’s game is built around his footwork, angles, and feints, Zombie’s is built on his pressure. He earned the “Zombie” moniker during his WEC days for his ability to trudge forward with punches while keeping a sustained pace and eating the opponents strikes like they are nothing. Early in his career Zombie was downright reckless. Sprinting forward chin first with wild and loopy strikes is never advised but it produced exciting fights which was enough for the UFC to bring him over after the merge with WEC. He remains a wild and aggressive striker but now with a much more intelligent approach. The differences were clear in the exchanges with Garcia and the exchanges with Dustin Poirier. Against Garcia, Jung dropped his head and ran forward with left and right hooks. Against Poirier, he jabbed more, mixed up his strikes and exited the pocket before the former interim lightweight champion could fire back.
Although these GIFs and Zombies highlights would have you believe he is constantly rushing forward, there are times he patiently waits on the outside. This was most prevalent in his fight with Yair Rodriguez. In that fight, both men routinely stood motionless in front of each other waiting for the other to make a move. It was nice to see Zombie be more patient than ever in this fight and realize he has to save himself for a potential 5 round war, but this won’t work against Edgar. We know Edgar will be circling around the cage all night looking for openings to blitz in with a quick combo before resetting and doing it all over again. One of Zombie’s biggest problems is his sloppy and slow footwork and I’m afraid Edgar’s constant movement will have him swinging at air all night. Hopefully, Zombie has worked on his cage cutting ability because we know Edgar is too smart to be pulled into a firefight.
The constant pressure is difficult enough to deal with, but Zombie also likes to keep his hands in a low and awkward position. Generally, it is best to keep your hands high and tight by your head, but Zombie does the exact opposite and carries his hands low and wide. This allows his punches to come in at odd and unexpected angles which can catch the opponent off guard. It also allows him to easily grab an underhook to defend takedowns. On the lead, he favors a simple lead hook to right straight combo, but he will also mix in the occasional body shot or kick. It would be nice to see him mix up his hands more instead of relying on the same combos repeatedly, but so far, his aggressiveness and ability to take a punch has been enough to find success in the octagon.
Since Zombie is constantly pressing forward, he often ends up in the clinch where he will fire off knees to the head and body. Something to note is how he initiates the clinch. During these chaotic exchanges, a fighter is bound to miss some or most of their punches, but Zombie uses this to his advantage. Notice on some of these missed punches his hand will wind up on the opponent’s shoulder or behind their head. From here he will grab a double collar tie and fire off some quick knees before breaking. But the problem is he needs to be able to close the distance to get into the clinch and that won’t be as easy in this fight. Edgar is exceedingly difficult to trap along the cage and if Zombie rushes forward with wild hooks, he will be able to easily time his strikes and circle away.
Zombie is usually the leading man which means he doesn’t get the opportunity to counter often but lately his counters have been the key to his success. He possesses a beautiful intercepting jab and again since he keeps his hands low, the jab comes up at an angle instead of straight at the opponent which can be difficult to see coming. In his return fight with Dennis Bermudez, Zombie won the fight with a perfectly timed counter rear uppercut that proved to everyone that he was adding new wrinkles to his game during his 4-year hiatus.
And of course, his most recent win over Renato Moicano was with another beautifully timed counter right hand. Notice how Zombie pumps out a jab first, waits for Moicano to throw one of his own, and then ducks into the overhand right that lands just over Moicano’s outstretched lead hand.
I expect most of this fight to take place on the feet, but I would also love to see how things play out on the ground. Zombie’s striking garners all the attention but his grappling prowess is just as impressive. Eight of his 14 wins have come by submission including the first and for many years the only successful twister in UFC history.
But when it comes to MMA grappling, Edgar is one of the best to ever do it. He relies on it much less these days but his dominant performance over Yair Rodriguez proved he can still go back to his roots and grind out a win with his wrestling and ground and pound.
Edgar is obviously not the fighter he used to be but that doesent mean he still can’t take out some of the top fighters in the division. He may be out of his athletic prime, but we have many examples of older fighters finding success with the perfect mix of having just enough athleticism left combined with their world class experience and years of fighting knowledge. Just look at Daniel Cormier’s career.
Zombie is still in his prime but his recent loss to Yair Rodriguez exposed many holes in his defense. He got very sloppy with his leading attacks in the later rounds and had no answers for Yair’s leg kicks. His tendency to stand motionless in the pocket also worries me against the always moving Edgar.
Edgar didn’t get a full camp preparing specifically for The Korean Zombie in this fight, but they were scheduled to fight before so his team has definitely done their homework on him. And unlike most short notice replacements, Edgar was already training for a fight with Cory Sandhagen next month so cardio and general fitness shouldn’t be an issue. But that fight was going to be at bantamweight so with this one at featherweight it will be interesting to see what kind of shape he shows up in.
This is a tough one to pick but with Edgar sitting at +155 on most books, my money is going on The Answer. I believe the crafty veteran will be too smart to play into Zombie’s chaotic exchanges and will be too quick with his blitzes in the pocket for him to counter or keep a sustained pace.
Kevin Wilson is a freelance MMA writer who specializes in pre-fight breakdowns and analysis. He has been an MMA fan since 2007 and has been writing about combat sports since he was 17 years old. His work can be found on Sherdog, MMA Today, and now MyMMANews!