Former Zuffa mainstays Cheick Kongo (21-9-2) and Lavar Johnson (18-9) will square off in a career crossroads bout this Saturday at Bellator 123. The winner will continue their ascent through the Bellator ranks while the losing fighter will likely find themselves relegated to the preliminary card or fighting on the regional circuit for their next bout.
Things were not always this gloomy for Kongo and Johnson. Both men were once featured fighters in the UFC’s heavyweight division. Kongo was a UFC mainstay for years, appearing on multiple pay-per-view main cards and widely televised events.
On the other hand, Johnson’s rise to prominence in the UFC was just as fast as his fall. Johnson burst onto the scene in the UFC with two devastating first round knockouts over the likes of Joey Beltran and Pat Barry but after two straight losses and a failed drug test, Johnson found himself released from the promotion.
Since their respective releases from the UFC, both men have regained the form that made them some of the most valued talents in the UFC. Kongo currently holds a 3-1 record with the promotion with his only loss being a close decision to current Bellator Heavyweight Champion Vitaly Minakov. Johnson has not found nearly as much success as Kongo in Bellator but picked up his first win with the promotion this past March with a first round knockout of Ryan Martinez.
Even with both men’s recent success, they find themselves on thin ice heading into their bout this Friday.
One thing Scott Coker has made clear since his entrance to Bellator is that he is not interested in keeping around the name fighters of yesteryear. He’s looking to sign the best fighters available and the most highly touted prospects. A loss for either fighter this Friday would be a strong indicator that their best days are behind them and that there is likely a better talent Bellator could fill their roster spot with.
Of the two, it’s clear that Johnson has more to lose than Kongo. His 1-2 record with the promotion is far from stellar and both of his losses have been definitive and emphatic. Still, Kongo isn’t out of the woods either as his inability to win “the big one” may lead Bellator to look elsewhere for a future title challenger.
One thing is for certain for both Johnson and Kongo: their fighting future is at stake this Friday. Usually when fighters are faced with this situation they put on the best performances of their career.
The only question remaining is if it will be Kongo or Johnson who still has some gas left in the tank.
Tune into Bellator 123 this Friday on Spike TV at 8 PM Eastern/5 PM Pacific to find out.
For all of your Bellator 123 coverage visit SciFighting.com.