When Anthony Pettis went down with a knee injury in June -- an injury that forced him out of his UFC 163 featherweight title bout with champion Jose Aldo -- the promotion turned to Chan Sung Jung, rather than the consensus “next best thing,” Ricardo Lamas. That decision raised quite a few eyebrows.
The decision to go with him over Lamas even caught “The Korean Zombie” by surprise.
“To be honest with you, I thought that Lamas would have been the first choice as well,” Jung told ESPN.com during a recent media call to promote his title fight, which takes place Saturday in Rio de Janeiro. “But I’m happy to have been chosen.”
Lamas and Chan were slated to fight July 6 at UFC 162, but that bout was scrapped when Jung got the call to fight Aldo; Lamas is still awaiting notice from UFC officials when he will fight next.
It’s easy to make the case that Lamas should have gotten the nod to fight Aldo: He’s unbeaten at featherweight (4-0) since making his debut in the division on June 26, 2011. And Lamas is ranked higher than Jung at 145 pounds by both ESPN.com (fifth; Jung is sixth) and UFC.com (second and fifth, respectively).
Lamas is 13-2 overall and has impressive victories over two current featherweight contenders -- Cub Swanson and Erik Koch. He was among the favorites to land a title shot after Frankie Edgar came up short in his bid to unseat Aldo at UFC 156 in February. But Pettis, a lightweight contender, shook things up by tossing his name in the featherweight title mix.
A strong argument also can be made favoring Jung. After an exciting fourth-round submission victory over Dustin Poirier in May 2012, Jung seemed primed to face Aldo, before suffering a shoulder injury that has kept him out of action for more than 12 months.
While Jung concedes that Lamas is arguably the more deserving contender at this time to fight for the title, he is comfortable with being chosen. And there is a key reason, he believes, UFC officials made the correct choice in giving him the fight with Aldo.
“Maybe what made the difference were the stylistic differences. I think that this fight is guaranteed to be exciting fight,” Jung said. “That’s probably one of the big reasons why they chose me to go over Lamas.”
It’s an excellent point of view. Jung is the type of fighter who always comes forward and he’s very active inside the cage. He will definitely attempt to put pressure on Aldo.
During his current three-fight win streak, Jung (13-3) has finished each opponent. His second-round twister submission of Leonard Garcia on March 26, 2011, still remains fresh in the minds of MMA fans.
Aldo is favored to retain his belt, but Jung has the skills to make things interesting. Even Lamas expects there to be fireworks Saturday night.
“I see [the fight] going one of two ways,” Lamas told ESPN.com. “It’s either going to be a slaughter for Aldo, or one thing that we haven’t seen a lot of is guys backing Aldo down by continuously coming forward, which is what the Korean Zombie does; he closes the gap. When you close the gap, one of Aldo’s biggest weapons are leg kicks, those kicks are kind of eliminated.
“If Korean Zombie can continue going forward like he usually does, close the gap and turn it into a messy brawl, I can see him with a chance. I never count anyone out of a fight.”
Lamas doesn’t take issue with Jung being labeled an exciting fighter, but he has difficulty accepting that the Korean Zombie’s fighting style makes for a better matchup with Aldo. As far as Lamas is concerned he too presses the action -- and cites his featherweight performances as proof.
UFC would not have gone wrong with Lamas in the cage Saturday night standing across from Aldo.
“If you look at my last four fights, I finished three of my four fights,” Lamas said. “The only one I didn’t finish, I went into it with an injury. And the fights I did finish were exciting -- a first-round TKO, a second-round submission of the night and a second-round TKO that was one of the bloodiest in UFC in a long time.”
Lamas will watch Saturday night’s main event very closely. He wants the winner, hoping it will be Aldo. The champion has hinted at possibly moving to lightweight after his fight with Jung.
Being passed over in favor of Jung still stings, but if Aldo exits the featherweight division with the title belt it will leave in hole in Lamas that he won’t be able to fill in the foreseeable future.
“Let’s say Aldo moves up; I fight somebody else for the featherweight championship and I win,” Lamas said. “There will still be those people out there saying, ‘Oh, he’s not the real featherweight champion because he didn’t beat Aldo.’ I don’t think it will be as valid as being the champion who beat Aldo.
“That would be the best. Aldo is considered one of the most dominant champions in UFC history -- as far as the featherweights are concerned. Being the guy to beat Aldo would be way better than just being the featherweight champion by beating somebody else in the division.”
Lamas hasn’t made a fuss over not being in the cage Saturday night with Aldo, but he doesn’t want to be pushed aside again. He wants to be the next guy to face Aldo. But for now, all Lamas can do is hope that Korean Zombie doesn’t get the job done first.