Interview! The Korean Zombie Talks
Q: You started out as a kickboxer. Why did you decide to switch to MMA?
CJ: I started kickboxing since 10th grade. Originally my goal was to fight at K-1 because I fell in love with Ernesto Hoost’s powerful low kicks and awesome technique. After training kickboxing, I went to Kyongbuk Science University to major MMA (note: yes, this university offers a degree in MMA lol.). That’s when I first trained jiujitsu and I liked it. Locking in a submission gave me a different kind of satisfaction from striking.
I never liked fighting on the ground, but once I started training grappling I came to like it enough to make me want to switch to MMA.
Q: If you had continued to be a kickboxer, what level do you think you’d be at now?
CJ: It’s hard to say (laughs). I recently sparred with Chi-bin Lim, Jae-gil Noh, and Min-suk Kwon, and I wasn’t on their level. I couldn’t keep up with their pace. Standup fighting and MMA require different use of stamina. In standup fighting you have to keep throwing punches and kicks. You use different muscles and styles for each sport.
Q: If you were a kickboxer, what kind of style would you have?
CJ: I’d say I would have fought like Se-gi Kim or Min-suk Kwon; a brawling in-fighter rather than a technical out-fighter.
Q: What’s your ultimate goal? Have you ever thought about moving up to lightweight and fighting in the UFC?
CJ: As of now, my goal is to fight in the WEC and become a champion. I have no intention of moving up in weight whatsoever.
Q: Have you seen the Penn-Sanchez fight? He (Penn) might as well be called the lightweight Fedor.
CJ: He’s just what his nickname says he is – a prodigy. I think his style of fighting is the way to go now. I emulate his takedown defense in training. I, like BJ Penn, focus on the defensive aspect of wrestling. It feels better to defend a takedown than to score one (laughs).
Q: What made you become a pro fighter?
CJ: I always wanted to fight since I was young. When I was in elementary school, I was the best fighter in the whole school. I did lose a lot of fights when I went up to middle school because I didn’t grow that much since elementary school and I had a size disadvantage (laughs). I still have that heart and courage of when I was the toughest guy in elementary school. I think that’s one of the biggest driving forces that made me a fighter today.
Q: That’s interesting. Any fun incidents you would like to share?
CJ: I fought a 10th grader when I was in 5th or 6th grade.
Q: Why did you fight? Did you win?
CJ: Back then pogs where popular, and the guy took one of my favorite pogs so we fought. My friends were all watching, so I had to win. I remember winning the fight (laughs).
Q: After you submitted Matt Jaggers with a triangle choke in Sengoku 9, you said something to the effect of “submitting is not a finish”. Do you think it is more important to win by strikes than by submission? Did you say that because you used to be a kickboxer?
CJ: No, I didn’t make myself understood clearly. Submission wins and knockout wins are all nice, but back then I fought in a reserve bout after losing my previous fight so I felt the need to knock my opponent out and make a strong impression. I just expressed my disappointment of not being able to knock him out.
Q: I’d imagine that you train very hard when you have a fight scheduled. What does your training consist of?
CJ: I train according to my opponent’s style. Then I do circuit training, and when I do it with my coaches, it’s hellish. They set up 7 or 8 stations and make me go on and on. It includes continuous circuits of exercises like squats, grappling dummy lifts, and deadlifts.
Q: What do you do to spend time when you don’t have an upcoming fight? Do you have any hobbies?
CJ: I don’t train all the time. I have a lot of spare time because I don’t have another job, and I don’t have a girlfriend (laughs). I don’t really have a hobby, I just surf the web a lot. I like to watch MMA videos on the Internet and study the game.
Q: Fans like fighters like you who fight an exciting fight win or lose. But winning is also important. Do you ever plan on changing your style to improve your record?
CJ: It would depend on the opponent. But I’m going to give the fans an exciting fight without losing (laughs). I lost my last fight, and I can’t afford to lose any more. A lot of people try to encourage me by telling me that you learn a lot from losses, but for me, losing hurts really bad. It’s much worse than breaking up with your girlfriend. The thought of being close to winning the belt always lingers. I really hate losing.
