Uninterested in a physical confrontation, I'll begin by clarifying that I'm cool with Cheick Kongo placement of knees. The towering Team Wolfslair fighter meets the heavyweight division's biggest surprise in former NFL defensive tackle Matt Mitrione at UFC 137: Penn vs. Diaz.
I'll admit (and I'm not even placating him out of fear this time) that I enjoyed watching Kongo's airtight combinations before he unveiled his natural wrestling instincts against the battle-scarred Heath Herring. Let's face it -- the UFC's heavyweight cauldron is not necessarily boiling over with fresh and exciting prospects, and augmenting his already defined striking onslaught with an unpolished but admirable bent for scrambling upped my intrigue.
Oddly enough, it was another of Kongo's losses that validated his status. Cain Velasquez, who would go on to cement himself as the alpha heavyweight, seriously struggled under the cascading waves of Kongo's relentless stand up more so than we've ever beheld. It's even more momentous in retrospect, but I dare say that our reigning heavyweight champ exuded an aura of desperation when the French kickboxer was putting it on him.
Again dodging the mold of the one-trick pony, the evolving fighter applied his size and athleticism to unhinge savvy striker Paul Buentello with a grinding clinch game and takedown pressure. Despite a sole TKO loss to the heavy-handed Gilbert Yvel in 2004, Kongo's chin seemed adequately resilient until Frank Mir crumpled him with a massive overhand; a recurring trend in his latest outing versus Pat Barry before he resurrected himself from the dead with guns blazing, making for the most thrilling comeback win all year.
When a host of former NFL players were announced for season ten of TUF, we all felt that flicker of hope that their exorbitant strength-to-agility ratio could be a high horsepower foundation upon which technique and experience could be later combined. "Meathead" has done just that.
In a true trial by fire, all five of Mitrione's pro fights have taken place in the Octagon and he's yet to falter while improving at an astounding rate. Alienated on the reality show, Mitrione was not given much of a chance. The brutality and speed of his straight left hand was an eye-opener for many, but his momentum fizzled shortly after when James McSweeney choked him out in a forgettable performance.
With gradually ascending brightness, Mitrione unraveled fellow cast mates Marcus Jones and Kimbo Slice in commanding tramplings, then traveled farther up the ladder with ever-enhancing boxing prowess in invigorating wins over the hard-headed Joey Beltran (decision), Tim Hague and Christian Morecraft (both first round TKOs).
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Cheick Kongo (16-6-2) vs. Matt Mitrione (5-0)
Intentions are obvious in this match: Mitrione's only chance is finding a pathway into close quarters and boring a meat-cleaver through to the chin.
Kongo, from his trustworthy, low-based stance, will look to pot-shot Mitrione on the way in with laser-straight, telephone-pole punches.
The kicker is that height and reach, what would seem to be landslide advantages for Kongo (6'4", 82"), is mostly a wash due to Mitrione's gangly frame (6'3", 81").
Regardless of the minor one-inch differential, there's no question Mitrione's chances drastically increase the closer in proximity he is.
So as not to reinvent the wheel, please reference our own Fraser Coffeen's analysis of the pros and cons of Matt Mitrione's striking.
Fraser's astute findings are that Mitrione's animated movement and footwork along with his inside low kick and merciless straight left are his three best offerings; his weak spots are hanging his chin out and dropping his hands.
I agree with the observations, so let's apply each one.
Inside low kick: the weakness of his porous defense makes this an extremely risky option, especially against the scorching straight right of Kongo.
It feels awkward to put a lot of snap on a low kick with your hands stuck to your chin, so the natural tendency is to drop your hands while you're torquing your hips over.
A tell-tale sign of a technical striker is one who generates power in the kick without sacrificing his defense.
I wouldn't avoid this entirely, but use it sparingly and with extreme caution.
Since his movement and footwork will affect just about everything, that leaves Mitrone's absolutely devastating straight left hand as his paramount approach.
In the first gif as well as the one to the left against Tim Hague, the punch is simply Mitrione's bread and butter.
It's tight, straight, blindingly fast and drenched with solid power.
His precarious hand position is noticeable again in the lead right hook that precedes the nice sprawl, so Kongo could fake a level-drop to set up his hands.
Some unknown variables to consider are Mitrone's ability to take punishment -- something his motion has allowed him to evade -- and whether Kongo might reintroduce his combination of clinch tactics, takedowns and ground assault to keep Meathead out of his element.
I'm a little curious how Kongo comes in a slight underdog on the betting lines, having twenty-four fights scattered over a decade of experience versus Mitrione's five fights in the span of two years.
Personally, I'd flip that ratio the other way.
Kongo has demonstrated more well rounded capabilities, faced a much higher volume of significantly superior competition and worked hard for many years to perfect his Dutch-style kickboxing.
In light of that, I would give Mitrione a fair chance of winning an all-striking match, just because of his rapid acceleration, big power, slight agility advantage and surging momentum.
However, the one flaw that hasn't been mentioned is the docile manner in which he folded up against McSweeney. This is extremely subjective and characterized by "pre-evolution" Mitrione, but Kongo has persevered through many uncomfortable positions and situations with praise-worthy heart and determination. This gritty trait alone could be the deciding factor if he can drag Mitrione into deep waters.
My emotionless, logical side leans toward Kongo. Nonetheless, while I have nothing against the big fella, Mitrione's aura is infectious right now and I'd like to see it keep thriving, so I'll pick him for what I think should be considered an upset.
My Prediction: Matt Mitrione by TKO
Gifs 2 and 5 via MMA-Core.com
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com