Kongo’s Trainer Analyzes Recent Loss, Future

By Loretta Hunt Jun 22, 2009
Much has been said about Cheick Kongo’s decision to accept a last-minute bout against heavyweight upstart Cain Velasquez at UFC 99 on June 13 in Germany.

Kongo, who was considered on the periphery for a title shot after three consecutive nods in the Octagon, dropped Velasquez (6-0) three times in the bout. However, the heavy-handed Frenchman lost a unanimous decision after spending a majority of the bout on his back pinned underneath the two-time Arizona State All-American wrestler.

Kongo (13-5-1) took the bout on three weeks’ notice to replace an injured Heath Herring. Many fans are asking why.

Sherdog.com turned to Zach Light, Kongo’s head trainer, who is currently prepping Michael Bisping for his July 11 fight in Las Vegas.

Sherdog.com: What was Kongo’s game plan against Velasquez and did he follow it?
Zach Light: The game plan for Velasquez was for Kongo to knock him out. We knew going into the fight that we were going to get out-wrestled and, basically, Velasquez was going to control the fight. The game plan was to take advantage of Velasquez’s inexperience in his standup. We thought we’d be able to do that.

Sherdog.com: A lot of viewers commented that Kongo attempted to wrestle more than strike. Would you agree with that?
Light: I do agree with that. Kongo agrees with that, and that’s part of the problem with the fight. Kongo did try to wrestle, but the reason for that was due to the short notice. His conditioning was so off; he thought he was using his wrestling to rest, but he was losing energy. The game plan from the clinch was to break away and let his hands go.

Sherdog.com: What went through your head cageside as you watched him fight Velasquez?
Light: “Get off your back,” is what I kept thinking. It was hard for me because I kept seeing glimpses of who he really is in the fight. I’ve just never seen him so exhausted. He fought like a warrior. He didn’t quit, but the exhaustion was what got him. He twisted his knee real bad before the fight, which stopped him from running. We sparred only one day before that fight –- one session is all we got. Knowing that, it hurt to watch the fight.

Sherdog.com: Were you for or against him taking the last-minute fight?
Light: I’m not Kongo’s manager. My job is to train the fighter. I gave his manager my opinion, but my job isn’t to tell a fighter if he should take a fight or not. The manager and fighter decide if they’re going to take the fight. I come up with game plans, get them in shape and get them ready. When asked, I gave my opinion to his manager, but that’s between me and him.

Sherdog.com: What was Kongo’s reaction to his performance and the end result?
Light: I’ve never seen him so upset. His reaction was very emotional. He was one step away from his dream, he was one fight away, and just because of the preparation and time we had to work with, it didn’t come together at all. He didn’t regret it though. Kongo’s not that type of person. He gave it his all.

Sherdog.com: Where does he go next? Has he heard from the UFC? Where do you go with him next as his trainer?
Light: Kongo did the UFC a huge favor, and they know it. I think he didn’t lose a step with the UFC. If anything, he showed exactly who he is with the company and I think they love him. The UFC has already contacted him. He’s going to have to take a little step back. I feel very, very sorry for the next guy he fights because he’s going to smash the guy. It doesn’t matter if it’s a top guy or not: He’s going to knock him out. Kongo never gets a fair shake with his training camps. It seems like we run through training partners and he never really gets it all in. He just never seems to have a full team of people, and I think that’s the only thing he’s missing -- to have everyone in his camp focus in on him. With that, I think he’ll be unbeatable. As far as the UFC, I think we just have to raise our hand when we’re ready.

Sherdog.com: Do you think this victory for Velasquez catapults him over Kongo in the line for a title shot?
Light: No. He’s a moron if he does (accept a title bout). If I was Shane Carwin, I would say, “Please let me fight Cain Velasquez.” Shane’s got good hands and very good wrestling. He would be devastating for Cain Velasquez.

Sherdog.com: Velasquez’s camp has said they’d like to take the Carwin fight.
Light: I think that’d be a big mistake. I think Cain should go back and build up to more fights. The guy needs more fights and experience.
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