UFC 137 Preview Part Six: Cheick Kongo vs. Matt Mitrione

Cheick Kongo has become the UFC’s true heavyweight gatekeeper. He’ll never be good enough to challenge for the title but he’s just good enough to keep anyone in that category. Always on the fringe of being one of the 10 best heavyweights in the world, Kongo looks like the baddest man on the planet because he has a phenomenal look. If you wanted a fighter who looked the part of a world champion for a movie, Kongo is one of the few guys in the heavyweight division (Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem being the others) that has that raw physical appearance the image of a fighter needs.

If you wanted someone to actually be the best heavyweight in the world, Kongo’s not the guy. He’s always on the cusp of it, though, and loses consistently when it comes to elevating himself into that territory. He lost decisively to Cain Velasquez and stands as the only fighter to go the distance with the champion. Kongo was choked unconscious by Frank Mir and before that lost a close decision to Heath Herring (back when Herring was still a relevant fighter).

He’s good enough to beat tough fighters but is just a tad below elite in his abilities. He can knock out guys like Pat Barry but when it comes to the elite of the division he just doesn’t have that extra gear that guys like Shane Carwin, Junior Dos Santos, Velasquez, Lesnar, et al, all have.

Which is where Matt Mitrione comes in.

Mitrione is slowly but surely pushing his way up to becoming an elite level fighter and needs to be tested against top level competition. Whether or not he can hang with the best fighters in the world hinges on this fight; Kongo is the final seasoning on whether or not he can become a Top 10 fighter in the same way Brendan Schaub discovered against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC Rio. For Mitrione this is the final exam in the “Can you be an elite fighter?” fighter course that Schaub just failed and Roy Nelson is desperate to take again. How will he pass?

By making this into a grind on the ground as opposed to trying to stand on his feet with someone who is as lethal as Kongo is in the striking game.

Cheick Kongo may not be elite in all areas of the game, thus why he isn’t elite, but the one area that he has that makes him really dangerous is dynamite in his hands and feet. He’s vicious when it comes to striking and his ground game is underrated; if he can get top position on the ground he can unleash some devastation in that arena as well. Kongo throws viciously with bad intentions every time he can; it’s what makes him so dangerous but also gets him in trouble. Many times he gets in ill-advised exchanges that he can’t punch his way out of. His knockout of Barry was sensational but also came after he was nearly finished by the Duke Roufus fighter.

His aggressiveness gets him into trouble in this regard; he’s got a tough chin and can take a remarkable amount of punishment but Kongo has been stopped before. Considering the punch he caught Barry with was a Hail Mary type, that fight almost was a KO for Barry. His big stoppage of Barry is equal parts luck and skill. He hasn’t been nearly as lucky against Frank Mir after being rocked (Mir caught him and pounced) and Cain Velasquez never gave him the opportunity to breathe with relentless pressure.

Mitrione has powerful hands and striking, stopping a handful of fighters so far in the UFC, but he’s never faced anyone with the sheer firepower that Kongo brings to the table. If he’s going to try and make this a kickboxing match he’s going to lose; Kongo most likely will be too much for him in that regard. Mitrione is a bit of a brawler and if he wants to see if he can take Kongo in that regard he’s going to lose and lose badly. Kongo can take a lot of punches, as can Mitrione, but the one thing Kongo has over “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 competitor is that he only needs one punch to stop the fight. Mitrione has power in his hands but it’s almost always based off combinations and multiple shots leading into the final one that’ll put a fighter away.

Kongo only needs one punch.

The key in the fight will be how much Mitrione has worked on his takedowns. If “Meathead” can get him to the ground and keep him there, using top position to keep Kongo’s standup in check, then he can win a decision. He has the power to stop Kongo if this turns into a firefight but so did Pat Barry and that turned out poorly for him. Mitrione needs to stay as far away from Kongo if the Frenchman is determined to turn this into a brawl or a kickboxing match. If he can do that, he can take the fight. If he can’t, then he’s going to have to hope his chin is strong enough to withstand the unholy terror that will come from the French kickboxer.

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