When Cheick Kongo was excluded from Bellator’s heavyweight grand prix – a bracket that featured a few natural light heavyweights – many believed that his penchant for less-than-thrilling performances was a factor.
The way things are going now, it’s getting more and more difficult to deny the 43-year-old Frenchman his shot at Bellator gold. Kongo earned his second consecutive first-round knockout at Bellator 208 on Saturday, as he polished off fellow UFC veteran Timothy Johnson in just 68 seconds. That win comes on the heels of a 2:29 stoppage of Javy Ayala at Bellator 199 in May.
Kong doesn’t deny being angry about being left out of the heavyweight bracket. However, he remained in the background as the tournament played out over the past few months.
“I never got the chance to say anything (about not being in the tournament),” Kongo said after Bellator 208 video courtesy of MMAjunkie.com. “I used to be quiet because I was pretty angry, but what could I say? ...Of course [I deserve a shot]. If I didn’t fight for the belt, it would be a big shame. It’s been now three years, seven wins in a row -- a win is a win. Even if I’m not satisfied with the result of the fight, a win is a win.
Prior to his last two performances, Kongo had won five consecutive bouts via decision or split decision. However, that included victories over current UFC talents Alexander Volkov and Augusto Sakai.
While Fedor Emelianenko and Ryan Bader will square off for the vacant heavyweight crown at the Forum in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, Konog has caught the eye of Bellator President Scott Coker with his recent efforts. Still, there is also the prospect of returning former champion Vitaly Minakov to consider. The Russian was stripped of the heavyweight belt due to inactivity but owns a 21-0 career mark – including a five-round verdict against Kongo in a title defense in April 2014. Minakov was recently re-signed by Bellator and could be the No. 1 contender-in-waiting.
“I think we have a couple options there. But Cheick has really impressed me his last couple outings,” Coker told media after Bellator 208 “That’s the Cheick that I remember from before. That’s the Cheick that we’ve been waiting to see. We signed Minakov back, we have some great heavyweights here already. Cheick’s another guy. We’re just gonna have some great matchups in the future in the heavyweight division in 2019.
Regardless of how things play out, Kongo believes he has set himself up nicely in the title discussion. With seven wins in a row and an 11-2 mark in Bellator overall, he’s been perhaps the promotion’s most consistent heavyweight.
“It’s a good opportunity for me to come back and get my belt,” Kongo said. “No matter who’s going to be the winner, Bellator’s [been holding my belt] for three years, four years, and I think at some point that’s something I deserve to get. I didn’t have the opportunity to fight for the interim. We’ll see if I’m still on track.”