Heavyweights anchor the main card of this Saturday's UFC 149 pay-per-view card from the Scotiabank Saddledome in Canada as recent Strikeforce acquisition Shawn Jordan meets French kickboxer Cheick Kongo. The show's headliner will crown the interim champion of the bantamweight division in the Urijah Faber vs. Renan Barao match and heavy-handed Judoka Hector Lombard clashes with Tim Boetsch in the co-main.
Wolfslair rep Cheick Kongo (17-7) competed in kickboxing before crossing over to MMA. Debuting in the Octagon with a 7-2-1 record, he forged a luke-warm start to his UFC career with a 4-2 sequence. Beyond what those decent numbers convey, Kongo's first pair of TKO stoppages were against bottom-level heavyweights (Christian Wellisch, the late Gilbert Aldana) and his losses to Carmelo Marrero (armbar) and Heath Herring (split decision) seemed to elicit a glaring weakness in his grappling game.
To his credit, Kongo showed feisty scrambling and great instincts in those defeats, and Marrero is a BJJ black belt and Herring is a tough-as-nails veteran. The towering Frenchman then underwent an admirable evolution in the wrestling department, which propelled him to 3-straight wins and requests for a shot at the "teetle" (French for "title") in post-fight interviews. Alas, his advancements were not suitable enough to withstand Cain Velasquez's wrestling onslaught, though Kongo did put up a great fight and stunned the future champion with punches. After a submission loss to Frank Mir, Kongo mounted 3 wins (and drew with Travis Browne) before falling to Mark Hunt by 1st-round TKO in his last.
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Strikeforce crossover Shawn Jordan (13-3) was a 2-time state wrestling champion in high school who left the mats to pursue a career in football, playing fullback for LSU at the NCAA D1 level. "The Savage" won 9 of his first 10 with a high-finishing rate, stopping 8 of those opponents with 6 TKOs and 2 submissions, 6 of which came in the 1st round. He brawled with fellow collegiate fullback Mark Holata at Bellator 31 and lost by vicious TKO in the 1st, but has since pegged a 4-1 clip that includes 2nd-round stoppages over Lavar Johnson in Strikeforce (submission) and Oli Thompson in his Octagon debut (TKO).
Though he's a wide-bodied heavyweight who looks to be carrying some excess mass, Jordan is shockingly agile for his size; he was a standout athlete in multiple sports in high school (track, baseball, wrestling, football) and he runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. MMA-wise, Jordan has 3-dimensional capabilities that consist of solid boxing, wrestling and submissions -- though the latter really only applies when he's on top. As a member of the Jackson/Winklejohn team, he should come equipped with a cerebral strategy and, at age 27, he's a full decade younger than the 37-year-old Kongo.
Continued in the full entry.
The term "world class" is always debatable and describing Kongo as such has been scrutinized. In my humble opinion, you'd be hard-pressed to find an MMA fighter who could survive Glaube Feitosa's signature Brazilian Kick and still be pouring punches on him afterwards.
However, that doesn't mean that every aspect of Kongo's striking is elite -- his defense is not, for starters, and his straight boxing mechanics are far from fundamentally perfect. Kongo has a mean, laser-straight right hand that stands as his best punch by a long-shot. He used kicks more often in the early part of his UFC stint, but meshing takedowns into his arsenal caused a change in his offense, which resulted in more than just relenting on the use of kicks.
Kongo's biggest issue when facing grapplers was that he'd sit down hard on his punches. This offered a lot of sting, velocity and travel with his boxing but, because his feet were firmly planted when uncorking punches, it left him a sitting duck for takedowns. Transitioning from years of digging his feet into the canvas and torquing his hips over to staying lighter on his toes for better reactionary movement was a necessary adaptation, but one that he's still struggling to find balance with. Offensive takedowns are now a viable option and his takedown defense has gotten sharper, but the trade off is that he's lost some of the mustard on his punches.
Where Kongo is still thoroughly deadly is in the clinch, where his height and strength translate to massive leverage. His knees to the body are punishing, albeit off-target and below the belt on occasion, and his dirty boxing and short elbows are highly effective. Additionally, having the ability to rifle for takedowns is always an edge on the score cards and a smart tool to keep your opponent guessing.
Jordan, a southpaw, is a pretty basic boxer with a nice overhand left and straight left. He's at his best when his adversary is concerned with his takedown attempts, which allows him to play mind-games by faking level drops and then sailing punches instead, or vice-versa. Staying in a low, crouched stance with his left hand cocked, Jordan keys his offense off of simple fakes with his head: keeping it upright as if sighting in a punch or dropping it low like he's about to spring for a double leg.
His surprising dexterity serves him well. Though he's not much of an elaborate technician with footwork and lateral motion, his back-and-forth, in-and-out explosions are quick and powerful. That tactic will have to be on-point against Kongo to make up for the substantial 4" disadvantage in height (6'0" vs. 6'4") and 8" disadvantage in reach (74" vs. 82"), and losing 2 of his 3 matches by 1st-round TKO emphasizes the importance of strategic movement -- with his feet from outside and with head and upper body in the pocket -- even more.
Even though Jordan has more experience wrestling, Kongo's length, athleticism and quickness might make up for it. Kongo also has a bad habit of telegraphing his takedowns with no set-up, which is something to watch out for. Kongo's best weapon -- the clinch -- might, in turn, be negated by Jordan's robust frame and wrestling. Because Kongo prefers the Thai plum, that will leave his waist and hips somewhat exposed for takedown attempts, so he'll have to make sure he has a low center of gravity and a wide base with good balance while shrinking his hips back and out of the pocket before implementing his offense. For this to occur, he'll likely have to pin Jordan against the fence.
If Jordan can hit a takedown, he's smart enough to lock Kongo down to prevent escapes and then batter him with elbows and punches. Jordan is capable with top-side submissions and will pounce on Kongo if he gives up his back or exposes his neck during scrambles.
I'm totally on the fence for this match up: size and the pure striking acumen go to Kongo while Jordan is more diverse and intelligent; both are pretty tough and durable but can be put away with a clean power shot. Jordan will have to perform well with movement and footwork to do it, but I think he can pull out the win with a cerebral mesh of his wrestling and boxing.
My Prediction: Shawn Jordan by decision.