Former UFC heavyweight Cheick Kongo is headed for the "toughest tournament in sports," according to a release sent out by Bellator on Wednesday. The release says that the French native will make his promotional debut in September, as a participant in the Season 9 Heavyweight Tournament.
Kongo will help fortify a heavyweight field that has been in a state of flux since the sudden retirement of then-champion Cole Konrad. Russian Alexander Volkov won the vacant title in Bellator’s Season 7 heavyweight tournament finals with a decision victory Richard Hale.
While competing in the UFC, the 6-foot-4 Kongo fought 18 times as a heavyweight (11-6-1 overall), including memorable bouts with Mirko Cro Cop and Cain Velasquez. Perhaps his greatest UFC appearance happened in June of 2011 in his fight with Pat Barry. In that bout, Kongo was clearly hurt and on the verge of being knocked out but was able to throw the fight game equivalent of a Hail Mary to drop Barry where he stood. Not only was he awarded "knockout of the night," the fight also took home "knockout of the year" honors.
"After my contract was up in the UFC, I really wanted to take some time and reflect on everything," Kongo stated in the release. "After talking to the people around me, especially someone like my longtime friend [Quinton Jackson], he told me how well Bellator has been treating him and what we can do with Bellator. And after getting to know [Bellator chairman and CEO] Bjorn Rebney, it just seemed like the right fit for me.
"I know I have plenty of fight left in me, and my fight [in September] is the first step to getting that Bellator Heavyweight Title."
The release also said that additional pairings for Season 9 tournament would be announced in coming weeks.