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Cheick Kongo - Respect over everything

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Cheick Kongo is his own man. (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)

Cheick Kongo made his UFC debut in 2006 and the heavyweight built a solid record against the world’s best for seven years. Then, in 2013, he turned down a new contract offer from the UFC and walked away, eventually signing with Bellator.

Kongo’s friend and training partner Quinton “Rampage” Jackson did something similar and now the two both fight for the UFC’s main rival promotion. “Rampage” was very vocal about his unhappiness with the UFC, for some time, leading up to his last UFC fight in January, 2013 against Glover Teixeira.

Kongo, on the other hand, did not make a big, public stink, so many fans have been left wondering why the Parisian walked away from the big leagues on his own volition. Cagewriter visited with Kongo this past Wednesday as he looked towards a Bellator heavyweight title fight tonight against champion Vitaly Minakov.

The big man was calm, measured and clear but did not mince words in explaining why he decided to leave the UFC. “I want to be treated right,” he said. 

“I’d felt this way for a long time, but friends said, ‘Cheick, relax, just ignore it.’”

Ultimately, however, Kongo could not ignore what he felt was poor treatment from the UFC. He felt it impossible to be a company man while being treated like chattel.

“I’d rather die with my mouth open than to close it, shut up and survive,” he went on.

According to Kongo, the forms of alleged disrespect from the UFC varied. It was a combination of amount of money they offered him for a new contract as he was on a losing streak along with other, unspecified slights.

“It’s a little of everything,” he explained.

“They want people to shut up and go along with things but I can’t be that way. Also, of course, everyone wants to be paid more. I don’t expect to be paid millions of dollars, you know, but we put ourselves on the line for the promotion and do so much – some guys, not saying myself, but some guys go out there and fight like crazy, take hits and are so exciting and then they get $20,000.

“Then there’s bonuses. What’s a bonus? What the [expletive] is a bonus? Are there bonuses in life? You go out there, work hard, fight hard and should be paid fairly to do it, not waiting to see if maybe you will get a bonus or not afterwards…They treat you like you’re a piece of [expletive] if you lose.”

Kongo says that he isn’t averse to hard work, even if it’s for paltry pay. But, after putting in decades into his professional fight career, if he’s going to fight, he needs to feel that his bosses appreciate his sweat and blood.

“I’ve been a fighter for a long time. I’ll do any work. I’ll work for pennies if I need to. I don’t mind hard work. But, fighting is my career and I want to be respected for doing it. I’ll go work for a little money in some other type of work but fighting is my career,” he said.

“Other guys, I can’t speak for them or tell them what to do. They have families, houses, things to pay for. But I have to stand up for myself, even if it means I lose out. For those guys, I just wish them the best with everything."

Kongo has certainly moved past his resentment of the UFC, winning his first two Bellator bouts and earning his title shot Friday night in Reno. Kongo says that he’s been training in his adopted home of Los Angeles with the likes of Jackson, the crew at Antonio McKee’s Body Shop and many other spots.

Because of his years in the UFC, Kongo may be the bigger name in tonight’s heavyweight title match up but he knows what a tall task he has in front of him. Asked what he thinks of his younger, Russian opponent, Kongo laughed. “He’s a beast!” he roared.

“There’s a word in French…in English, it kind of means, ‘mother [expletive] (laughs). He’s a strong, big kid and is doing well. My friends ask me, ‘Cheick, why do you say that? You’re the guy.’ But, I feel that way. He’s a beast.” That said, Kongo feels prepared for the champion. “I’ve worked hard and know I’m ready,” he said.

For years, Kongo called for a title shot in the UFC, but never made it to the top. Now that he’s closer than ever to a gold belt, a title isn’t what motivates the Frenchman.

“I don’t know why, but it is just another fight for me,” he concluded.

“I mean, of course, it would be great to be a champion. I’ve wanted to be a champ for a long time before and now I have a chance to do it in Bellator. But, a hard fight is a hard fight, no matter if it’s for a title or not.”

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