Most mixed martial artists have had years and years of experience. The average martial artist finds his calling in the sport upon high school or even college graduation. These athletes are faced with a real-life dilemma—enter the dreadful workforce or enter down the narrow path of MMA.

For UFC heavyweight Cheick Kongo, the dilemma was completely different. MMA was all Kongo ever knew as he began participating in the sport at a very young age. It was this addiction, at an early age, that has allowed Kongo to become one of the most feared fighters in the UFC today.

“When I was a kid, I was very interested in sports,” Kongo told The MMA Corner in an exclusive interview. “I started training in karate and kendo with my older brother at just five years old. I did a lot of different things. I used to mix wrestling and boxing all the time with my friends at the gym.

Kongo (R) (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

“The only problem, I didn’t know it was called MMA. It was really just a funny game between my brother and I. Then, many years later, I learned that in some other countries, it was a real sport, with rules and competition. I was already a good athlete, so that’s when I naturally embarked into the MMA adventure.”

Kongo’s 30-plus years of experience led him to one of the best stretches of his career as he was able to score victories over Matt Mitrione, Pat Barry and Paul Buentello. Kongo also would have had his hand raised in a heavyweight clash at UFC 120 against the unbeaten Hawaiian, Travis Browne. However, Kongo was deducted a point due to excessive grabbing of Browne’s shorts. Nonetheless, the striker had undoubtedly arrived to the peak of his career.

Trouble struck when Kongo would leave his home country of France and travel to Japan for UFC 144. In a main card showdown with Mark Hunt, Kongo had his unbeaten streak go up in flames as he was finished via TKO at just 2:11 of the very first round. He believes it was his emotions that got the best of him, ultimately causing him to stumble to New Zealand’s own, Hunt.

“I was in a good shape, well-trained, but my mind played tricks on me this day. I was in the process of dealing with things on a personal level. I made a mistake that is simple. I broke the golden rule of leaving your worries at home,” shared Kongo.

“People have to understand that a fighter is a man with emotions, concerns, and sometimes it is hard to deal with all this while still having the focus to fight. The good thing is that I am surrounded by amazing people who love me, care for me, and support me, no matter what,” said Kongo. “That has helped me a lot in my journey to get back on track.”

Kongo will once again leave his comfort zone as he travels to Calgary, Alberta, Canada for UFC 149. There, Kongo will take on up-and-coming heavyweight Shawn Jordan. Jordan, who is coming off his first Octagon victory at UFC on FX: Alves vs. Kampmann, will be at an overwhelming disadvantage in both height and reach. Nonetheless, Jordan has proven time and time again that he is one of the best finishers in the 265-pound division.

Kongo (L) (James Law/Heavy MMA)

“Jordan is a good athletic fighter with great skills. When I look at him as a fighter, I see a lot of the same things that I see in myself,” said Kongo. “He is in the UFC for a reason.”

“We have both something to prove and a goal to reach in this fight. I make no difference between a Jordan or a Nogueira. They are the same barriers to cross. You never know what could happen in this fight,” admitted Kongo. “The thing is, I am hungry for victory.”

When the Octagon door shuts on July 21 in front of a soldout Calgary crowd, Kongo will carry with him his late brother’s spirit. The same brother that taught him the love for MMA at just five years old.

“He taught me how to respect myself, how to fight, to never lose hope, and keep my faith in life.”

Top Photo: Cheick Kongo (James Law/Heavy MMA)

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