As we found out earlier, Cheick Kongo has stepped in to face Cain Velasquez at UFC 99. Velasquez was set to face MMA veteran Heath Herring in his first real test, before Herring had to bow out with an illness. Herring has become the litmus test for up and coming heavyweights as of late. Many people have cemented Velasquez as the future of the heavyweight division, and expected him to take Herring out. However, now with Kongo in as a replacement, I think this fight just became tougher for Velasquez and here's why:
- Kongo is a bigger threat with his standup game
- Kongo has improved his wrestling game a great deal
- Kongo will enjoy a significant reach advantage
Kongo and Herring fought at UFC 87 with Herring winning a controversial split decision. However, that's the last fight Kongo lost, and he's been on a tear as of late albeit against somewhat limited competition. Velasquez hasn't faced anyone with the size or striking ability of Kongo. Velasquez exhibited the propensity to want to stand and trade in his last outing. If this fight stays on the feet, Kongo has a very good shot of taking him out unlike Herring who has won most of his fights via submissions and decisions. As I mentioned earlier, the reach advantage will be significant.
Most people will point to Velasquez's wrestling ability as the difference in the fight, and that could very well be true. However, when Herring is taken down(it happens often) he usually just tried to hold on for a ref stand up or turtle up on his hands and knees. Whereas, Kongo has shown the ability to get back up to his feet at times. I envisioned Herring/Velasquez going a lot like Herring/Lesnar. Simply because I couldn't see Herring ending it standing, nor could I see him taking Velasquez down. He probably would not have been able to stop Velasquez from taking him down either. However, Kongo has a shot at hurting Velasquez standing and possibly finishing him with the much improved GnP he has exhibited as of late. I'm not saying that Kongo will win, but I definitely wouldn't bet the farm on Velasquez in this one.
I love this fight as it answers a couple of questions. Is Cain Velasquez for real, and can Cheick Kongo beat a powerful wrestler?