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Augusto Sakai: Cheick Kongo changed his fighting style after multiple KO losses

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Bellator heavyweight Augusto Sakai is looking to score his signature win in London.

Unbeaten in 10 pro bouts, half of them under the Bellator banner, Augusto Sakai faces longtime veteran Cheick Kongo at the SSE Arena at Friday’s Bellator 179.

But that wasn’t the fight he was expecting. Speaking with MMA Fighting, Sakai said he was previously linked to a fight with Javy Ayala, who demolished Sergei Kharitonov in 16 seconds in November, but the bout was scrapped due to his opponent's injury. Soon thereafter, the promotion set up a fight with Kongo.

Kongo is looking for his ninth Bellator win after his 18-fight UFC run from 2006-13, where he beat the likes of Mirko Cro Cop, Matt Mitrione and Pat Barry. Yet, Sakai feels the French heavyweight is not the same fighter anymore.

"He’s fighting safer now, using his experience,” the Brazilian said. "He realized it’s better for him to fight safer after he suffered some knockouts in the UFC."

Both of Kongo’s Bellator losses came by way of decision, but was finished three times inside the Octagon, getting knocked out by Mark Hunt and Roy Nelson, and submitted by Frank Mir after getting knocked down. Even in his wins, like the two-minute brawl with Pat Barry in 2011, Kongo was also dropped by his opponent.

"He saw he can’t get punished and knocked out all the time,” Sakai said. "He has a sequence of tough fights, getting knocked down or knocked out in every fight, and that made him change his strategy a bit.”

Sakai, who scored seven of his nine wins by knockout, won’t go for the kill right away in London, but envisions a stoppage win.

"Maybe the chin, maybe some other part of his body… maybe a kick to his ribs,” Sakai said with a laugh. "My main focus is to win. My record shows I prefer a knockout, but I’m cool. I don’t go in there gunning for the knockout. If it comes, great, I’ll finish him, but I can also submit him on the ground. It comes naturally. I see myself defeating him standing. Let’s try to get this knockout."

Coming off a disappointing majority draw with Dan Charles a year ago, Sakai expects to be recognized as one of the best heavyweights after taking on a popular name like Kongo.

"My next fight is always the most important, but this one if big because of his name, the fact that he's coming off a lot of wins,” Sakai said. "Winning this fight, I’d get more notoriety, people would look me as a title contender. I’m already seen as a prospect, but many still don’t believe in me, I think.

"Winning this fight, it would change the way they see me. I’m not worried about showing people what I’m capable of. I know what I’m capable of, what I can do in there. But that would come naturally with the win."