In heavyweight action, French-born Muay Thai striker Cheick Kongo (15-6-2) will square off against former K-1 kickboxer Pat Barry (6-2) in a somewhat relevant showdown that should vault the victor into more important battles in the future. While this bout may seem insignificant to most fans, the shallow depths of the UFC's heavyweight division makes any bout between mid-level talents relevant. Add in the fact that the upper reaches of the division are wilting due to the looming age barrier, and the prospect of either Barry or Kongo, at the very least, getting big name bouts isn't out of reach.
For Kongo, this bout should be an opportunity for him to return to relevance in the division. He was never considered an elite fighter due to his lacking takedown defense and absence of any sort of wrestling training. He did, however, amass a 7-2 record in his first nine appearances with the promotion, dropping split decisions to Carmelo Marrero and Heath Herring.
After an impressive win over Antoni Hardonk at UFC 97 in April of 2009, the UFC propelled Kongo into a title eliminator with rising prospect Cain Velasquez. Many fans considered Kongo's performance to be Velasquez's toughest test to date, stumbling the current UFC champion with shots to the head before succumbing to a takedown clinic. The decision loss was followed by a quick submission defeat at the hands of Frank Mir six months later, relegating Kongo to the shallows of the division.
Barry's UFC career has been far less prestigious, and he has yet to make the jump out of the basement of the division. He's currently 3-2 in his UFC career, defeating notable veterans Joey Beltran and the recently retired Antoni Hardonk. His toughest test to date came at UFC 115 in June of last year when he battled PRIDE veteran Mirko 'CroCop' Filipovic. Unfortunately, he was submitted by the legendary Croatian striker in the third round of action after an eventful first round that saw Filipovic stagger from shots by Barry.
Barry's follow-up win over Joey Beltran in January put him back in the hunt for more significant battles. In order to leapfrog Kongo in the rankings however, he'll need to find a way to get through the reach and length that Kongo possesses and utilizes effectively in the striking department. Despite Barry's K-1 background, his performances inside the Octagon haven't been that impressive, mostly due to the added threat of takedowns from his opponents and the hesitance it brings to Barry's striking. Kongo is far less of a threat in that department.
That may seem like a plus for Barry in this fight, but I'm under the impression that he will have major problems dealing with Kongo's brutal brand of Muay Thai. The five inch height advantage in the clinch will make it easier for Kongo to grasp Barry along the fence and brutalize him with knees to the gut. I'm not convinced that Barry has the advantage standing either. From distance, Kongo's reach and length will keep him away from Barry's power unless Barry can find a way to move inside.
Taking down Kongo would be Barry's best course of action. Unfortunately, Kongo isn't a stubborn learner. He's improved his takedown defense since his early days in the UFC, and Barry will find it hard to bring this fight to the ground, even if he is training with some of the best wrestlers in the business. I don't anticipate Barry working for submissions or overwhelming Kongo if he makes it to the mat. I anticipate a striking war in which Kongo gets the better of Barry and eventually finishes him.