UFC commentator Joe Rogan once suggested that if MMA were a scary-looks competition, then heavyweight competitor Cheick Kongo would win every time. While I’m not sure that Kongo would necessarily classify himself as scary, the man certainly seems to have two separate identities in and out of the cage. The man inside the cage is not the same one cheerfully answering questions and asking you how you’re doing.

Yes, Kongo is big. Yes, Kongo is muscular. But what’s most intimidating is the look on his face. What’s that look communicate? He is in there to mess you up. However, Kongo knows he’s going to need more than intimidation to take the Bellator heavyweight championship from Vitaly Minakov this Friday at Bellator 115 in Reno, Nev.

Kongo (R) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

Kongo (R) (Keith Mills/Sherdog)

“I have a big night,” Kongo admitted to The MMA Corner. “I need to train like crazy. I should just make sure that everything happens on my own to be successful.”

The UFC veteran is certainly going against a sizeable test in Minakov. The Russian heavyweight has a perfect record of 13-0 with only one of those fights going the distance. All of Minakov’s fights in Bellator have been TKO finishes, including his first-round win over countryman Alexander Volkov, the previous heavyweight titleholder.

Even with Minakov’s tendencies to stand and bang on the feet, Kongo is fully aware of the Russian’s grappling background. Minakov is a black belt in judo and is a four-time gold medalist in the Sambo World Championships. Nevertheless, it’s a challenge that Kongo is happy to embrace.

“I’m feeling really good,” he said, adding that he had a great camp and feels good in all areas of his game. “I had a really good time with all the guys to prepare me.”

This five-round championship bout will be Kongo’s 31st professional mixed martial arts fight. The 38-year-old’s first fight dates all the way back to 2001. Kongo has truly fought some of the very best in the heavyweight division, and he can pride himself in being the heavyweight who spent the most time inside the cage in the UFC.

For all his experience, though, Kongo still realizes the huge opportunity he has in his new promotion.

Kongo (R) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Kongo (R) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“It’s the first time I’m going to fight for a title for the big show like Bellator,” said Kongo.

Yes, even a man who has wins over legends like Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic admitted that fighting for a title adds a little bit of extra nerves. However, the Frenchman said that even with the huge significance of this fight, perhaps one of the biggest of his career, it was still business as usual in preparing for the bout.

“I chose to do everything like normal, you know,” said Kongo. “I mix everything. I do the striking [and] also the jiu-jitsu.”

Kongo, who has competed as a kickboxer, is known for his brutal kicks and striking, but we’ve also seen him pull out some of his Greco-Roman wrestling training when need be. Perhaps we could see him surprise Minakov with some ground-and-pound on Friday night.

“I don’t want to be thinking too much,” he said, “but we will see.”

Cheick would like to thank his training partners, coaches, MPF Training Systems and Body Shop Fitness. Follow Kongo on Twitter: @kongo4real

About The Author

Zach Miller
Staff Writer

Zach is a Boston native and has had a fascination with martial arts since playing Mortal Kombat at five years old. He was introduced to MMA after watching The Ultimate Fighter 5: Team Pulver vs. Team Penn. A recent graduate of the University of New Hampshire, Zach seeks to one day become a full-time MMA journalist. In addition to watching the sport, he has also trained in Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, and tae kwon do. Zach has also written for NortheastMMA.