Two very potent pugilists will square off this Saturday night (April 27, 2013) as heavyweights Roy Nelson and Cheick Kongo wage war on the UFC 159 main card in Newark, New Jersey.
Nelson has been on fire, crushing two straight opponents inside the first round with his signature right hand to put himself back in the heavyweight mix. He's hoping to avoid being stifled against the lifelong heavyweight journeyman Kongo this weekend.
Kongo has been very up and down, no longer really using his striking skills which helped him become a potential heavyweight contender and instead focusing on outworking his opponents by neutralizing them in the clinch and with his wrestling. It'll be very interesting to see if he can get it going against Nelson.
Record: 18-7 overall, 5-3 in the UFC
Key Wins: Mirko Filipovic (UFC 137), Brendan Schaub (Ultimate Finale 10), Stefan Struve (UFC Fight Night 21)
Key Losses: Fabricio Werdum (UFC 143), Frank Mir (UFC 130), Junior dos Santos (UFC 117)
How he got here: Roy Nelson made his mark outside the UFC, most notably as the inaugural IFL heavyweight champion. After defending the strap twice, the promotion folded and "Big Country" stepped in on 10 day's notice to take on former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski under the Elite XC banner. Nelson was in control of the bout but a horrible stand-up ruined his night and allowed Arlovski to score a knockout victory.
The beer-bellied brawler would redeem himself on The Ultimate Fighter season 10, easily grappling his way to the finale where he would blast Brendan Schaub in the first round of the finals to win the show's title. He followed it up by taking out "The Skyscraper" Stefan Struve with another first round knockout.
Nelson earned a number one contender fight with Junior dos Santos at UFC 117 for his efforts but was battered for three straight rounds, showcasing an incredible ability to absorb punishment in a decision loss. He would drop another decision to fellow Las Vegas resident Frank Mir in his next bout in a listless performance.
"Big Country" bounced back with a third round technical knockout of the legendary Mirko Filipovic at UFC 137, but he was brought back down to Earth against Fabricio Werdum, enduring some serious punishment over the course of three rounds.
His roller coaster UFC career continued in his last two fights, scoring impressive first round knockouts of Dave Herman and Matt Mitrione respectively. Now, he's in line for another opportunity to climb up the heavyweight ranks if he can get past Cheick Kongo.
How he gets it done: The most important thing of all for the Las Vegas native is to explode with his right hand in the pocket. Nelson has a big overhand right which he throws with great force, but he first must close the distance whether it be simply utilizing decent footwork or using his surprising dexterity to lunge forward as a gap-closer.
Nelson is strong enough on the ground to not be worried about Kongo's wrestling, but the Frenchman does have a very annoying clinch game would could stifle "Big Country's" offense. Nelson would be wise to try to create some separation on the feet and wait for his opportunity to strike.
The TUF 10 winner also has a tremendous chin he can rely on. The ability to absorb punishment is not always something to be proud of, but Nelson's chin is so much sturdier than Kongo's that he could probably eat five strikes for every one he dishes out and still come out having done more damage.
If Nelson hurts Kongo with any of his strikes, he needs to pounce but remain cautious, as he has come back from the brink before.
Record: 18-7-2 overall, 11-5-1 in the UFC
Key Wins: Matt Mitrione (UFC 137), Mirko Filipovic (UFC 75), Pat Barry (UFC on Versus 4)
Key Losses: Frank Mir (UFC 107), Cain Velasquez (UFC 99), Mark Hunt (UFC 144)
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 3-1-1 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, where he outwrestled the former NFL lineman and was able to hand "Meathead" his first career loss. With the victory, he scored a very intriguing bout with Mark Hunt, but was put down brutally by the hard-headed "Super Samoan."
In his last bout, Kongo completely neutralized Shawn Jordan's offense, stymieing the young prospect's offense with his own smothering wall-and-stall attack against the fence. After a layoff, he's back against one of the UFC's most popular and powerful heavyweights in Nelson.
How he gets it done: Kongo has a solid striking background but he's lost a step over time. Now at 37 years old, he doesn't pack that same explosiveness on the feet unless his opponent has been caught completely off guard. Nowadays, his best offense is a mixture of control and stalling with takedown attempts and repetitive clinches against the fence.
Kongo is still very physically strong, so the clinch is his best path to victory here. It's unlikely that he'll be able to drag Nelson to the ground or even want to screw around on the canvas with the Renzo Gracie black belt. Instead, look for him to try to push "Big Country" into the fence and completely take away all of his weapons. You don't see Nelson utilizing much dirty boxing or knees on the inside so he's be relatively safe if he had him stuck against the cage.
Standing and trading, even with Kongo's striking background, would likely be a bad idea unless he felt he could completely dominate that realm of the fight and land strikes without being hit in return. In all honesty, Kongo will likely need to make this fight extremely ugly if he wants to win.
Who will come out on top at UFC 159? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!