“The Answer” Frankie Edgar (14-1-1) is set to face “Smooth” Ben Henderson (14-2) this Saturday in the Saitama Super Arena for the main event of UFC 144. Rather than return to Japan with the standard five-fight main card, the UFC has elected to deliver a four-hour Pay-Per-View featuring seven feature bouts. “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (31-9) and “Darth” Ryan Bader (13-2) draw duties as the co-main event fighters. “Sexyama” Yoshihiro Akiyama (14-5) faces Jake Shields (26-6-1) to anchor the card. Former WEC champ “Showtime” Anthony Pettis (14-2) will open the card against “J-Lau” Joe Lauzon (21-6) and bouts between “Thunder” Yushin Okami (26-6) and “The Barbarian” Tim Boetsch (14-4), and Hatsu Hioki (23-4-2) and “Bartimus” Bart Palaszewski (35-14) will round out the event. Supporting the two showcased bouts will be a heavyweight strikers duel between “Super Samoan” Mark Hunt (7-7) and Cheick Kongo (17-6-2). Each man has different motivations and goals for the match and brings a different flavor of K-1 level kickboxing to the table in what could very well wind up the front runner among the most entertaining bouts of the evening.
At First Glance: This bout was made for the fans. Kongo has served traditionally as one of the division’s most dangerous gatekeepers, often being the first man a fighter must defeat to get on the road to heavyweight title contention. Despite a two-fight UFC win streak and a newly improved ground game, at 7-7 Mark Hunt is far from setting eyes on UFC gold or even the path to it. The New Zealand-born Samoan kickboxer literally has a place in the UFC only due to the wildly entertaining fights he is capable of when paired with other strikers…like Cheick Kongo. From a standings perspective, this bout has almost no meaning. From a career perspective, the only value this bout has to either combatant is the fact that is almost certainly a “Fight of the Night” front runner.
In Depth: It is the stylistic meat and potatoes of this bout that makes it such an exciting prospect for fans. The bout literally has no meaning or relevance within the heavyweight division, but both Hunt and Kongo have a penchant for putting on the kind of fast paced, exciting slugfests traditionally reserved for Rocky movies when paired with other strikers. Despite his physique, Hunt has good head movement and footwork and has dealt with rangy kickboxers his entire career. In fact, he faced opponents with an inch or more reach on him in over half of his K-1 matches. This means Kongo’s eight-inch reach advantage will not be unfamiliar territory for the Samoan who could easily get inside and knock out the taller man. For his part, Kongo can match Hunt’s iron chin and, as a multiple-time Savate and Muay Thai champion, can match his kickboxing skills as well. On the feet, both men have the footwork, combination striking, and knockout power to make an explosive firefight for the enjoyment of MMA fans worldwide.
Wild Card: The great equalizer is Kongo’s often overlooked Greco-Roman wrestling acumen. Though he is by no means an elite grappler, Kongo has proven that when he needs to get the fight off the feet, he can easily do so from the clinch and he knows how to do serious damage from the top position on the ground. Mark Hunt showed greatly improved grappling in his last UFC bout, but to expect him to stuff Kongo’s outside trips and body lock takedowns or to escape from bottom position unscathed against the Frenchman is a healthy stretch.
The Verdict: Fans love watching Mark Hunt for a reason – he never quits and he always brings the heat. He also has the kind of power to end Kongo’s night quickly. Kongo will trade with Hunt, but unless the Samoan puts him down early, he will revert to his Greco-Roman skills and put Hunt on his back, ending the fight in short order. Kongo via TKO (Strikes), Round 2