After years away from Bellator and over a year since his last fight, Vitaly Minakov returned at Bellator 216, only to gas early and come up short against Cheick Kongo.
The Bellator 216 heavyweight showdown between Minakov and Kongo was a key clash for the promotion’s heavyweight division. In an interesting coincidence, the ex-champ returning from exile, Vitaly Minakov, was set to face the last man he defeated in Bellator, Cheick Kongo. That was 2014, with Minakov defending the Bellator heavyweight championship. He’d then find himself in a contract dispute, fighting in Russia, eventually stripped of the belt.
Yet after Fight Nights Global fell apart, Minakov would come to terms with Bellator. Now, he was once again facing Kongo, in what was very much a title eliminator. The former UFC star known as ‘The Darkness’ had amassed an impressive run of his own. Kongo had won seven straight. His last two, against Javy Ayala and former UFC fighter Tim Johnson, came via knockout. Minakov, meanwhile, was an undefeated 21-0.
Someone’s streak was set to end on Saturday. The questions, who and how.
Minakov threw first, landed first, with Kongo on the outside. On his next attack the Russian slipped, giving up position. Freeing himself, however, Minakov once again pressed the action. Threw the right hand. Swung with it again, hard. Kongo answered back with a left then drove the ex-champ into the fence. And then the low blow, answered with a chorus of boos by the crowd at Mohegan Sun, no doubt reminded of the previous night’s sad end to Mitrione vs. Kharitonov.
Unlike his compatriot, however, Minakov was able to continue. He once again went on the attack, firing a combo then tying ‘The Darkness’ up against the fence. Kongo continued to attack with kicks, only for Minakov to catch one and dump him.
While neither man was able to sustain their attack in the first, there were plenty of openings. That stop-and-start approach continued early in the second, Minakov again the aggressor Kongo more often than not countering. The former champ had his mouth open, and having been away over a year, may have been experiencing some cardio issues.
Kongo, however, continued to circle away, allowing Minakov to dictate the pace regardless. Minakov went to the body with a right. He was charging in, leaning in, a little more recklessly. Finally, tying up along the fence, the pair exchanged some short punches; following some knees, off the break, Kongo landed, but could not follow it up. The round ended with a Kongo knee, and the hope that one or the other would turn it up in the third.
Were the fight to continue as it had through most of the first two rounds, Vitaly Minakov was likely going to maintain his perfect record. The round certainly opened in familiar fashion, Minakov on the hunt, Kongo looking to evade. This time, however, the Russian was able to take Kongo to the ground early. In half-guard, he worked the body and head with punches. Kongo looked to hold on, tie things up, but the pair were too slick. Nowhere near the fence, Minakov was able to control from the clock, eating precious seconds off the clock.
It wasn’t until the final thirty seconds that Kongo regained his feet. When he did, however, he began teeing off on Minakov. The Russian was under heavy fire, with an uppercut slipping through his guard, and a knee landing. He retreated, but the fight was over. It was enough, though, to win Kongo the round. And with all judges giving him at least one of the other two, he’d done enough to earn the decision (let’s just not get into the 30-27).
Cheick Kongo def. Vitaly Minakov by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)