Cheick Kongo will be making his Bellator debut at Bellator 102. Early indications are that Bellator brought the striker in to be a feature fighter in the promotion’s incredibly thin heavyweight division, but would it benefit more from Kongo losing in his heavyweight semifinal match-up?

One of the two scenarios will play out on Oct. 4 when Kongo faces Mark Godbeer in the Bellator cage. Kongo appears to be getting an easy path to the tournament finals. Godbeer has only competed professionally nine times and hasn’t fought since March of last year. Godbeer also hasn’t fought on any type of stage that closely resembles the world’s consensus No. 2 MMA promotion either. We saw Bellator attempt to do the same with Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal when the former Strikeforce champ entered the Bellator cage, only to have it blow up in the promotion’s face when Lawal faceplanted after eating a knockout blow from Emanuel Newton.

Kongo was a big-name signing, so of course Bellator wants its big free agent to do well. Kongo’s name is very familiar with MMA fans due to his status as a longtime UFC vet who made his Octagon debut at UFC 61. The heavyweight division in Bellator has been without a star for as long as the promotion has been around. Cole Konrad was a talented fighter (or wrestler, at least), but his style never resonated with fans who never stepped foot on a wrestling mat. Likewise, Alexander Volkov, the current Bellator heavyweight champ, hasn’t attracted a fan base. If Kongo were to win the tournament and win the title, Bellator would have a very marketable fighter.

But, just presume for a minute that things didn’t go well for Kongo. Would Bellator actually benefit more?

The knee-jerk reaction is a resounding no. After all, the promotion brought Kongo in with the idea that he’d not only compete in, but be the top guy in the heavyweight division. However, if you dig deeper, the promotion may actually benefit more from a Kongo loss.

The most obvious bonus from Kongo losing is that it would validate the Bellator heavyweight division. After all, if Kongo, a UFC gatekeeper, can’t win the tournament, obviously the guys competing for the promotion have to be pretty decent, right? That’s certainly true, but it will likely take the second coming of Brock Lesnar in a Bellator cage for the promotion to gain some respect from the fan base in terms of seeing the promotion’s heavyweights as being on par with the UFC’s group of big men. Still, it would show that the heavyweight division in Bellator isn’t as bad as we make it out to be.

Also, if Kongo were to lose, Bellator would have two household names as a result. Did anyone know who Newton was before he nailed the spinning back fist against “King Mo”? Or did anyone know who Jacob Noe was before he beat Renato “Babalu” Sobral all over the Bellator cage? Of course not. But they’re now recognizable names, to some degree, due to those wins. The same could work for Godbeer if he can defeat Kongo. He’s not a well-known name, but that could all change with a win at Bellator 102. The promotion would then not only have Kongo as a recognizable name, but also Godbeer as a rising talent as well.

Finally, Bellator would benefit from a Kongo loss because it would force the promotion to bring in more renowned heavyweights. Right now, the two biggest names competing in the Bellator heavyweight division are Kongo and Lavar Johnson. They’re both seen as ex-UFC guys and favorites to make it to the tournament finals. But if neither man makes it there, the promotion will likely be looking to bring in more big names to build upon in the future. Bellator is, of course, always looking to bring in international talent. Although some of those fighters have turned out to be pretty decent, hardly any of them carry the drawing power (however meager it may be) of guys who have competed in the UFC’s heavyweight division. Look for the promotion to become major players in the free-agent game should guys like Kongo and Johnson falter.

As one can see, Bellator can benefit from either outcome in Kongo’s tournament quest. Bellator is entering the land of pay-per-view and will need big names to sell its cards. Kongo won’t be confused for a big draw, but he would definitely sell more tickets than any of the fighters on Bellator’s heavyweight roster right now. The promotion would also love to focus on international culture and fighters. Kongo is not only from France, but also trains at the Wolfslair in England.  By bringing (and inserting without a tune-up fight) guys like Kongo, it shows that Bellator is looking for results sooner rather than later. The quick return on its investment would come if Kongo can keep his hand raised in victory all the way to a Bellator title.

Photo: Cheick Kongo (James Law/Heavy MMA)