Lee YoonJun faces Kim WonGi at ROAD FC – Korea 1 on January 18, 2014. The up and coming Korean fighter has his sights set on not one but two division titles.
Lee YoonJun grabbed attention when he entered the ROAD FC Bantamweight Tournament as the first fighter reaping Chan Sung Jung’s “Korean Zombie MMA”. In a single night of quarter- to semifinals, he knocked out his first opponent in under a minute and earned many nods of approval as a stand out contender. Yet in his second fight, he was dutifully dispensed by MinJung Song by way of a very tight guillotine for which he had no answer.
Fast forward two months and Lee came roaring back with a vengeance. He was appointed the gatekeeper against a Japanese onslaught when he took on Takafumi Otsuka, whose record eclipsed his almost ten-fold. It was a brutal war that saw Otsuka eating kicks and punches that would shatter his orbital bone, and hand him a very surprising loss to the upstart Korean.
Lee’s year did not cap off there. He was handed Makota Kamaya, another Japanese warhorse with a record as impressive as Otsuka’s. Lee played a very different game this time around, choosing a tactical approach rather than engaging in infighting that might have allowed Kamaya to latch on to a limb. The decision went resolutely his way. Lee could now boast prodigy status and gained international whispers.
Eyes will be on him again when he faces his next opponent in a move up to featherweight at ROAD FC – Korea 1. MMA-in-ASIA spoke with Lee before his fight when he was preparing at the ROAD FC Official Gym. Coach Seo DooWon was nearby, and interjected some hilarious feedback during the interview.
MMA-in-ASIA: Last year you had a fantastic year, 2013 was really good for you.
MMA-in-ASIA: How does it feel knowing that there are a lot of people looking at you as the next prodigy out of Korea?
Lee: Really? I didn’t know. I won a few times last year, but it’s not enough. I need more hard training.
MMA-in-ASIA: Does it give you pressure that people are watching your career now?
Lee: It doesn’t really put pressure on me, but I will try to be a more exciting fighter because of it.
[At this point, someone nearby says “WTF” and YoonJun laughs. Seo DooHwan is also in the room, and he chimes in.]
Seo: So an English interview is okay!
MMA-in-ASIA: You speak English well?
Lee: No, no! [laughs] A little. “I want to…”
Seo: He went to Europe.
[Again everyone laughs, then we resume.]
MMA-in-ASIA: This fight is at featherweight, but last year you fought at bantamweight. Why are you fighting in two weight divisions?
Seo: I don’t want him to!
Lee: [laughs] I want to fight in both so I can fight more good fighters. If I stay in one weight division, I can only fight the people who are there. I want to be able to have more matches against tough opponents.
MMA-in-ASIA: Your fight with Takafumi Otsuka was really phenomenal. His record is quite a lot bigger than yours. What were you thinking when you took the fight?
Lee: Well, most people think he’s really good. But I thought there was no way I could lose to him. So I thought I could prove myself against him.
MMA-in-ASIA: On the other end of the scale, your next opponent’s record is not as , Kim WonGi, so do you see it as a comparatively easy fight?
Lee: No, no, no. It’s serious because he’s tough, very tough. He was lightweight and he moved down, and he’s already fought at featherweight.
Seo: Yeah, he’s a big guy and tough, I personally think he’s tough.
MMA-in-ASIA: What are your goals and plans in the upcoming future?
Lee: First of all, I want to get the ROAD FC Bantamweight and Featherweight belts.
Seo: Oh, featherweight?
Seo: Okay, let’s fight. Maybe next year.
[Everyone laughs, but YoonJun gets right back to business.]
Lee: But, finally, I want everyone to know about the MMA fighter Lee YoonJun!
MMA-in-ASIA: Your last fight, you came out as a free agent, but prior to that you were with Korean Zombie MMA. Can you explain a bit about what affected the decision to part ways and where you are training now?
Lee: It’s not a problem, we are still friends. It was just a business decision. There was a little trouble, but not big. I am at the ROAD FC Official Gym now. Why I’m here and not there, is just like business. You know, every MMA event has “symbol” fighters. Like Fedor. Or in UFC Jose Aldo. I want to be an icon of ROAD FC. I’m training with Seo DooWon and Son Jin Suk. Head coach is ChangSik Park. He’s a really good wrestler. He trained Nam YuiChul before he fought with Kume the second time.
MMA-in-ASIA: Who are some of your favorite fighters?
Lee: Chan Sung Jung!
MMA-in-ASIA: Any others?
MMA-in-ASIA: You’ve shown you’re well-rounded. Do you have a BJJ rank or belt?
Lee: White belt! [laughs] But I’m a black belt in GongKwon Yusul, the Korean martial art. Like Korean sambo. I was a champion.
MMA-in-ASIA: When did you compete in that?
Lee: When I was around 20.
MMA-in-ASIA: What were your strengths back then?
MMA-in-ASIA: What would be your strength now? Wrestling, anything else?
Seo: He still tries kicking!
Lee: But I do train a lot more in wrestling, because I want to use my kicking more. I train in wrestling hard so I can use my kicks more freely. I use more wrestling defence.
MMA-in-ASIA: Did you realize that you might have broken Otsuka’s eye socket during the match?
Lee: I didn’t know during the fight, I heard it after. I think it was from the front kick I threw.
MMA-in-ASIA: What is your game plan for this match?
Lee: Still kicking, but I will attack first. I’ll use my wrestling. This time is different. Before, I usually go out boxing.
MMA-in-ASIA: When you lost to Min Jung Song, many people were already regarding you as a fighter to watch, but he subbed you very quickly and that surprised a lot of people. What did you think of that loss and how did it motivate your next fight?
Lee: Of course I didn’t feel good about it. But I knew about my weakness before MinJung Song. The big point now is that everyone knows about it. I threw myself into more hard training because I had no time to let myself down.
MMA-in-ASIA: What do you think about the level of Korean fighters now?
Lee: Korean MMA fighters develop very quickly. Korean MMA is already at the world level. Really!
MMA-in-ASIA: Would say another opponent you would like to fight?
Lee: I can’t think about that. I can only think about this fight.
MMA-in-ASIA: What are your hobbies outside of MMA?
Lee: I read books.
[Everyone who overhears this starts laughing.]
MMA-in-ASIA: Manga? Books with pictures?
Lee: No no no! I like Bernard Werber.
MMA-in-ASIA: In five years, what do you think will be the state of MMA in Korea?
Lee: I think you will see more Koreans fighting in UFC. Champions also. Maybe one or two will have a title.