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Fightweets: The curious case of Cheick Kongo

Anne-Marie Sorvin-US PRESSWIRE

As has often been the case since I started writing Fightweets last summer, a reader came along with the perfect question at the perfect time.

I was actually reflecting on the UFC career of Cheick Kongo, who parted ways with the Zuffa this week, when Fightweeter @crazedfishUK chimed in with the following question: Did the decision to release Kongo surprise anybody given the shallow nature of the HW division?

It's funny you ask this, crazed, because if you remember what the UFC's heavyweight division was like back when Kongo debuted in the company in 2006, by comparison, today's 265-pound ranks are stacked.

This was back during the Tim Sylvia error ... whoops, I mean, era. The heavyweight roster was so thin that at UFC 59, Jeff Monson earned a future title shot with a boring decision win over Marcio Cruz in the pay-per-view opener simply because there was no one better in line. Frank Mir looked like a shell of his former self at the time. Randy Couture was retired, and stayed that way until he commentated on the Sylvia-Monson fight in Nov. 2006 and realized he could take the belt from Sylvia and rescue us all from the tyranny of Timmy.

Kongo debuted at UFC 61 (the infamous Sylvia-Andrei Arlovski III card) and put on an impressive standup show in finishing the late Gilbert Aldana. They brought Kongo right back for UFC 62 and he polished off Christian Wellisch with a wicked flying knee.

A heavyweight with crazy standup and a marketable look emerging as a contender in a division suffering from Sylvia's slow suffocation? It seemed too good to be true.

It was.

With the hype building, Kongo fought Carmelo Marrero at UFC 64. The crowd at his third appearance at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in three months expected another Kongo fireworks show, but Marrero basically took Kongo to the ground and held him there. Kongo looked like he had never trained wrestling in his life. Marrero took a split decision, promptly lost his next two fights, and eventually found himself in the IFL.

Thus, Kongo's UFC career pattern was established: Clean up against lower-ranked competition, suffer a setback, then start the pattern all over again. Win two, lose to Heath Herring. Win three, lose to Cain Velasquez. Go unbeaten in four, lose to Mark Hunt.

Kongo's going on 38. His UFC contract expired, so he wasn't technically cut. I consider him like a veteran baseball player near the end of the line. If you're a GM, if you got a serviceable stint out of a veteran who might do an adequate job next year at a high price tag, would you bring him back when you can find someone who can do just as well for half the price? I think we know the answer to that one.

If nothing else, Kongo can't look back and say he never got a fair chance. He was the third-longest tenured heavyweight in the company (behind Mir and Gabriel Gonzaga) and he got as many chances to reach the next level as anyone we've ever had fight in the UFC without quite reaching consistent main event level. Sometimes you simply have to cut bait and move on.

Chael P. Sonnen

@RuckerYeah: So what do you think of Sonnen vs. Wandy?

Love Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva. But let's hold the thought for a minute while I get a little rant out of my system. Wasn't it amazing how, after six months of listening to some claim that Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen was going to ruin the sport of mixed martial arts forever and ever and ever, how the mere fact that Jones was meeting Sonnen was akin to throwing the light heavyweight title belt in the trash, etc., how after the fight, some of those same people turned right around and decided that Jones' victory over Sonnen makes Jones the Greatest of All-Time?

There are plenty of valid paths to a reasonable argument for Jones, even though I don't agree he's GOAT at this point in time. But the logic behind this was straight MMA Math: Jones had an easier time with Sonnen than Anderson Silva did. Of course, if we care to play this game, Silva smoked Vitor Belfort, while Belfort nearly finished Jones before lasting into the fourth round; and Silva finished Stephan Bonnar, while Jones went the distance with Bonnar.

But I digress. Bottom line, if a fighter is a disgrace as a challenger, you can't turn around and use a win over a "disgrace" as a reason to call Jones the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter, much less best fighter ever.

