Vitaly Minakov will defend his title against season-nine heavyweight tournament winner Cheick Kongo this Friday night. Bellator will, of course, have its fingers crossed in hopes of a great showing from both competitors, but CEO Bjorn Rebney and company should be rooting for a Minakov victory.

Crazy, right? Maybe not.

First, consider where Kongo made a name for himself. Kongo was among the longest tenured heavyweights on the UFC roster prior to his departure from the Octagon. The kickboxer may have had success in other combat sports, but the majority of MMA fans know him from his UFC days. He is an ex-UFC fighter and always will be—that doesn’t change now that he’s fighting for Bellator. If Minakov is able to defeat Kongo, it brings a sense of validity to the Bellator heavyweight division. The popular opinion is that Kongo, as a former UFC competitor, should dominate the No. 2 league’s fighters. But if Minakov can pull off the win, it will prove that the Bellator heavyweights can hang with the big boys of the UFC.

A quick look at each man’s resume gives another indication as to why Bellator should hope for a Minakov victory. Kongo’s style isn’t the most fan-friendly. He mainly relies on his clinch game (cup check!) and technical skills. Kongo can elicit a boring chant just as quickly as he can fire off a knockout punch. Minakov, meanwhile, has plowed through the Bellator heavyweights put in front of him, finishing all of his opponents by TKO. Even if the journey isn’t as exciting, the end result of a TKO or knockout finish will always get the fans on their feet.

Bellator could also run into some issues down the road if Kongo is the heavyweight champ. Kongo trains with another Bellator star, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. But Rampage is a light heavyweight, you say? How long will that last? If Jackson loses to Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal at the upcoming Bellator pay-per-view, where does that leave him? Will the former UFC light heavyweight champ enter another tournament? Will he continue plodding around the light heavyweight division without a chance to be champion? There are only a small handful of opponents for Rampage at 205 pounds in Bellator, and, as Lawal’s losses to Emanuel Newton have shown, there’s no guarantee of a victory in any of those fights. Jackson’s commitment to cutting weight is also a question mark. How long until Jackson gets tired of making the cut and opts instead to bump up to heavyweight? If Rampage does move up and his teammate is the champ, it could lead to an interesting scenario for Bellator to handle.

Last year, Bellator debuted its documentary on Russian fighters, showcasing the infusion of talent from Russia into the Bellator cage. Prior to Minakov, Alexander Volkov was heavyweight champ. Alexander Shlemenko is the king of the middleweight division and Andrey Koreshkov may end up winning another Bellator tournament to secure another shot at gold. Tournament winner Shahbulat Shamhalaev is another fighter who hails from Russia. It’s pretty clear that the Bellator cage has become a showcase of some of the best Russian fighters in the world. Bellator loves to play up a fighter’s nationality, and it’s pretty clear the promotion is big on the Russian fighters. With Minakov as heavyweight champ, it allows Bellator to continue the narrative that Russians are not only great fighters, but that the promotion has a stranglehold on the talent from that country.

Sure, Kongo is a name that resonates with fans and he would likely be easier to market to a broader audience, but if a promotion should be good at anything, that one thing should be promoting its fighters. Given the fact that Rebney is always taking the stance of propping the fighter up over the brand name of the promotion, it should be easy as pie to make a star out of a heavyweight with a string of knockout highlights to showcase.

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.