By Oliver Insixiengmay:
Chants of “Zombie, zombie, zombie” erupted from the crowd and surrounded the octagon during Chan Sung Jung’s encounter with Dustin Poirier. Chan Sung Jung, more familiarly and popularly known under the moniker “The Korean Zombie,” has garnered a remarkable amount of popularity over the past year. This can be accredited to his exciting fight style which is a symphony of great technique, complimented with an unrelenting aggression. He takes many risks, continuously pushes forward, and is always looking for the finish. Because of this, his fights end up being very high paced and frenetically action packed. His victory over Poirier served as another example of this as he walked away with Fight of the Night honors and sparked debate over another potential Fight of the Year. To oversimplify it, Jung swings for the fences and fights with a complete disregard for his own safety, and that is something fans have come to respect and appreciate.
While the chants of “Zombie” reflect Jung’s rising popularity, it also carries broader implications in regards to the changing landscape of mixed martial arts for foreign and international fighters. The chants in support of the Korean Zombie provide commentary on the growing acceptance of foreign fighters in the mixed martial arts community, in particular America’s. It is not uncommon for foreign fighters to be greeted with chants of “USA” when paired against an American fighter. While there is nothing wrong with the vocalization of patriotism and being prideful, it does expose the bias held by fans against foreign fighters and often seems inappropriate in regards to the context of the fight occurring. While some fighters do carry the national pride of representing their country, what seems more sensible to be noted and appreciated is the courage of the fighters that step into the octagon, the brilliant techniques being showcased, and the merits of the fight and individual fighters.
The sport of mixed martial arts is very pluralistic sport that encompasses traditions and techniques from all across the globe. That is one of the beautiful assets of the sport. It has roots that are implanted all over the face of the planet and consequentially, has competitors and practitioners from a large and diverse field of avenues.
This American bias, however, acts as an obstacle that impedes the growth of foreign fighters hoping to enter the scene. The marketability of foreign fighters from lesser known regions proves to be more difficult and is impacting on the expansion of mixed martial arts within their individual countries. While countries such as Brazil have already established themselves as a hotbed for mixed martial arts through their large number of successful fighters, developing nations in the sport such as South Korea, China, and Afghanistan still struggle to cement their place in the mixed martial arts world. While open mindedness exists within the American audience, these struggles are inevitably exacerbated by the unwelcoming portion of the American audience that continue to chant “USA” against any non-American fighter.
That is why the chants of “Zombie” in his match with the American Poirier prove to be significant, granted, chants of “USA” still rained down against him but not in equivalent size. These chants for Jung were significant because they mark the growing acceptance and support of foreign fighters and display The Korean Zombie breaking the barriers of race. Instead of being cheered against for his nationality, the audience saw him as a fighter and vocalized their appreciation for his aggressive fighting spirit. This has heavy implications for other foreign fighters and demonstrates mixed martial art’s growing landscape and transformation into a more diverse and welcoming audience. Additionally, perhaps the chants given to Jung by the American audience will inspire and invite more international fighters to enter the scene.
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