It was a long journey for Cheick Kongo to get a title shot, needing to string together eight consecutive wins to challenge Ryan Bader for the heavyweight title at Bellator 226.
Los Angeles, CA – Cheick Kongo has been a force to be reckoned with since joining Bellator. After his seven-year stint with the UFC ended in 2013, Kongo started his run with Bellator at 4-2 with his losses coming to former champion Vitaly Minakov and King Muhammad Lawal. He’s undefeated since then, and a win in a rematch with Minakov finally got him a shot at the elusive belt at Bellator 226.
Kongo was not even selected to be in the Heavyweight Grand Prix despite being one of the winningest heavyweights in the promotion, making his trek to the title even harder.
“It used to be a pain in the butt. Finally, we made it at 44-years-old. Now I’ll try to not fail on the last step.”
Yes, Kongo is up there in age at 44-years-old, but he’s performing at his highest level now.
“Now, it’s just more experience, a bit of knowledge, and acting as a wise man. Nothing else. And from that, I have nothing to expect from anyone. So I did that work in sports for the last 20 years. I won’t be surprised [if I win].”
The title challenger hails from France, a country that just recently legalized mixed martial arts. Considering the growth of the sport internationally, you could say France was slow on the draw.
“It’s just about protocol. We have to make sure the sport will be safe and great for people over there. We work pretty well with the minister a lot on the sport and agreed to celebrate this event in January 2020, so that’s a good thing.”
Before Kongo calls it a career, he’d love to perform in front of his home country for the first time.
“At some point [I’ll fight in France]. I’m not in a rush. Let me focus on September 7, then from there, we will bring something to France. Right away in January.”
Despite the massive win streak, Cheick Kongo is not being seen as a viable challenger for the double-champion Ryan Bader. He is assuring fans that he will be comfortable wherever the fight goes.
“From the beginning, I used to fail from my injuries. The good thing is, I’m pretty safe and I’ve healed from that. The ground game has never been an issue for me, so that is something better. Good for them to think that on the ground I’m in trouble and I’m in deep waters. I’ve never been in deep water. And even until now, I’ve only been submitted one time. I don’t want to be arrogant and say, ‘He won’t submit me on the ground.’ But we will see. I’m not the guy reading the crystal ball.”
Kongo’s final message was simple:
“As my little brother used to tell me, just watch. Watch, guys. Watch. That’s all I have to say. People expect a win from my opponent. I’m not done. Just watch.”
Cheick Kongo challenges for the heavyweight title against Ryan Bader in the main event of Bellator 226 on September 7.