Bellator MMA continues its ninth season today (Oct. 4, 2013) live on Spike TV from Visalia Convention Center in Visalia, CA. Featured prominently at the top of the card are two former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight fighters making their debuts following their respective exits from ZUFFA after a couple losses and in one case, a positive test for testosterone replacement therapy, better known to the unwashed masses as TRT.
On one side of the tournament bracket in the main event slot, Cheick Kongo vs. Mark Godbeer will fight to face the victor of the scrap on the other side of the table, a potential slugfest featuring Lavar Johnson against Vinicius Quieroz. Both can relate to being cut from UFC due to positive tests.
I had the opportunity to speak with both fighters prior to fighting in their new home and neither hold resentment toward their former employer. They are at peace with where they reside currently and acknowledge the fact that UFC has made a large amount of cuts lately.
Here's Kongo's take:
"That's the UFC policy, of course I could probably be mad, be mad with the decision, I gave so much time to UFC but somewhere they should let us know what is going on. But you know that's the rules. We are the munchkin model, in UFC's desk. They want something X-rated and crazy from the fighters. I could say they take the good part of us, when we are doing very well, then they throw us in the trash when we make a mistake."
This eventually led to his deal with Viacom-owned promotion Bellator, the deal the two sides reached Kongo insists is for a "bunch of fights."
"Bellator came to me and proposed something. I said 'Yeah, why not?' Of course UFC is the good one, the best one, but as I think back, I didn't get what I was expecting [from UFC]. Bellator is Bellator, UFC is UFC -- I was more confident with the project Bellator proposed, UFC had the better deal, but with what I was expecting from them I wasn't happy, so I chose Bellator."
While Kongo's situation is more vague and open to interpretation, "Big" made it clear earlier this week his release stemmed from the positive test for TRT post UFC 157 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., where he lost in a particularly frustrating fight against Brendan Schaub.
A fight Johnson takes all the blame for, although Schaub didn't live up to his pre-fight promises.
"Schaub did what he had to do to win, even though he said he wanted to stand and bang, prove to the world he has a chin, he did not do that. It is what it is. I was coming off of two losses, then the drug pop for the TRT because I didn't disclose it, so they let me go. I don't think they would have let me go had I not tested positive. But you never know, they are letting go of a lot of people."
So why didn't he disclose the fact he was undergoing the TRT procedure to the California State Athletic Commission?
"All the controversy going around it, I didn't want to look like I needed it, it is frowned upon. I had taken such low amounts my doctor told me I wouldn't have elevated levels."
Even though TRT did cost him his spot in UFC, I asked Johnson whether the positives of the heavily-debated therapy outweigh the obvious downfalls:
"I think the positive of it outweigh the negatives. I am not on it right now, I want to prove I don't need TRT to win a fight; however, it does help me with my training. We will see how it goes after this fight."
It is worth noting the 38-year-old Kongo said he would "never" use TRT, regardless of the situation.
With both admittedly getting up there in years, and a recent surge of former UFC fighters ending up in Bellator, I asked both heavyweights if fans can expect something similar to the Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Houston Alexander debacle we witnessed at Bellator 99.
While both had the same opinion, Johnson had a strong response and no French accent:
"I didn't see it but I heard it was hella' boring. If you're in there you better be throwing them, why waste time, I don't want to fight for 15 minutes, my job is to go in there and bang. I am 36 years old, I'm at the end of my career, not going to be on any Wheaties box, probably not going to be the main heavyweight champion of the world or anything like that. My job is to let my hands go and try and knock somebody out. Not gonna be standing around looking at each other, that is for damn sure."
Both combatants are looking to quickly dispel of their opponents tonight, a win culminates in an inevitable match-up between the two down the line, something they each hope happens sooner than later.
The two are vying for a shot at Bellator's heavyweight champion Alexander Volkov, if they happen to meet en route to that goal, perhaps on pay-per-view (PPV) on Nov. 2. 2013 from the Long Beach Arena, in Long Beach, Calif., it'll be even sweeter.
Johnson spoke on the possibilty:
"I would love to fight Kongo at the pay-per-view, he is the big fish in the pond, he has the biggest name out of all of us and has fought the best of the best. We all would love to say we beat him and add his name to the resume. I feel like I match up against him good. I think I have heavier hands. I think I am faster than him. He is a well-rounded fighter, he has been in the game for a long time. I think it will be a long -- I don't know if it will be long -- I think it will be an exciting fight, no matter which way it went."
"My goal is to be the champ. He's a machine, he's a beast. I have the skills to handle that. It would be interesting to see two big dudes exchange in the cage."
While Kongo wants to make a run at a title, Johnson is much more clear about why he still enters the cage at this point in his life:
"Make as much money as possible, get a gym and pay off a house. Who likes to get punched in the face? I like knocking people out, I'm in there trying to take as little punishment and put you to sleep. I am doing it for the money. I am old, don't have anything to prove."
With all the talk about mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters not making enough money, Johnson explained why he thinks most warriors aren't getting a fair shake in this economy:
"I don't think these fighters are getting paid enough. As a fighter, the risk we put ourselves through, I see fighters getting paid three and three and that is wrong. Look at Dave Huckaba, he got the raw end of the deal. He fought freaking Ray Sefo and made $12,000! He still has to work another job to support his family."
With Kongo sitting at (18-8) and Johnson at (17-7) in their careers, both enter the fray Friday with a clean slate. If recent rating trends are any indicator, more people than ever are tuning in to see Bellator's MMA product. The question remains if they will produce similarly to Joe Warren at Bellator 101 last week, or sink like Diego Nunes at Bellator 99.
One thing is for certain, don't blink.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire Bellator 102 card this evening, starting with the "Prelims," which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET online, and then main card action, which is slated to begin at 9 p.m. ET on Spike TV.
For more on Bellator 102 click here.