Cheick Kongo showed a flair for the dramatic in his most recent outing. | Photo: Sherdog.com
Cheick Kongo (16-6-2, 9-4-1 UFC) vs. Matt Mitrione (5-0, 5-0 UFC)
The Matchup: Rising product Mitrione has shown impressive progress in recent outings, showcasing athleticism and smooth striking. Now 5-0, Mitrione has readily put his career in motion and takes a key step here against Kongo, who is perfectly emblematic of a middle-of-the-pack UFC heavyweight.
Kongo is a solid test for an up-and-comer who relies on somewhat improved counter-wrestling to keep a fight standing against guys that do not want to bang with him. In his miraculous win in his last outing against Pat Barry, Kongo delivered a stunning stoppage while in the midst of a Grade-A zombie impression. It was the kind of highlight-reel fireworks that keeps one readily employed even in the face of two or three losses in a row.
With that said, this one figures to be a match where both will want to bang on the feet. Mitrione’s southpaw stance and quick hands are tools he uses well -- he will shoot out crisp shots without exerting too much energy, unlike many heavyweights when they punch. Mitrione’s low leg kicks are also a nice weapon, as he whops them in there to mix up opponents and keep them guessing.
Kongo’s kickboxing background and natural punching power are considerable weapons, which is why opponents tend to want to smother him. He will be best served by circling and keeping his lead foot outside of Mitrione’s, which will set up Kongo’s right cross. Mitrione has shown a good chin thus far and a sense of calm, whether he is being hit or tied up.
Mitrione’s improvement has also shown a good sense of the finer points of dirty boxing and clinch work; while he may have to be careful of Kongo’s knees in the Thai-style exchanges in close, Mitrione’s probably the naturally stronger guy -- he will also be 10-15 pounds heavier -- and laying in on Kongo could help set up knees and elbows in close. From a pure boxing technique perspective, Mitrione might do well to set up outside and dare Kongo to trade hands. Matt’s left cross is especially sharp and a nifty punch; it could also stun Kongo to set up a takedown.
On the ground, Kongo has decent wrestling and takedown defense, and Mitrione is still relatively green in this area. However, if it hits the mat for an extended period of time, the only danger either man is in with a submission is a basic-rear naked choke due to being hurt or exhaustion.
The details are in the matchmaking, and this one was made to see if Mitrione is ready to swim with the big boys. Technically, he seems there, but the key question as the level of his competition rises involves how he will respond when hit by a powerful heavyweight.
The Pick: What makes it interesting is that Mitrione will probably have to adjust to a guy that has strong enough standup to force those on-the-fly tweaks. Expect him to do so. The flip side of having just five fights of experience is that there is much more room to improve -- Kongo is essentially a fixed product not evolving nearly as much -- and that should be enough for Mitrione to score a blend of punches and the occasional takedown or effective clinch work to win rounds. He will do a mix of both en route to taking a clear-cut decision win, with a scary moment or two from Kongo’s shots keeping it interesting.
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