Anyway, back to Sonnen vs. Silva. There's nothing wrong with the occasional fun fight. Especially one which can plausibly headline a card when there are only so many main events to go around. People won't buy the idea Chael Sonnen is a title challenger any longer, but they know he's still a solid fighter with mileage left. A significant portion of the audience wouldn't mind seeing Silva put an old-school Wandy-style whuppin' on Sonnen, even if there's a considerable danger Sonnen simply takes Silva down and smothers him. Despite the fact some like to pretend they're Silva's parents and want to tell him to retire, in his past three fights, Silva has finished Cung Le and Brian Stann and went five rounds with Rich Franklin. He's earned the right to test himself against someone of Sonnen's caliber if he wants it. That's good enough for me.

MMA gloves

@grover8893: How can the MMA gloves be improved to prevent eye pokes?

Every time there's an eye poke in a UFC fight, Joe Rogan starts in on how someone needs to develop a form of fingered gloves. He was given plenty of ammunition at UFC 159, with the pokes in the Gian Villante-Ovince St. Preux and Michael Bisping-Alan Belcher fights.

While Rogan's heart is absolutely in the right place with these glove rants, it does raise a question: We've had nearly two decades to work on this. Given the sheer volume of MMA-related products we're bombarded with, if developing such a glove was simple, wouldn't someone have made them by now, and cornered the market?

People far more knowledgeable than I one this subject have pretty much unanimously agreed it's difficult at best to come up with a form of glove which cut way down on eye pokes without radically altering how MMA fights are contested. If nothing else, the eye poke mishaps at UFC 159 seem to finally be getting the ball rolling on making long overdue rules revisions regarding various fouls. So hopefully something good will come of it one way or another.

What about Werdum?

@TheTyGuy10: With all this talk of Hunt and Big Country, isn't Werdum the forgotten man in the division (provided he wins)?

Much has changed at heavyweight since Fabricio Werdum rolled over Mike Russow last summer to win for the fifth time in his past six fights. He seemed to be a win away from a title shot at the time. Then, he sort of got lost in the shuffle. Werdum ended up on season two of "The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil," coaching against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Then Junior dos Santos lost the 265-pound title, squashing what would have seemed a natural rematch of JDS' famed 2008 KO win. While Werdum has been on the sidelines, the man he defeated at UFC 143, Roy Nelson has recorded three straight first-round knockouts. Hunt's on a roll. With the title fight locked up and the next challenger to be determined, Werdum needs a win over Big Nog on June 8 simply to stay in the discussion. It's not fair, but them's the breaks.

Aldo vs. Pettis a mistake?

@dashamas3000: Did the UFC make a mistake by booking Aldo/Pettis instead of Bendo/Pettis 2?

I don't think Jose Aldo vs. Anthony Pettis is a mistake on the UFC's part. if Pettis wins the featherweight title, they can book the Henderson-Pettis rematch as a superfight, which could help the lightweight champ get that extra little bit of promotional boost he still needs at this point. If Aldo wins, you've got a Henderson-Aldo superfight, and Aldo would come into the bout with the momentum of defeating a pair of former lightweight champions (Yes, I'm assuming here that Henderson gets past the Gray Maynard-T.J. Grant winner first, and don't think I'm going out on a limb). The UFC should come out of this one smelling like a rose either way.

Now, did Pettis make a mistake in hastily asking for the Aldo fight? Granted, on one hand I can't blame him for taking a title opportunity when he was waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for his lightweight shot. But on the other, the lightweight division underwent a radical shift in April. Gilbert Melendez has a legit claim for a title rematch, Josh Thomson leapfrogged most of the pack with his win over Nate Diaz, and right or wrong, the winner of Gray Maynard vs. T.J. Grant gets the next title shot. If Pettis beats Aldo, this all pays off. If he doesn't, which is highly possible, he's going to find himself far, far back in the line.

It's high risk, high reward, but then again, isn't that usually what we admire in fighters? Don't we reward fighters for taking risks, both in the cage and in their career overall? And don't endless psuedo-philosophical questions get annoying after awhile? Answers: Yes, yes, and yes. So let's just enjoy Aldo vs. Pettis for the awesome fight it appears on paper and see where it leads.

Got a question for a future Fightweets? Go to my Twitter page and leave me a tweet.

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