UFC 144 fight card: Mark Hunt vs Cheick Kongo prediction, preview and breakdown

Heavyweights Mark Hunt (L) and Cheick Kongo (R) keep their distance at the UFC 144 weigh-in on Sat., Feb. 25, 2012, at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Photo by Esther Lin via SBnation.com.

Every mixed martial arts (MMA) pay-per-view (PPV) card deserves a red-meat Heavyweight match up, and this it, with Mark Hunt and Cheick Kongo providing one hell of a cut of steak on the UFC 144 main card from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan, later tonight (Feb. 25, 2012).

There is a guy precisely in the middle of the pack in every division – too good to be anything but a favorite against green newcomers, but a likely underdog against the cream of the crop – and Kongo is precisely that measuring stick within the division.

Gifted with a great physique and crisp striking, he’s worked hard to improve his takedown defense, and he’s got an underrated top game. He’ll punish people with big elbows and wear them down to submission.

Hunt, meanwhile, is one of the best kickboxers from the K-1 circuit. He is essentially a throwback to the days of early MMA. Gifted with perhaps the best chin in the history of sport or kickboxing, the big-boned Samoan throws crushing strikes with an all-in mentality.

His ground game is, at best, a work in progress.

Follow me after the jump for a complete breakdown of the UFC 144 fight between Mark Hunt vs Cheick Kongo:

The Breakdown

Kongo’s career has taken a nice uptick of late, with his miracle knockout over Pat Barry, and a veteran-savvy dismantling of then-unbeaten Matt Mitrione, where his better sense of pacing and experience took "Meathead" to his first defeat. Kongo’s got a riddle in front of him in that it might be tempting to trade with Hunt and prove a point, but that’s dangerous thinking.

Hunt is a lethal bomber with a far less developed ground game. The litmus test is whether Kongo pushes his ego aside and takes it there, or gets the itch to prove he can finish Hunt standing. Better men have tried, and very few have succeeded.

The Pick

Kongo seems to be coming into his own as a heavyweight. His adaptability is one of his best strengths, and he should be able to do well enough standing, especially in the clinches, to set up takedowns.From there he’ll work elbows and positional improvements, which is the diet of stuff that tends to tire a one-dimensional banger like Hunt out. Kongo by second-round rear-naked choke.

Kongo via submission

Be sure to join MMAmania.com this evening for LIVE, detailed UFC 144 results of all the "Edgar vs. Henderson" pay-per-view (PPV) action. It will include blow-by-blow coverage of the Facebook video stream, FX "Prelims" bouts, and of course, the PPV broadcast. We'll start RIGHT HERE at around 7:30 p.m. ET and carry straight on through early Sunday morning.

See you later!

Jason Probst can be reached at www.twitter.com/jasonprobst and at jason@jasonprobst.com.

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