Roy Nelson (18-7, 5-3 UFC) vs. Cheick Kongo (18-7-2, 11-5-1 UFC)
After being originally scheduled to fight at UFC 116 in July 2010, Nelson and Kongo finally get a chance to square off nearly three years later. Nelson has won two straight fights, scoring knockout wins over Dave Herman in May and Matt Mitrione in December. He is 3-2 over his last five fights. Kongo is looking to notch his second straight win after defeating Shawn Jordan at UFC 149 in July. He has just one loss in his last six fights dating back to 2009.
Fight Breakdown: Kongo has fallen short when paired up with top competition in the UFC’s heavyweight division, but he has carved himself a name in the division by being one of the longest tenured fighters in the UFC. He fights for the 18th time in the Octagon while Nelson makes his ninth appearance in the UFC. Nelson brings the top competition that Kongo has struggled against, and if Kongo is going to ever get a title opportunity, he is going to need to beat fighters like Nelson. The same can be said for Nelson, who looks for his third straight win, which could put him right into the title picture whether it pleases Dana White or not. Nelson has made himself into a quite popular fighter, and with his losses in the UFC coming to Junior Dos Santos, Frank Mir and Fabricio Werdum, all by decision, he has proved he can hang with the elite of the heavyweight division.
When it comes to the fight, though, Nelson holds all the keys to victory. He has vicious knockout power as he has shown with all of his UFC wins. His five wins in the Octagon have come by knockout over some solid competition- Brendan Schaub, Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro Cop and the aforementioned Herman and Mitrione. Kongo has taken a lot of punishment in his UFC career, specifically over his last few fights. He looked to be knocked out multiple times by Pat Barry in their fight, only to survive and turn the tables and knock Barry out himself. That easily could have been a loss for Kongo, but what Barry started, Mark Hunt finished when he knocked Kongo out at UFC 144 in February 2012. With Kongo’s jaw being a big question mark these days, and the one-punch power that Nelson brings, it could breed another exciting moment in the career of both men.
Kongo is the better technical striker of the two, but Nelson has a jaw made of a mixture on concrete, granite and brick. Simply put- barring a miracle, Nelson is not going to be knocked out by Kongo. For Kongo to win a striking battle, he needs to use crisp boxing and mix in his kickboxing skills by attacking the legs on Nelson. He should follow the blueprint that Werdum used when he beat Nelson. Attack with knees and kicks and work in the clinch. Kongo is very strong and works well in the clinch, but Nelson may actually be the stronger of the two. Kongo will have a nine-inch reach advantage over Nelson so Nelson will need to use solid one-two combinations to close the distance to work in the clinch. Kongo is not afraid to stand and bang, and that could be his downfall in the fight.
Nelson has yet to really show it off in the UFC, but he has some of the best grappling skills in the heavyweight division. He likes to get opponents down to the ground and really go to work from a crucifix position, where he brings down punches-in-bunches. Kongo is very strong and likes to work with ground-and-pound, but he has trouble getting up if he is caught on the bottom. His upright stance on the feet leaves him vulnerable for the takedown, and if Nelson is successful at closing the distance on the feet, he will take Kongo down if the knockout opportunity does not present itself. Kongo will need to use some defense if he wants to end up on top on the ground, and he could bring down some serious power. Nelson can work for a submission, but he hasn’t scored a submission win since 2006, and his last nine wins have been by knockout, so you know what he would prefer to do.
Conditioning likely won’t be a factor as many do not expect this fight to last very long, but in the event it drags into the late second round and third round, Nelson has the advantage. Kongo tends to get very tired, and rather quickly, and while Nelson may not look the best physically, he can go into deep waters. Nelson would prefer a much quicker fight, though, and as would Kongo, and the makings of this fight tends to lead fight fans believing it may not go past the first five minutes. Kongo needs to use his reach and kickboxing to try and work the fight into a clinch battle where he could brutalize Nelson with knees. Nelson is excellent at getting on the inside of his opponents, though, and his true one-punch knockout power coupled with a questionable chin on Kongo have all the makings of another exciting Nelson win by knockout.
Why It Matters: With a win, Nelson could find himself as few as one fight away from earning a title shot, and despite whatever UFC President Dana White may personally think of Nelson, it would be a good thing for the UFC if Nelson can fight for a title. He represents something that fight fans could relate to as he is just this average joe who is really good at fighting. He has proven that he can compete with the best of the best in the UFC’s heavyweight division, and a title opportunity is the only thing that eludes the season ten winner of “The Ultimate Fighter”. Nelson wants that chance to fight for a title, and a win over Kongo puts him another step closer.
Kongo is 37-years-old, and he turns 38 in May, so he is beginning to get up there in years. He has been around the UFC since 2006, and over recent years, injuries, especially one to his back, have caught up to him and he has flirted with retirement. He still is a tough fighter, having just one loss over the last four-plus years, but he may never get into title contention as he falters every time he takes the next step up in competition. A win may convince him to continue his career and make one last run at the title, but a loss could push him one step closer towards retirement. Whatever Kongo does following his fight with Nelson, he has had a solid UFC career, and many fans hope it continues for a few more years.