Cheick Kongo, the former UFC heavyweight, will challenge Russian sensation Vitaly Minakov on April 4 for the Bellator heavyweight title.
Kongo (19-9-2) plowed through Bellator's season 9 heavyweight tournament last fall, knocking out Mark Godbeer in the second round and thoroughly handling Peter Graham in the final for a unanimous-decision win.
“Being a champion is something I’ve wanted for a while,” Kongo said in a Bellator news release. “It’s not about having it now, or fighting for right now. It’s about when I’m old and retired from the sport, I can always look at that belt on my wall, and know that is why I put in all the hours and made the sacrifices I did."
In addition to his two Bellator bouts, the obsidian-cut French-Congolese fighter fought 18 times in the UFC, amassing a 10-7-1 record during that time with seven striking-related stoppage victories in the Octagon. He is known for his stifling clinch and dangerous kickboxing game, but he never fought for a title during his time in the UFC.
Kongo, 38, departed the UFC for Bellator in the summer of 2013, in the wake of a first-round knockout loss to Roy Nelson in April at UFC 159.
Minakov, a decade Kongo's junior at 28 years old, ran his professional record to 13-0 after defeating Alexander Volkov in November to capture the Bellator strap. The well-rounded Russian won the heavyweight tournament that took place during the summer, knocking out Ron Sparks and Ryan Martinez in the first and third round, respectively.
The former sambo world champion knocked out Volkov in the first round at Bellator 108. He is 4-0 overall during his time with Bellator, with all four wins coming by knockout.
Given both men's propensity for striking, this bout will likely be contested on the feet, at least in the opening minutes.