A portly physique masks Roy Nelson’s formidable abilities. | Photo: D. Mandel/Sherdog.com
Roy Nelson (18-7, 5-3 UFC) vs. Cheick Kongo (18-7-2, 11-5-1 UFC)
The Matchup: Nelson continued his climb into the heavyweight division’s top 10 with a first-round technical knockout victory over Matt Mitrione at “The Ultimate Fighter 16” Finale in December. A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a heavy top game, “Big Country” has finished all five of his Octagon triumphs via strikes. His overhand right is his most renowned weapon, but when “The Ultimate Fighter 10” winner uses that punch as part of a combination -- as he did versus Mitrione -- it becomes that much more dangerous.
Kongo did not win many new fans in his last outing -- a unanimous decision win against Shawn Jordan at UFC 149 that was largely contested in the clinch. Now 37 years old, Kongo has long been one of the most respected gatekeepers in the weight class, and he has won three of his last four fights. He has not been especially overwhelming in victory, however, nearly getting knocked out by Pat Barry and doing just enough to win against Mitrione and Jordan.
Nelson will have to navigate Kongo’s nine-inch reach advantage, but the Las Vegas resident has become accustomed to getting inside against rangier foes. Kongo, a kickboxer whose 58 percent significant striking accuracy ranks third among UFC fighters with at least 350 significant strike attempts, must use his kicks effectively to control distance. Countering with crisp, accurate strikes as Nelson moves forward will decrease the chances of the portly heavyweight unleashing his deadly overhand right.
The strategy sounds simple, but despite his striking skills, Kongo sometimes allows opponents to cut off the cage and expose his mediocre takedown defense. Nelson is adept at using one-two combinations to move into clinch range, and from there, Kongo will find that Nelson is much craftier than Jordan at finding ways to get his foes to the mat.
If Kongo finds himself engaged in another clinch war, he must punish Nelson with knees. Lulls in activity will allow Nelson to work a trip takedown and suffocate Kongo from top position. Kongo, meanwhile, does not have great takedown technique, but he masks this deficiency by disguising his shots with good combinations. Once on top, Kongo lands heavy ground-and-pound from inside his opponent’s guard.
The Pick: Nelson is as durable as they come, so he will not mind wading through punishment to get the chance to land power strikes and force clinches. “Big Country” finds a home for his right hand in round one to win by knockout or technical knockout.
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