Two tough heavyweights will meet this Saturday night (October 29, 2011) in the co-main event of UFC 137 as veteran kickboxer Cheick Kongo takes on undefeated alumni of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 10, Matt Mitrione.
Kongo is on the heels of one of the craziest comeback performances in MMA history, somehow surviving while hurt badly against Pat Barry in the main event of UFC on Versus 4 and then knocking him out cold just seconds later. He'll be looking to halt Matt Mitrione's rise up the UFC heavyweight ranks.
Mitrione has quietly gone 5-0 in the UFC heavyweight division and after scoring consecutive knockout victories, he's finally ready for a major test of his skills. If he can defeat the upper level gatekeeper Kongo, he will be ready to take on the elite heavyweights in the division.
Will Kongo make his stand and declare, "You shall not pass!" to Mitrione? Is Matt Mitrione ready to take the plunge into that next level of competition? What does each man have to do to earn a win on Saturday night?
Let's find out:
How he got here: Cheick Kongo entered the UFC very highly trained in the striking arts which included Kendo, Karate, kickboxing and Muay Thai.
Kongo had a big 5-1 stretch in his UFC career from 2007-2009 but eventual UFC champion Cain Velasquez stood in his path. Velasquez was nearly knocked out at the beginning of all three rounds by the Wolfslair fighter but would recover and put the Frenchman on his back to pull out a unanimous decision victory.
Since the loss to Cain, Kongo has gone 2-1-1 in the UFC. For some reason, he was infatuated with Travis Browne's shorts at UFC 120 which resulted in the fight being a draw. His last fight against Pat Barry was one of the most memorable of 2011. After getting rocked and nearly knocked out on 2-3 occasions in a matter of 20 seconds, Kongo pulled off the ultimate Hail Mary by knocking Barry out cold with an uppercut-cross combo of his own once he got to his feet.
He rose up a couple notches and earned a bout against the undefeated Mitrione to continue to climb back up the ranks.
How he gets it done: Conventional wisdom says that Cheick Kongo would want to stand and trade with Matt Mitrione due to his solid striking background but the key path to victory for the Wolfslair fighter is to be unpredictable in his attack, mix in some takedowns with his striking.
Kongo isn't a great wrestler, but he's shown that it's a part of his overall game that he's put a lot of work into. He was able to wrestle Heath Herring pretty well and he physically dominated Paul Buentello last year. Matt Mitrione talks all the time about how wrestling is the part of his game he needs to improve the most in and he had issues when Christian Morecraft put him on his back temporarily in his last fight so this is something that could definitely work if the Frenchman can implement it properly.
If the fight is standing, Kongo will need to avoid the low blows and the pants-grabbing. He's built a bad reputation for all the points that he's been deducted throughout his UFC career so the referee may be giving him a short leash. He'll also have to do a better job of playing defense. He's been hurt badly in two of his last four fights and he can't afford to do that against Mitrione.
Record: 5-0 overall, 5-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: none
How he got here: After a brief and uneventful career spent in the NFL as a lineman, Matt Mitrione tossed his hat into the cage to give mixed martial arts a try. Despite never having competed professionally, he was accepted as a cast member of The Ultimate Fighter's tenth season where he was portrayed as one of the "bad guys."
"Meathead" has since shed that reputation with his fun-loving personality and the ever-present smile on his face, even while he's locked in combat. Mitrione dominated Marcus Jones in his UFC debut and followed it up with what many casual fans perceived as a "huge" win over Kimbo Slice at UFC 113.
He stole the show at UFC 119 with a "Fight of the Night" winning performance against Joey Beltran and then showcased his improved striking with a smashing first round knockout of Tim Hague earlier this year. In his last performance, Mitrione pounded Christian Morecraft for nearly two full rounds before finishing the fight last in the second. He's looking to take it to the next level against Kongo.
How he gets it done: The ex-NFL lineman would love to continue to showcase his improved striking. He's got great movement for heavyweight and bounces around very light on his feet. They key for Mitrione is to be not simply throw the same combinations over and over. Kongo has been hurt badly when he's been hit by strikes that he doesn't see coming. If he can confuse Kongo with his footwork, it could set up a big knockout blow in the stand-up department.
Kongo will likely be shooting in for takedowns as well to test Mitrione's ground game. He'll need to use his athleticism to drop down and sprawl quickly. Mitrione will be the bigger fighter on Saturday night and Kongo isn't the greatest wrestler, so as long as he's not caught completely off guard with a takedown attempt, he should be able to stuff them.
Fight "X-Factor:" The X-Factor for this fight is Matt Mitrione taking a major jump up in competition. Until now, he's only taken on lower level heavyweights, but Cheick Kongo is a legitimate UFC opponent who's only two losses in the last three years have been to the current heavyweight champion or a former champion.
Mitrione will need to be incredibly focused for this fight as Kongo will clearly have an experience edge and he's seen much more in his UFC career than "Meathead" has. This is a major test for the TUF season 10 veteran and if he can pass it, he could be a legitimate contender. Whether or not he can rise to the occasion will be a huge factor in this fight.
Bottom Line: Both Matt Mitrione and Cheick Kongo are solid strikers and if they get drawn into a stand-up war, this has the makings of a very fan-friendly fight. Even if this match goes to the ground, it will be an interesting exchange to see how Mitrione responds and whether his wrestling has improved to the point where he can pop back to his feet or, like his last fight, he holds on and hopes for a stand-up. This is a huge test for Matt Mitrione. We already know that Check Kongo is an upper mid-level heavyweight, but if "Meathead" can pass this test, he'll have the potential to be a UFC title challenger someday.
Who do you think will come out on top at UFC 137? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!