Heavyweight French Muay Thai fighter Cheick Kongo (15-6-1, 8-4 UFC) will look to start a late career rally as he battles behemoth knockout artist Travis Browne (10-0, 1-0 UFC) in a bout that should push the winner nearer the upper-tier of the division. Kongo has ridden a roller coaster during his tenure with the UFC, impressing fans with knockout performances before succumbing to the top fighters in the division. Browne, on the other hand, has yet to taste defeat, but he's only dipped a toe in the dangerous waters of the UFC's heavyweight division with a win over James McSweeney at The Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale.
Kongo's most recent dive into the depths of the division came following his TKO victory over now-retired kickboxer turned mixed martial artist Antoni Hardonk at UFC 97. Three straight victories certainly brought some attention to Kongo, and questions arose whether he had improved enough to finally break into the upper echelon of the division. Unfortunately, he ran into the relentless wrestling skills of current UFC heavyweight title contender Cain Velasquez in his next fight at UFC 99. While Kongo did manage to rock Velasquez in all three rounds of action, his weakness in the ground game proved to be his undoing, putting him on the short end of a decision. Six months later, Frank Mir submitted Kongo in only 1:12, further solidifying the notion that Kongo hasn't adapted enough to scrap the one-dimensional tag from his style of fighting.
Fortunately for Kongo, the UFC still has a place in their hearts for strikers who can entertain the majority of the fanbase. He put on a solid performance against a very game Paul Buentello, and he'll now face a heavy-handed giant in Travis Browne, who is mainly a puncher. Kongo should have the technical edge on the feet.
The appeal of this fight, however, is whether Kongo can stop his sizable opponent from taking him down and blasting him into unconsciousness. While Kongo has shown improving takedown defense over the last couple of years, he still hasn't been successful in transitioning those improving skills and creating victories out of them. Cain was still able to gain takedowns, and Mir locked Kongo's neck into a choke.
Browne possesses huge power, and Kongo isn't exactly immune to being bombed on the feet. His reach and size are great assets, but that advantage is out the window against a 6'7" monster like Browne. If Browne can use that size and power to topple Kongo to the ground, it could be lights out quickly for Kongo.
I think this is a bit of a closer call than most people think. I've watched quite a bit of Travis Browne, and he looks impressive in regional bouts against sub-par competition. But we've said that about almost anybody coming into the UFC with an undefeated record. Once in the Octagon, the level of competition is much higher. Browne will have his work cut out for him, and I think Kongo will use his lengthy limbs and Muay Thai background to pepper him early. Once Browne begins to wear down, look for a stunning blow that staggers Browne, puts him on the defensive, and ends his night with Kongo standing over him raining down punches.