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Cheick Kongo thought he’d retire before France legalized MMA, grateful to fight on home soil

Cheick Kongo wasn’t sure if he’d ever get to compete on home soil.

Born in France, Kongo (30-12-2 MMA, 12-2 BMMA) has competed in more than 40 professional fights and will finally make the walk to the cage in his home country this Saturday when he rematches Timothy Johnson in the main event of Bellator Europe 10 at Accor Arena in Paris.

Earlier this year in January, France legalized mixed martial arts, making it a target for Bellator. As soon as France passed legislation, Coker issued a statement expressing his enthusiasm.

Speaking at Bellator 248 virtual media day, Kongo, 45, said he expected to be retired by the time MMA was legalized in France, but the heavyweight powerhouse is still trucking. He hasn’t lost since 2015 and most recently contended for the heavyweight championship last September against Ryan Bader, but the fight was ruled a no contest after Bader accidentally poked Kongo in the eye.

“It’s great,” Kongo said Wednesday on getting to compete in France. “It’s one of the final steps around the world for MMA, regulation and legalization of the sport, so now French citizens can enjoy the fights to assist on live to the sports events, and now they can train and be prepared for the event with all the support, sponsors and federation in France.”

He continued, “Sure, the plan was to be retired way before. After that, I got some wins and more gas in the tank to keep performing, so it was great. And now on Saturday we have the first event in France legalized, and it’s amazing. I was expecting that moment sooner, but today at 45 years old, it’s kind of a blessing – a bit of frustration because of the pandemic. All the crowd won’t be able to fill up the facility, but it’s a good start. Step by step.”

Kongo knocked out Johnson (14-6 MMA, 2-2 BMMA) in their first fight in just 68 seconds in 2018 at Bellator 208. Despite the quick finish, he’s not taking Johnson lightly.

“Everybody changes,” Kongo said. “Everybody changes with a bit more confidence. … For that bout, I just have to stay aware, try to be aggressive, let him come in the game, and just reply as I have to do. Nothing else.”

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