By Josh Stein on May 25, 2009
As he looks to take on Cain Velasquez mid-June in Cologne, Germany, Cheick Kongo (14-4-1) will look to continue his run at becoming the top, clear contender for the UFC heavyweight strap.
Looking for his fourth straight win, Kongo could very well establish himself as a top title contender with a legitimate win over a solid wrestler and demonstrate that he has overcome what many believe was his greatest weakness, a shoddy ground game.
But, the reality is, if Kongo does become a top contender, we will have to talk about more than just what he’s improved. At least, we’ll have to talk about more than what used to be terrible and is now satisfactory.
In opposing the winner of this whole Frank Mir vs. Brock Lesnar title bout, there will be a question of whether Kongo is really a legitimate heavyweight in the international scheme, though I imagine the UFC will work hard to minimize that. Given that the UFC heavyweight division seems to be struggling, it wouldn’t surprise anyone for Kongo to end up at the top of the ladder even if some feel that there are more qualified individuals on that ladder.
The more I look at Kongo’s record, the more convinced I am that he’s one of the top heavyweights, beyond doubt. Even with two UFC losses, the French phenom has yet to be stopped, or even severely beaten, in the Octagon. Both of his losses are by Split Decision and, while that doesn’t always mean a split bout (sometimes shoddy judging plays a factor), it’s fair to say that even in defeat, Kongo has remained competitive and, if he fought Herring or Marrero today, I think that Kongo would probably lay the beatdown on either opponent.
Outside of those two losses, Kongo’s posted seven UFC wins, including an impressive win over Mirko CroCop, where he cracked a few ribs early in the bout and kept pressure on, dominating the kickboxer on the feet the entire bout. The record includes five TKOs, many of which Kongo delivered with his brutal kickboxing.
What makes Kongo an effective kickboxer is his use of reach, but that’s not all of it. It’s also his use of tall-man skills, moving his head effectively, utilizing the jab and the kicks to deal damage to his opponents before mixing it up. He’s also shown a good clinch game, using knees (though, often, not targeting them very percisely).
The other arguable contenders seem few and far between. Shane Carwin seems a little too new to the division to get a title shot, though he may be able to take advantage about it, and he may have displayed some substantial skills. Junior Dos Santos may be coming along as a contender with a win over Stefan Struve, as well as the big win in his debut over Fabricio Werdum, but two bouts doesn’t really qualify him for a title shot, as he’s not going to draw like Brock Lesnar.
Kongo, with nine UFC fights and the best striking in the division, seems an interesting contender. After all, if he can keep the fight standing, he’s got a fair shot against any champion. Whether he’ll be able to do that against Lesnar or Mir is certainly debatable, but the capacity to win a title bout is what makes for good contenders, and while Kongo may not be the ideal heavyweight contender, with the small talent pool the UFC has to work with, they’ll just have to make due and, as the organization looks to spread into Europe, it may not be such a bad thing, as he may help them connect with those fans, but that’s a topic ripe for its own article.
Filed Under: MMA
About the Author: Joshua Stein is a writer and editor for MMA Opinion. He has worked as a photographer and journalist and has a number of print journalism credits. He also works as a moderator for MMAForum.com and a grappling columnist (covering judo, collegiate wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and submission grappling) for profighting-fans.com.