(Cheick Kongo relaxing before his fight, presumably listening to high-quality audio of groin shots. / Screen-cap via Chris Nelson)
After nine years in the UFC, Cheick Kongo found himself fighting for another promotion last night. The French heavyweight probably found the experience a little disconcerting, and yet entirely familiar. The cage was there, there was a man inside it, and he was tasked with disposing of him. Yet there is something less about the entire experience for a fighter competing in a lower-tier organization, deprived of the possibility of reaching the glory he once sought. For Kongo and fellow UFC cast-off Lavar Johnson, Friday’s Bellator 102 event in Visalia, California, was the beginning of the end of the road. Both are fighters on the way down, fighting not for what they once strove for, but simply because this is what they know how to do. It’s rarely a road that ends well. All they can hope for is to reclaim the one thing that doesn’t change — the euphoria of victory. Because if you can’t get that, what’s the point anymore?
Kongo was, at least, able to make the best of his opportunity against Mark “The Hand of” Godbeer. His most formidable challenge on the night came from his pre-fight water bottle. Unfortunately, Godbeer wasn’t capable of offering such a test. If there’s one thing Kongo is known for, it’s probably his knee strikes. If there’s another thing he’s known for, it’s probably that those knee strikes tend to find his opponent’s testicles a little too often. Fortunately for almost everyone involved, Kongo managed to keep himself in Cheick tonight. (I’m so sorry.) He battered Godbeer with knees from the clinch throughout the fight, and finished him in the second round with a monster right knee followed by an uppercut against the fence. Able to stave off the reaper for another few months, Kongo advances into the next round of Bellator’s heavyweight tournament.
The same can’t be said for Lavar “Big” Johnson. Cast aside from the UFC for failing a drug test — to say nothing of possessing one of the least imaginative nicknames in a sport rife with them — Johnson was essentially fed his opponent Vinicius “Spartan” Queiroz in his Bellator debut upon returning from his suspension. The expectation was that Johnson, a one-dimensional heavy-hitter, would have no problem dispatching Queiroz in a spectacularly violent fashion. Queiroz, it was reasoned, could offer trouble on the ground, but the fight wouldn’t last long enough to get there. If you’re familiar with ironic foreshadowing, you’ve probably figured out what happens next.