Cheick Kongo is not an individual you would want to meet in a dark alley. Towering over most at 6’4" and weighing 235 pounds, the chiseled physical specimen has been gaining momentum in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
With his UFC '97 win over Antoni Hardonk and his recent propensity for early finishes, Kongo has positioned himself for an upcoming title shot.
But, truth be told, the enormous Frenchman is neither deserving nor qualified to justify such an opportunity. Despite amassing a solid 7-2 record inside the octagon, Kongo has never exhibited the well-rounded skills of an elite mixed martial artist. Rather, the rigid and hulking Kongo has beaten mediocre competition and lost to very average opposition.
In 2008, perennial gatekeeper and journeyman Heath Herring was able to control him on the ground and eke out a victory. Even worse, in 2006, Kongo allowed a massively undersized Carmelo Marrero, who soon dropped to light heavyweight, to out-wrestle him for the win.
Don’t let his intimidating stature fool you; Kongo is not the destroyer that the media and fans believe. He is a very limited, over hyped fighter whose marketable look and features outweigh his actual skills. Primarily a kick boxer, Kongo has great leg kicks, a rocket straight right, and, typically, a reach advantage that he uses well, but that’s where his accolades end.
Kongo keeps his hands low, has poor head movement and footwork, a suspect take down defense, and no ground skills whatsoever. To worsen matters, he has been responsible for numerous snooze fests, like his lackluster battles against Mirko Cro Cop, Assuerio Silva, Herring, and Marrero. The fact that he is even considered a top contender speaks to a much large issue.
The issue is the UFC’s heavyweight division needs a little life thrust into it. There are the recognizable stars in Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir, the fading stars in Randy Couture and Antonio Nogueiera, the up-and-comers in Shane Carwin, Cain Velazquez, and Junior Dos Santos, and, finally, the stalwarts like Gabriel Gonzaga and Heath Herring. All things considered, having only a handful of established heavyweights may prove troublesome down the road. It will especially be true when the UFC has exhausted all possible fight match ups.
Unfortunately, instead of developing their talent and cultivating the next generation of heavyweights, the UFC is content to pit their current up-and-comers in with the likes of scrubs. Velazquez fought a joker, Denis Stojnic, while Dos Santos was forced to battle it out with the underwhelming Stefan Struve. The UFC needs to accumulate fighters with the potential for future development like Brett Rogers, Dave Herman, or unearth some unheralded prospects through the Ultimate Fighter or smaller promotions.
Complicating matters further has been the UFC’s inability to maintain their roster. Losing guys like Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski, and Fabricio Werdum hurt the divisions’ credibility. Being unable to lure big names like Fedor Emilanenko and Alistair Overeem thins the division additionally. It also allows mid-tier fighters like Kongo to make a name for themselves.
After two recent undeserving title challengers in Patrick Cote and Thales Leites, the UFC needs to ensure that only the best fight for their prestigious belts. Until Kongo impressively beats an opponent of note, he better check himself before he wrecks himself.