Tony Johnson has already fought two former or future Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholders: He submitted to a rear-naked choke from Daniel Cormier in 2010 before stopping Tim Sylvia a little less than three years later. However, he views neither of those fights as important as the one in front of him.
Johnson will take on Cheick Kongo in the Bellator 161 main event on Friday at the HEB Center in Cedar Park, Texas. He has rattled off three consecutive victories and won six of his last seven fights, and he knows beating the well-traveled French kickboxer would do wonders for his stock. Kongo owns wins over Matt Mitrione, Shawn Jordan, current M-1 Global champion Alexander Volkov and 2006 Pride Fighting Championships open weight grand prix winner Mirko Filipovic. He has also tested himself against Cain Velasquez, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson and Mark Hunt, which gives him a decided experience advantage. Even so, Johnson feels no added tension entering their high-stakes matchup.
“If there is any pressure in this fight, it’s on Kongo,” he told Sherdog.com. “There’s no pressure on me at all. This is a fight that I’ve wanted for a long time, and I’ve worked my butt off. I am ready for this one because all of my hard work will pay off.”
Johnson has confidence in everything that has gone into his camp, including mastering how to eat properly and keep off excess weight.
“I’m bringing lots of heart to the table,” the American Kickboxing Academy rep said. “I’ve seen Cheick Kongo fight, and I see some holes in his game. My wrestling is better than his [and] his striking is better than mine, but my cardio is better than his. I’m bringing my wrestling and my cardio to the table.”
Kongo has long been known as an efficient kickboxer and damaging clinch fighter. Johnson has already mapped out a strategy to deal with those weapons.
“I plan on making him uncomfortable early and keep him guessing,” he said. “One thing I’ve picked up on is that he likes to throw those knees in the clinch, so we are going to keep switching it up on him: going in for takedowns, faking shots, striking, everything. We definitely have a great game plan that I believe in, and you’ll see it in action.”
Kongo prefers a methodical approach in the cage, a fact which often leads to slow-paced bouts. Johnson has noticed that trait and has designs on exploiting what he sees as a flaw.
“We have picked up on that, and we plan on applying the pressure,” he said. “The thing is, I have to take control of the pace, and I will. Cheick Kongo is very experienced and he’s smart, so we are prepared for all of that. I’m mentally strong and physically ready, and I can’t wait to get this fight going.”
Kongo turned 41 in May, and Johnson does see age as potential factor, especially in terms of preparation.
“I know he’s 41 and a little older, but I have to stick to my game plan,” he said. “Who knows? He might break down physically because of his age and he might not, but that’s why I’m sticking to my cardio and my pressure because I know I’m training harder than he is. I see him dying down in the second [round], but who knows really?”