The main card for UFC 144 this weekend in Tokyo, Japan features a heavyweight battle between Frenchman Cheick Kongo and Mark Hunt. It is a battle of strikers, and on paper it has the potential for fireworks. The UFC tapped Hunt, who has won two UFC battles in a row to snap what is an incredibly ugly streak of six straight losses, because of his history of fighting in Japan. Kongo has been in the UFC for more than 5 years, and has gone 3-0-1 in his last 4 fights. He is on the cusp of catapulting himself into possible title contention in the heavyweight division. Kongo has never fought in Japan, but after making short work of popular Pat Barry and derailing the rise of Matt Mitrione in his last two fights, the UFC is putting him in with a huge slugger in Hunt to test his mettle.
Both men are roughly the same age (Hunt is 37, Kongo is 36) but both seem to be at completely different stages in their MMA career. Kongo has long been talking about a title, and he was focused on it firmly in his last fight with Mitrione. Hunt, who looked like a potential force early in his career dropped six in a row, and has not looked good in his three UFC appearances.
Granted, Hunt’s losses in the streak are against the top shelf of Heavyweights (Emelianenko, Barnett, Overeem, Mousasi are on the list) but in the UFC he took a loss to Sean McCorkle and he looked sloppy in his two wins over Chris Tuscherer and Ben Rothwell, neither of whom is a serious contender.
In watching the match between Pat Barry and Cheick Kongo, there is a lot I like about Kongo. At the weigh ins, Kongo was intense and he did not shake hands with Barry. The fight was very intense, with Barry, a skilled striker dropping Kongo twice with big punches. Kongo stayed on the move and came back to knock Barry out and take the fight. He was practically out of the fight and came back to win.
I do not see that type of fire in Mark Hunt’s fights lately, and I think that will be the key to this one.
The only X-Factor surprise is ground fighting. Neither is known or respected at all for his groundfighting, however once the cage locks, one of the two may find that their ground is further along the other. That is unlikely, though if it plays itself out the bigger and stronger Hunt could win by a sloppy arm triangle or some such move. But the fight will more likely be a stand up battle, with the slower Hunt chasing down a counterfighting Kongo. And that scenario favors Kongo, which is where I’m putting my money.