Bellator 123 Play: Cheick Kongo (-230) vs Lavar Johnson (+190)

Cheick KongoBellator 123 Date: September 5, 2014 Arena: Mohegan Sun Casino City: Uncasville, CT Heavyweight bout: Cheick Kongo (-230) vs Lavar Johnson (+190) Fight Breakdown: The co-main event for Bellator 123 will be a heavyweight contest between a pair of UFC veterans in Cheick Kongo and Lavar Johnson, with Kongo being the favorite at the sportsbooks at -230 ($230 to win $100) and the return on the underdog Johnson being +190 ($100 to win $190) at Several Bookmakerss. Cheick Kongo (21-9-2 MMA, 3-1 Bellator) last saw action at Bellator 120 back in May, where he scored a late second round TKO over Erick Smith, bouncing back into the win column after dropping a unanimous decision to Bellator Heavyweight Champion Vitaly Minakov in a bid for the Russian’s gold. Though a losing effort, it was a lose fight and Kongo has his sights set on another shot at the title, and it will start by going 2-0 with a win over Johnson. The 39-year old works a nice jab, and uses his reach and distance really well. He is a powerful, well-rounded heavyweight who works well inside the clinch against the cage. He likes to use his knees from that position, attacking his opponents’ legs and body, which ultimately slows them down. Other than that, he doesn’t do that much damage from the position, mostly just staying dominant while scoring a few points. The Frenchman also works good takedowns against the cage, and he possesses a brutal ground and pound attack, mixing vicious elbows with devastating punches. When the UFC veteran has his back against the cage, he is good at finding his underhooks and reversing positions, ultimately ending up in control of his opponents. He has good submission defense, as well, not to mention solid takedown defense. Also, when taken down, he is very good at finding his way back to his feet. Kongo has nice leg kicks, and works a solid uppercut. He has good striking defense, but a poor chin that has been the root cause of his last two losses in the UFC, which resulted in worrisome knockouts. His chin used to be pretty good, but it has certainly diminished with age. The Frencmhan has a nice 1-2 combination he likes to use, and for a 38 year old heavyweight, he has great cardio, so I expect him to be ready to go a full 25 minutes against the Russian, should the fight go the distance. “Big” Lavar Johnson (18-9 MMA, 1-2 Bellator) made a splash in UFC’s heavyweight division with a pair of very impressive knockout victories over Joey Beltran and Pat Barry, respectively. Unfortunately, the good times couldn’t last very long, as he followed those wins with consecutive losses to Stefan Struve and Brendan Schaub. His lack of a ground-game was the reason behind both defeats. Johnson has zero submission defense, so Struve was able to pull guard and easily submit him just a minute into their contest. The UFC and Strikeforce veteran has zero wrestling skills, so he was unable to stop the offensive wrestling of Brendan Schaub, who dominated him on the mat to pick up a completely one-sided unanimous decision victory on the judges’ scorecards. Johnson received his pink slip from the promotion after the Schaub loss and signed a contract with Bellator, where he suffered a knockout loss in his promotional debut at Bellator 106. The knockout came at only 23 seconds into the very first round of action at the hands of the Brazilian Vinicius Queiroz. He bounced back with a first round TKO of Ryan Martinez at Bellator 11, but unfortunately came up very short when he attempted to make it 2-0 against Blagoi Ivanov at Bellator 116, being submitted by the Russian in the very first round of action. Johnson is the type of fighter who goes in looking for the knockout and not much else. In his defense, that style won him many fans and earned him many victories. “Big” likes to moved forward and throw heavy leather. He definitely packs a ton of power behind his punches, being the first person to ever stop Joey Beltran. Not only did he knock Beltran out, but he sent him packing from the heavyweight division down to 205. Johnson does not have the best cardio, so he always looks to end the fight early. He has made it to the judges’ scorecards only once in his 25 professional mixed martial arts fighting career and that resulted in a loss. Gabe’s Thoughts: Johnson is going to look to end this fight early and he may do so; but if he doesn’t, I believe Kongo will catch him with a beautiful counter that will put him away. Either way, I don’t see this one making it past 1.5 rounds of action, so I will be siding with that total for a wager here at -155. Gabe’s Call: Kongo by T/KO (punches, 1:28 round 1) Gabe’s Recommended Play: Under 1.5 rounds (-155) 2.01u to win 1.3u

Written by Gabe Killian

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