Mailbag: Kongo questions foe’s readiness

Cain Velasquez is gifted enough that he can eventually do for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s heavyweight division what Mike Tyson did for boxing’s in the mid-to-late 1980s.

No less an authority than Javier Mendez of the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., calls Velasquez one of the five most talented men to walk through his doors. A fellow competitor, Pat Barry, calls him “a scary man.” UFC president Dana White has referred to Velasquez as “a freak.”

The man who is set to face him at UFC 99 on June 13 in Cologne, Germany, though, isn’t nearly as effusive as nearly everyone else who has seen him.

Cheick Kongo, who is hoping to land a shot at the UFC heavyweight title later this year, said he respects Velasquez but isn’t sure he could pick him out of a crowd.

“He doesn’t need to be in a hurry, [because] he has only just gotten to the UFC,” Kongo said. “So I don’t know why this fight makes so much sense for him. I have seen his fights, of course, but I honestly can’t picture what he looks like.”

Kongo took the fight with Velasquez as a replacement for Heath Herring, who had to withdraw from the bout because of illness. Kongo, whose most notable win was a unanimous decision over Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic at UFC 75 in 2007, isn’t concerned that he’s had just three weeks to prepare.

And he suggested that Velasquez’s relative lack of experience could turn out to be the difference in the fight.

“I hear he is good, but if I was his manager, I wouldn’t want my fighter to fight someone like me so soon,” Kongo said. “Why fight me now?

“He is respectful, but it is going to be tough for him to fight me at this stage of his career. He needs heart to beat me. Lots of heart. He needs to be very careful. He can be very good, I have heard, but I am not too concerned. He should be the one worried.”

We’ll see. Kongo is good, but Velasquez is special and I think he’ll score an impressive victory. I’m sure many will disagree, but that’s why they fight the fights. Before I delve into your questions and comments, I’d like to invite you to follow me on Twitter.

As always, my answers are in italics.

DECLINING A TITLE SHOT

Do you think Rampage is fearful of being humiliated as Rashad Evans was against Machida? Is that why he turned down the title shot and chose to coach on Season 10 of “The Ultimate Fighter?”

Dan Hansen
Aurora, Ill.

I don’t think he’s afraid at all. It’s a combination of factors, really. He’ll get a long break, which will allow his jaw and assorted other nagging injuries to heal. He’ll be able to work hard on diversifying his game, bringing back some of the wrestling elements he used to have. Another benefit will be that he’ll be able to break down Machida’s style even further and work on exploiting his weaknesses. And the exposure TUF provides will be great, will help make him a bigger star and he’ll still get the Machida fight next year if he gets past Rashad (and, of course, Machida still has the belt).


Oh God, Kevin. You don’t really think Rampage is passing up a shot at the title to settle some grudge with Rashad, do you? He is ducking Lyoto. I can’t believe it wasn’t even mentioned as a possibility in your column.

Chad
New York

I’m not about to start accusing a man of ducking someone when he’s fought everyone who has ever been put in front of him without a word of complaint. If there is evidence that he really is ducking Machida, I’d call him on that. But I don’t believe it for a second.


Do you really feel that Rampage is passing up this title shot for the grudge or is he just not wanting to fight Machida? I think he’s more of a cash cow for the UFC and they gain nothing by watching him get beaten badly by Machida. I personally think Rashad is going to beat him soundly as well, if he fights his fight and not Rampage’s.

Gary

The Jackson-Evans match is going to be very entertaining and is a very difficult one to pick. Evans will have a great scouting report from Keith Jardine, that should help him immensely. It doesn’t do a lot for the UFC if Machida thrashes him (especially if Evans does, too), but White has shown that he’s willing to gamble and put his best guys in tough fights.


How could Jackson pass up the title shot against Machida? And how could the title shot be given to a guy with a 1-2 record in the UFC, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua? None of it makes sense to me. Chuck Liddell, after losing the UFC’s light heavyweight belt to Jackson, had to face Jardine, Wanderlei Silva, Evans and Rua. Forrest Griffin lost the belt to Evans and in his first fight back is facing Anderson Silva at UFC 101. What? So, if Silva beats Griffin, is he next in line to fight for the light heavyweight title? Or if Evans defeats Jackson, does Evans automatically take Jackson’s title shot? Or does it set up a No. 1 contender match between Evans and Silva? Rua should not be given this opportunity. Rua barely squeezed out a victory over 44-year-old Mark Coleman and hadn’t fought in a long time. He had a KO over Liddell at UFC 97, but we all know Liddell is done. I don’t get it.

Peter Mazur
San Diego

Rua doesn’t have the title shot yet. He’s the leader in the clubhouse, so to speak, but it’s not a done deal. Jackson is taking a big gamble. He’s the No. 1 contender and would have had a title shot. If he beats Evans, of course he retains that spot. But he took the fight with Evans knowing full well that A) he could lose and B) that Machida could lose. There aren’t a lot of logical contenders at the moment, given that Jackson opted to face Evans. Machida is going to fight in the fall. Evans and Jackson are booked, as are Silva and Griffin. Most of the top 205-pounders already have fights, which is why Shogun looks attractive to the UFC brass. The UFC down the road would love a Silva-Machida fight if neither loses in the interim. It would be a massive pay-per-view, I’d think.


MORE THOUGHTS ON SHOGUN

How does Shogun get to be next in line to fight Machida for the title? He had two below-average fights prior to knocking out Chuck Liddell could he be the next person in line to fight him? This is really weird the way the UFC is handling this.

Jason Reeves
Evansville, Ind.

I was very critical of Shogun after his win over Mark Coleman at UFC 93 in Dublin, Ireland. But he was once the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, until injuries overtook him. And, as I said above, he doesn’t have the fight yet. If he gets it, it would be because of his entire body of work and certainly not off his recent performance.


SOKOUDJOU’S OUTRAGEOUS PERFORMANCE

I wanted to get your opinion on Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou’s unfortunate actions at DREAM 9 last week against Jan Norte. When I first heard about it, I thought it must have been an unfortunate lack of communication between the official and the fighters that resulted in Sokodjou continuing to throw a couple of strikes after a stoppage. However, upon seeing the fight I was shocked and appalled by Sokodjou’s continued pounding (I counted five or six strikes thrown around the referee’s arms) of Norte after the official had clearly stopped the fight and practically had to restrain him. Will he be punished? I hope so. It was genuinely disgusting and showed an inexcusable lack of class and disregard for Norte’s well-being.

Brent Funderburke
Bloomington, Ind.

I’m not sure what Sokoudjou was thinking, though I give him credit for apologizing for his actions. He should face punishment, but given that the fight was in Japan, where almost anything goes, I don’t expect anything to come of it.


NON-ENGLISH SPEAKERS

Do you think the UFC is happy with two of its titleholders being non-English speakers? Doesn’t that hurt pay-per-view buys?

Jon
Suffern, N.Y.

Clearly, the charismatic guys, like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, are the ones who get over the biggest. But both UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva and light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida are regarded widely as two of the top four fighters in the world. That makes them big draws in and of itself. And Machida deserves a lot of credit for working hard to learn English. He’s got an entertaining personality and I think he’ll become extremely popular when he’s able to express himself better.

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    Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
    Updated Tuesday, Jun 2, 2009