Cheick Kongo really doesn’t like Ryan Bader. Luckily for him, he’ll get a second opportunity to punch him in the face, this time in front of his countrymen.
The Paris, France, native has fought about every big name that’s surrounded him throughout his 45-fight career, but has yet to capture a world title. In Sept. 2019, Kongo gave it his second attempt at capturing Bellator Heavyweight gold when challenging Bader at Bellator 226.
Unfortunately, the bout ended rather prematurely. Roughly four minutes into the first of a potential five rounds, Kongo fell victim to an accidental eye poke. Or as the replay revealed, it was more of a poke inside Kongo’s nostril. Regardless, it was enough for the referee to call off the action and declare the bout a “No Contest.”
At Bellator Paris on May 6, 2022, they’ll run things back.
“The thing is, I don’t want to have anything left on the side because I want to be here,” Kongo told MMAMania.com. “Especially by action, not by talk. Probably, when I’m gonna win, I’m gonna be really pissed. Not specifically about you guys [the media] or some interviewer but technically for the big audience of networks, they let him talk and try to believe what he said. Never thinking about what he did happening and they used to say, ‘Oh, he’s the champ, he can do this.’ No, you’re the champ — a f—king cheater. He did, he really did [cheat]. Any orifice you poke, you’re disqualified. It would be a shame to win that way.”
While Bader didn’t technically win the contest, he remained the champion. Directly after, “Darth” dropped back down to the 205-pound division where he was also the titleholder. Welcoming him back to Light Heavyweight was talented Russian dynamo, Vadim Nemkov.
Nemkov dethroned Bader with a flawless performance that saw him find a second round technical knockout finish (watch highlights). Bellator followed up the results by starting a grand prix tournament that featured eight of their best Light Heavyweights — including the still-Heavyweight titlist in Bader.
The former 205-pound king would avenge a past-Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) loss to Lyoto Machida before losing a semifinal match up with Corey Anderson. Bader returned to the Heavyweight division at Bellator 273 this past month where he was challenged by interim champion, and Nemkov teammate, Valentin Moldavsky.
Bader out-worked his Russian counterpart en route to a unanimous decision victory with Kongo in attendance and it immediately set up the rematch. No, like, they literally let both fighters know after the Bader’s win.
“The top of the cake was when they said France. I was like … really? The rematch in France — Paris. I like it, I like it,” Kongo reflected. “I couldn’t wait to congratulate Bader for the win because I wanted this fight again. And I was like, ‘Yeah, karma’s a b—ch, so I’m really happy and you did really good. I was just surprised. But I’m gonna f—k you up, you better be ready because I’m gonna kill you, I’m gonna murder you.’ And he was just like, ‘Oh, no.’ (laughs)
“He ran away from fighting me again by going to the Light Heavyweight division,” he continued. “He did really good [against Moldavsky] but he better do it the same way because I’m here. And I won’t be the same guy from the first bout and I know he’ll be the same.”
A Bader victory over Moldavsky seemed like a clear path to a rematch with Fedor Emelianenko, Moldavsky and Nemkov’s mentor, rather than Kongo. The story wrote itself with Emelianenko currently in the midst of his retirement tour and winning. Matching him with the last man to defeat him, in what was his lone Bellator title shot, in his home of Russia for a perfect sendoff made too much sense — Kongo himself admitted to the surprise.
However, the 46-year-old veteran actually thought things would go the other direction with him fighting Emelianenko.
That possibility is still there, especially if he can overcome Bader, but just getting to compete back in France after a rough first out in 2020 is more than ideal.
“Fighting in France was like a utopia, like a dream,” Kongo said. “Now it will be the second time, for sure, I won’t fail, I don’t want to fail. I have no worries because first of all, when I fought previously two years ago, I was charged with emotions, and now passing that moment, we turn the page.
“I used to think about [retirement], to be honest,” Kongo concluded. “But, when you’re supported by your team and people who tell you you can do it — and I do have some who say, ‘No, we don’t want to see you fight again because we love you.’ So I used to see myself retired a long time ago. The thing is, when you see the games and how it goes, you don’t want to have anything left. So you just want to make sure you complete the parts.”