Kongo closes in on title shot
One more win and Cheick Kongo will fight for the Bellator MMA heavyweight title.
Considering Kongo never sniffed a UFC belt and was, fair to say, a middle of the pack fighter in the Octagon, the 38-year-old Frenchman's quick rise, should he beat Vinicius Queiroz next month, likely won't reflect well on Bellator's heavyweight status.
As it stands now, many fans don't take the division seriously. Why should they, really? Without looking it up, can you name Bellator's current heavyweight titleholder? A clue: He's Russian.
The answer: 24-year-old Alexander Volkov (19-3), who at 6-foot-7 is a bit of a beanpole. Volkov became champ by defeating Richard Hale for the vacant belt last December. He's defending for the first time on Nov. 22 against 12-0 Vitaly Minakov, who at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds carries the frame of a more traditional big man. Volkov brings a 10-fight winning streak into the cage, though no one can claim he scored a signature win yet.
The reason it's worth going through all this, at least for our purposes, is to reiterate that Kongo is a fight away from challenging for the Bellator heavyweight title. Either him or Queiroz, who is well aware of what it feels like to lose.
Do you care? I don't.
Bellator 102 grades
Twenty seconds was all "Spartan" needed to slam a right hand into Lavar Johnson's jaw, propelling the recent UFC castoff to belly flop on the canvas. So, the 30-year-old Brazilian is a heavyweight, and he can generate power. This we know. We also realize he's barely a middle-of- the-road competitor, or, at least, has been to this point. He'll be the underdog against Cheick Kongo, though speed and the ability to fight at distance, perhaps avoiding the clinch altogether, gives "Spartan" some hope of success.
A professional win for Rafael Silva against Anthony Leone. A significant edge in the grappling department allowed Silva to dictate the terms of the three-round contest, with the winner earning a title shot against slippery assassin Eduardo "Dudu" Dantas. Silva's a strong guy -- a Brazilian with thick, powerful neck and shoulders. He can overcome Dantas if he can get close enough to grab the kid. Otherwise Silva faces a serious threat against one of the fastest finishers at 135 pounds.
Mikkel Parlo toyed with Jason Butcher, who flopped around looking for takedowns in a pragmatic but desperate attempt to save his face. That's because Parlo is a bruiser who usually hits what he aims for. He looks destined to move down to 170, but for the time being, the 5-foot-10, 23-year-old middleweight isn't concerned with much beyond showing up. He'll have trouble against larger middleweights, but footwork and surprising quickness could help him prevail.
Brennan Ward underestimated Joe Pacheco's wrestling, and found himself on the bottom most of the first round. Then he shut Pacheco down in Round 2, and finished with a power guillotine that put him in the middleweight finals. Ward's adjustments helped him shut down three takedowns in 30 seconds. A couple of more followed before the stranglehold materialized -- a beauty that wrenched Pacheco's neck as Ward sat into it. Ward said he intends to get in the wrestling room, which would only help his cause.
Cheick Kongo remains a fighter who could look great against the right kind of opposition, and that's what he got in Mark Godbeer. Kongo's clinch work was very good, particularly in the second round when he kneed Godbeer's head and body several times in a short span. He essentially out-classed Godbeer, setting up a slot in the heavyweight tournament final. Don't read too much into it as far as the word "resurgence" goes.
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