So often in MMA, Pay-Per-View under-card matches make an event worth the price of watching, and UFC 99: "The Comeback" should be no different.
This Saturday night, two highly-touted heavyweight contenders, Cain Velasquez and Cheick Kongo, square off in a match in which the winner may find themselves on the fast-track to a Heavyweight title shot
Kongo (14-4-1 9 TKO) is a veteran fighter who knows how to win three-round fights and is on a three-match winning streak, while Velasquez (5-0 5 TKO) is a young knockout artist who has yet to be tested or put on his back.
This is a great matchup of experience and unknown potential, hopeful hype versus impressive consistency.
Much to Prove
Many believe that Kongo, stepping into this fight on short notice for the injured Heath Herring, will have earned what should be his best shot at the Heavyweight title if he can defeat the undefeated Velasquez. That shot would come against Brock Lesnar or Frank Mir, whoever leaves July's UFC 100 as the undisputed Heavyweight Champion.
This is the biggest fight of both men's careers, but for very different reasons.
The young Velasquez has more than a few years ahead of him to prove himself a champion, while Kongo may not have many chances left, at 34 years of age, to ascend the mountain in the once again crowded Heavyweight division.
Velasquez himself has noted that he believes he probably isn't seasoned enough to receive the next title shot if he wins Saturday.
A victory over Kongo, KO or otherwise, still validates Velasquez as a true contender and not simply another product of hype, as some before him have proven to be.
If the win comes via knockout, Cain proves that he has power to drop seasoned heavyweights and larger men. If the win is a grueling one, Cain has the chance to display his decorated wrestling background and conditioning.
A win for Kongo by any means illustrates the necessary growth and consistency in a decorated fighter eager to become a champion and legitimizes his current win streak.
Velasquez seems focused for this challenge and showed no reticence in approving the change in opponent. If anything, his camp seems incredulous that Kongo accepted with short preparation.
Egos aside, this will be our first chance to see Cain Velasquez fight a man that he shouldn't be able to physically dominate.
It's conceivable that Velasquez's typical aggression could result in another quick KO, but it could also leave him prone to a powerful counter from an opponent who should be expecting that.
On paper, Kongo's kickboxing style seems to contrast well against Velasquez's wrestling and heavy handed striking. Cain has good reason to be confident in his power, as his record indicates, but may be better suited being more patient in this fight.
The overall key may lie with Kongo's desire to obtain that elusive title shot and how it effects his instincts.
Overlooking Cain and looking toward his next match would be grand folly and a mistake Kongo likely won't make. Though the self-imposed pressure might be Cheick's greatest obstacle in this match. Fighting the undefeated Velasquez will be test enough without also having to fight nerves and tightness.
If Velasquez chooses to keep to the plan that brought him to this point, he will be aggressive in his striking, which could overwhelm Kongo or allow him chances to counter very early.
Kongo's strength is in his striking and stand-up, and the more chances the kickboxer and karate champion receives to connect a big kick or punch simply means more chances for a quick end for the young Velasquez.
In Heavyweight fights, more than others, one solid counter punch can end a fight quickly, and it often does.
It could be great strategy, then, that Velasquez try to take the fight to the ground if the opportunity presents itself.
Yet, Cain has only fought beyond the first round once, and Kongo could use his size and strength to wear down Velasquez in the clinch or grapple, making the fighter work harder than ever before. If Kongo can use ground skills to test Velasquez's stamina, he could exhaust him and open up opportunities for ending the fight.
Velasquez is merely a purple belt in MMA jiu-jitsu and likely isn't very comfortable on his back, a weakness Kongo should exploit if an early KO doesn't present itself to him.
Saturday night's UFC 99 is a loaded fight card that features fan-friendly, "action" matchups. Two of the strongest men in the ring that night will fight to prove their worth—one as the present, and the other the future—in the Heavyweight division.
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