Q: The Korean MMA market has become stagnant. What do you think should be done to revitalize Korean MMA?
CJ: There has to be a lot of events. You don’t have to spend that much money to hold one. Korean promotions tend to make shows too big. But is it really necessary to hold an event at big venues when you can’t even fill the seats? A venue like Korakuen Hall, where DEEP is held, is enough. That’s why I think the last couple of events like The Khan and Neofight were just about right.
If there are a lot of events, interested people would come watch the fights. And these events could help find hidden Korean talent who are more capable than I am. This would in turn be a big plus for the Korean MMA market.
Q: I remember you appearing on a cable TV show called “Real Martial Arts Street Fighter”. It was well-regarded in the MMA circles as a unique program involving team competition. As a participant, what do you think about the show?
CJ: That show basically made me who I am today. Events like that should continue to be held. I had fun, even though we had to split the fight purse (laughs). We went on to win the tournament. And the flooring was nice and cushiony too so it was safe. I have a lot of good memories.
Q: There are rumors of a 3-man MMA event in the US. What are your thoughts on this? Are you interested in competing in it?
CJ: I read the article too, and it was really weird (laughs). I guess if you’re friends with your opponents you hold back, and if you’re not friends you attack whoever. It doesn’t sound like fun. I have no interest in fighting in that kind of event. But I do do that kind of training in the gym at times with my teammates.
Q: What is the training like?
CJ: It’s “group grappling”. Five people all attack at the same time and slap on armbars and kneebars (laughs). I do this from time to time; it’s fun and it’s training so it’s killing two birds with one stone.
Q: Speaking of holding events, let’s hear your opinion on the FMC fiasco.
CJ: The initial purpose of the promotion was so good. I even went to their website and posted a lot of encouraging words. But once the event took place, I was very disappointed. Hyun-gyu (Lim) and Dong-yi (Yang) still haven’t gotten their fight money. The promotion told them they’d get 30% after the first event and the remainder in the second event. But there hasn’t been anything since their first event.
Q: That’s very unfortunate. Is there anything you’d like to say to the FMC promoters?
CJ: Promoters have to understand the difficulties fighters face. To us, the fight itself is not hard but fun. But training all day on a restricted diet to make weight is agonizing. I believe the fight money is a compensation for these efforts instead for the fight itself. I hope they think about who’s in the wrong here.
Q: What’s the most difficult thing to face as a fighter?
CJ: Honestly training isn’t hard at all because it’s something I enjoy doing as a fighter. But I don’t have a steady income, and don’t make that much to begin with so I am a little worried about making a living. Also considering my age, fulfilling my National Service duties is also a big concern.
Q: Any upcoming fights? Is there anyone you’d like to fight?
CJ: I don’t have a fight scheduled yet. If I have a chance, I’d like to fight Hiroyuki Takaya.
Q: Why Takaya?
CJ: He’s a good striker, and he seems cool. I saw his introduction video with him in a leather jacket riding his bike and it looked so badass. So I thought “what if I beat a guy like him?”.
Q: So why don’t you wear a leather jacket and ride a bike like him?
CJ: It only looks good when someone else does it – it looks silly when wannabes try to imitate it. Plus I don’t suit that style that well (laughs).
Q: Any words for your fans?
CJ: It’s been a while since I have last fought. If anyone’s waiting for my next fight, please wait a little more. I’ve been lucky enough to win some fights and made my way to a large organization. As a fighter, fighting should be the number one priority, but I’ve acted a little spoiled and only insited on fighting at big events. Now I want to fight as much as I can and give the fans good performances.
Lastly, I’d like to thank my buddy for letting me stay at his place, my sponsors Sseda, Isami, Muscle Up, the folks at Forest Fitness, and everyone who’s supporting me and allowing me to focus on training.
All thanks go to mdhan for the translation.