Cheick Kongo balances revenge on Ryan Bader with home title fight in Paris
Cheick Kongo has had his sights set on Ryan Bader ever since their first fight ended rather unceremoniously for him, to say the least.
And to hear Kongo talk about the rematch he recently booked with Bellator’s heavyweight champion, “sights set on” might be an understatement. “Has had it out for” might be more appropriate.
Kongo had a shot at the heavyweight title in September 2019 against Bader, but the fight ended in a no contest after Bader accidentally poked Kongo in the eye and the Frenchman was unable to continue.
More than two years later, Kongo isn’t convinced the eye poke – and one in the nose – was an accident. But the incident has fueled him on the path to the rematch that was announced this past Saturday for May 6 in Paris, where Kongo (31-11-2 MMA, 13-3 BMMA) will get a second shot at Bader (29-7 MMA, 7-2 BMMA) in his home city.
“It’s not about disliking people,” Kongo told MMA Junkie. “But for sure, I dislike the move he did in the previous fight. He did really good – he tried to shut me down with the punches, he tried some takedowns. For me, at that (point in the fight), I was just analyzing his game and what he could do. I read him very well, and he understood that. … When he understood that point, he was just like, ‘Shoot. I need to do some move to (get the advantage).’ After that, he poked me twice. Once was in the eyes, and after that, he tried again in the nose.”
After the no contest, which was in Bader’s first title defense after knockout out Fedor Emelianenko in 35 seconds to win the vacant belt, Bader spent time at light heavyweight rather than heavyweight. He lost his 205-pound title nearly a year after the Kongo fight. Then he went on a quest to get it back that was halted after two fights.
This past Saturday at Bellator 273, he finally returned to heavyweight and beat interim champ Valentin Moldavsky. That set up the rematch with Kongo, which Kongo said he didn’t expect to happen when he was cageside in Phoenix.
“It was a big surprise – I didn’t expect that, for sure,” Kongo said. “I was wondering what was the reason I was there for the fight. I was expecting to square off with Fedor, and I was making scenarios: ‘Is it Fedor, or is it somebody else?’ And at the end, woo! I get an announcement for the fight with the winner. … I wished Bader (would) win, and he did good, so I was really happy. I was really happy, for sure, to get the fight. But honestly the really big excitement for me is to fight Bader (again). It was like, finally. At the end, I was like, ‘Karma’s a b*tch.'”
Kongo said fighting in front of his home fans is going to be part of his motivation in the rematch. MMA was not legal in France for decades, but recently became sanctioned. Bellator put on an event in Paris in 2020, and naturally Kongo was on the bill – but was upset by Timothy Johnson in a split decision.
Winning at home is key, but so, too, will be fighting for a chance to win the title. The 46-year-old Kongo never has held a major MMA belt, and he’s been in the sport for more than 20 years.
But it seems the leader of the pack for what will motivate Kongo is another shot at Bader.
“I have no hate. I have nothing bad (to say),” Kongo said. “(But) I want to make him disappear. I’m going to make him disappear. I’m going to make him disappear. I’m the black hole, and I’m going to swallow him. That’s it. That’s it. I’m going to make him disappear, and I’m going to make a f*cking statement and legacy about that. We’ve never seen someone at my age doing things at the top of this level, and doing great things at this level. I’m the guy. Today, I’m the guy. I don’t know for how long, but I’m the guy.”