Though Ige himself has become an MMA star, he still geeks out a bit about getting to fight Jung, aka “The Korean Zombie,” in Saturday’s UFC main event at Apex (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
It’s a key fight for both, because Jung is ranked fourth and Ige eighth in the deep and talented featherweight division. Neither can afford a defeat and both could use a sensational performance.
Jung has two decisions in 11 years, so Ige knows what he’s up against. This fight will likely end in a finish one way or another, even though Ige hasn’t been finished in any of his three losses.
But Ige said he can’t approach the fight differently because of Jung’s style.
“In a way, we’re very similar in that, while I know I’ve had a lot of decisions in my career, but I still go in there with that same mindset, that kill or be killed mindset,” Ige said. “I’m always looking to finish fights and so is he. Honestly, it’s a great fight on paper. It’s a great fight for anyone to tune in and watch on Saturday night. But I don’t approach it any differently knowing the way he fights.
“Honestly, I’ve been watching 'The Korean Zombie' from when I was not even into MMA. I was watching him in high school, going into college. I hadn’t even had a fight yet and I was watching this guy. So it’s pretty crazy.”
Though he idolized Jung, he’s happy that the opportunity to fight him came later in his career. Ige is 7-1 in his last eight and coming off an impressive 22-second KO of Gavin Tucker.
He’s matured into a dangerous and legitimate contender who understands his place in the sport and believes he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the best in the game.
“I feel like every fight I’ve had has led me up to this moment,” Ige said. “If I were to have taken this fight two years ago, maybe it wouldn’t have been the best fight for me. Maybe I wouldn’t have had the confidence or the skillset to handle an opponent like Zombie.
“But now I have the confidence. I have the skillset. I have the cardio. I have everything I need going into this fight. I’m equipped everywhere and I just feel nothing but confident. I feel great. My training camp went incredibly well, the best I’ve ever felt.”
One of the most popular cliches fighters use is saying they had their best camp ever. Fighting a trained opponent takes incredible mental discipline. They’re human, just like we are, and they have thoughts and fears and worries like the rest of us.
They’re just able to understand them and deal with them properly.
But Ige, who also manages fighters, uses his analytical mind to make that a fact. After a fight, he breaks down everything that went on, from negotiations to camp itself to the fight.
Thus, the next time he goes into his camp, he has a list of things he wants to accomplish that he worked out well ahead of time.
“I always find a way to tweak things and make myself a little bit better, and I believe I’m at my absolute best right now,” Ige said. “I’m 29 years old, entering my prime and here we are. We get to face another legend, The Korean Zombie, and I’m super pumped. I can’t wait to go out there and showcase that I am capable of beating a guy like Zombie. And that I’m capable of finishing him, too.”
That will be a statement if he pulls that off. A win over Zombie would be the most high-profile of his career, and a finish would be even more remarkable.
It’s nothing he thought of as a starry-eyed 18-year-old who enjoyed the Zombie’s chaotic style. But now, as a 29-year-old professional whose living depends upon his success, he’s eager to show how far he has come.
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