Charlie Brenneman (file photo) came up huge at UFC Live 4. | (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Cheick Kongo has quietly become one of the most successful big men in UFC history. Among the promotion’s current crop of heavyweights, only former champion Frank Mir has more wins (13) inside the Octagon than Kongo (nine).
None of the Frenchman’s UFC victories came with a steeper degree of difficulty than his unlikely one-punch knockout on Patrick Barry in the UFC Live 4 main event on Sunday at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Wobbled and in serious trouble, Kongo managed to gather himself near the cage and drilled Barry with a short right uppercut that left him unconscious on the canvas. The performance figures to open doors for Kongo in a division still short on quality depth. At 36, he appears to have plenty left in the tank.
A closer look at the matches we want to see after UFC Live 4 follows:
Cheick Kongo vs. Matt Mitrione: Kongo can take a punch, as evidenced by his improbable comeback win over Barry. Unbeaten in his last three appearances, the Frenchman remains one of the UFC’s most bankable commodities in the heavyweight division. His experience, when paired with his accurate striking and improved wrestling, make him a threat against almost any of his contemporaries. Mitrione has come out of nowhere to become one of the UFC’s most improved heavyweights. Is this the same guy who submitted to James McSweeney on Season 10 of “The Ultimate Fighter?” At 32, he likely has a limited shelf life, but at the rate he continues to improve, Mitrione could be knocking on the door to contention sooner rather than later. He had no trouble breaking down Christian Morecraft with his fast and powerful hands at UFC Live 4. Kongo figures to be a different animal entirely.
Pat Barry vs. Stefan Struve: Barry will need time to recover from his knockout loss to Kongo, physically and mentally. Rarely does a fighter have a certain victory snatched away from him in such dramatic fashion. Having said that, Barry is one of the heavyweight division’s most feared standup fighters, and he has taken the necessary steps to address the real holes in his game: wrestling and submission defense. If he continues on his current path, there should be no reason why he would not factor into a division starved for depth, especially at the middle and lower rungs. Struve faces a similar uphill battle but at a younger age. The 23-year-old Dutchman was victimized in a spectacular one-punch knockout, as well, as he was felled by unbeaten Hawaiian Travis Browne at UFC 130 in May. A Barry-Struve matchup makes sense for both men. Plus, it would make for quite the sight, as Struve, at 6-foot-11, would tower over Barry by a foot.
Charlie Brenneman vs. Carlos Condit-Dong Hyun Kim winner: Brenneman made the most of his opportunity, as he outdueled the favored Rick Story en route to a unanimous decision in the UFC Live 4 co-main event. The win likely speeds up his development in the welterweight division, as he now finds himself in position to take on fighters much higher up on the totem pole. His proven wrestling and scrambling skills will no longer go unnoticed and underappreciated. Brenneman has made himself a real threat at 170 pounds. The Condit-Kim winner at UFC 132 on July 2 will likely emerge as one of the frontrunners for title contention. However, with champion Georges St. Pierre tied up with a forthcoming battle against Nick Diaz in the fall, those jockeying for position near the top of the weight class could find themselves in limbo until early 2012. That could open other opportunities for Brenneman. Either way, the 30-year-old AMA Fight Club standout -- who grew up in Hollidaysburg, Pa., less than 100 miles from Pittsburgh -- made the most of his homecoming.
Rick Story vs. Carlos Condit-Dong Hyun Kim loser: Story got caught in a trap fight against a guy who outwrestled and outworked him. His stock will drop but not too far. One defeat cannot erase all the hard work that went into his six-fight winning streak, which included his unanimous decision over former welterweight title contender Thiago Alves at UFC 130. At 26 and just 17 fights into his professional career, Story has time on his side. He knows he has the skill set needed to succeed at 170 pounds, and the loss to Brenneman only figures to increase his motivation to improve. A matchup with the Condit-Kim loser would provide him with a stiff but manageable challenge, as he attempts to rebound from just his second defeat in the UFC.
Matt Brown vs. Claude Patrick: Brown secured his place in the UFC with his unanimous decision victory over John Howard at UFC Live 4, as he brought an end to a three-fight losing streak and reintroduced himself to the public. A rugged competitor with drive and determination to burn, he makes for almost guaranteed entertainment for the promotion. Submission defense remains his Achilles’ heel, and Patrick has proven a slick grappler throughout his career. Plus, the Canadian has plenty of momentum on his side, having rattled off 13 consecutive victories, including his unanimous decision over Daniel Roberts at UFC 129. An interesting chess match could develop between Brown and Patrick if paired together at a future event. Can Brown stay on his feet? Can Patrick keep his chin tucked long enough to get the fight to the ground?
Tyson Griffin vs. Dustin Poirier: Griffin did not dazzle in his return to the featherweight division, but he showed his mettle in earning a majority decision over former WEC title contender Manny Gamburyan.
One of the game’s best scramblers and scrappiest competitors, Griffin packs a nice punch and has proven virtually impossible to submit. Having shown he can make the weight cut to 145 pounds again, he becomes an immediate factor in a turbulent division ruled by champion Jose Aldo. With back-to-back wins over Josh Grispi and Jason Young, Poirier has established himself as one of the top prospects in the featherweight class. The 22-year-old trains under UFC veteran and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Tim Credeur and has put a diverse skill set on display in 11 professional appearances, 10 of them wins.
Javier Vazquez vs. Darren Elkins: Vazquez will always be a difficult hurdle to clear because of his dynamic grappling ability. However, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt defeated former lightweight title contender Joe Stevenson at UFC Live 4 largely on the strength of his standup -- primarily his counterpunching. Father Time may never allow the soon-to-be 34-year-old Vazquez to realize his full potential in MMA after untold hours of training and numerous fights were lost to injury. However, for a young fighter hoping to make waves, he stands as quite the test. Elkins squeaked by the favored Michihiro Omigawa at UFC 131, and his wrestle-heavy base could lead to an extended ground war with Vazquez, pitting their strengths against one another.