It was February 15th, 2019 when Sergei Kharitonov got kneed in the groin by Matt Mitrione, accidentally. The move ended the bout after Kharitonov couldn’t continue. Kharitonov took the five minutes allocated by the referees for an injury to determine if he could continue. He couldn’t. The bout ended and Mitrione, who caused the blow in the first 15 seconds of the fight, apologized to the fans for the abrupt ending.
A rematch was made for August 24th which ended with knees to the face in the 2nd round. It was necessary, due to the uncertainty of the match. Cheick Kongo on the other hand left it without a shadow of a doubt who was winning the bout.
Kongo, 45, has only had one title shot prior. A definitive lost to the then undefeated Bellator Heavyweight Champion, Vitaly Minakov. Minakov is next in line for Bader, as his only loss in Bellator and his career was a Decision loss to Cheick back in February.
Kongo though doesn’t deserve a rematch but why? Well let’s look at Kongo’s performance at Bellator 226. He was getting dominated. It wasn’t an even affair for the first near-minutes of the bout. Bader was rocking him with shots while standing, he took Kongo down and then cornered him where he proceeded to paintbrush Kongo with blows. That’s where the alleged eye-poke happened, while he was defenselessly eating blows.
Instead of taking the five minutes given to him, Kongo waved off the fight after being checked on by the doctors. Title shots are rare, Kongo knows this, having only one shot in 42 bouts. I don’t begrudge Kongo for saying he’s had enough; that’s admirable. I respect the hell out of Kongo for putting his health before his career. But champions don’t quit, not until the absolutely have to. Kongo had five minutes to spare. He didn’t take them. He didn’t want the bout to go further. He was done.
That’s not what champions do. In fact, former UFC Heavyweight Champion and potential Bellator Heavyweight Title contender Josh Barnett even shared his own experience of being poked in the eye during a fight.
Well that #Bellator226 heavyweight title match didn’t give the people what they wanted with that No Contest.
But last time I got eye poked, I took the guy down with a Double Wristlock and then won by submission.
— (@JoshLBarnett) September 8, 2019
The fight in question I believe was against MMA legend Andrei Arlovski. Which he did win, after Arlovski inadvertently poked Barnett in the face. Barnett kept going forward, when he knew he was done in the UFC, and wasn’t expecting to get another title shot.
Kongo was in the middle of a title fight, and he still opted to quit. Again, I respect and support his right to do so, but if you can’t push through the pain, then you’re deserving to be a champion. A champion isn’t just a paycheck. It’s a standard. Kongo’s standard is that he’d rather protect himself than compete. That’s fine if all you want is the check, but it’s not if you want to be the best.
The other point of contention is that Josh Barnett, and Minakov are in line in the Heavyweight division. Then you have Phil Davis, Vadim Nemkov, and Lyota Machida all in line for Bader at Light-Heavyweight. Not too mention the cross-promotional fight with Rizin’s Light Heavyweight Champion Jiri Prochazka. And if that wasn’t stacked enough, then you have the more marketable and probably more competent fighter in Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson trying to get into the cage to fight Bader – only to be held back by Bader’s father.
There are too many in-line to wait for another fight, and there are simply better talent and more marketable talent ahead of Kongo in a rematch. This is why Kongo quitting on the fight is so damning for Kongo; he never belonged there in the first place. Kong was beating scrubs for most of his eight fight win streak. He wasn’t even invited into the Heavyweight Grand Prix because Bellator didn’t see him as being good enough. Then Kongo claimed that Bader didn’t beat anyone on his trek to winning the title. That he wasn’t a real champion. Yet it was Kongo who gave up his title shot.
And we’re supposed to buy this guy as a real competitor? The UFC didn’t want him for a reason and yeah, he’s a good stat padder, but he’s no champion. If Kongo keeps winning, yes, give him another title shot. In fact, I think Kongo should face off with Barnett or a trilogy fight with Minakov first to see if he should get a rematch against Bader. Bader wants to fight again in October and again in December. Assuming the Rizin fight does happen, it’ll happen in October as Bader has said he wants to defend the Light Heavyweight Title next. That leaves plenty of time to book a fight in October for Barnett/Kongo or Minakov/Kongo III. Winner gets Bader in December.
If that isn’t something Kongo wants to do, then you know he doesn’t have it in him to be a champion. That right there warrants the decision to move beyond Kongo in the title scene.