|Place: AccorHotels Arena, Paris date: Friday 6th May|
|applied area: It will be broadcast live on BBC iPlayer and on the BBC Sports website and app from 18:00 BST, and the main card will also be broadcast live on BBC Three from 21:00 BST.|
When Chek Congo made their mixed martial arts debut in the Netherlands in 2001, they were banned from competing in France, their home country.
Not because I did anything wrong, but because MMA is illegal.
It wasn’t until 2020 that the sport was fully legalized in France, but with delayed acceptance, it was unable to catch up with MMA compared to many countries around the world.
Then it would be fitting for the 46-year-old Congo, a 46-year-old Congo, who has been leading French MMA for more than 20 years, to face off against Ryan Bader again for the heavyweight title to become the protagonist of the biggest sporting event in French history. Friday at Bellator 280 in Paris.
“I didn’t know I was going to be the one who opened the door to other people in the sport,” Congo told BBC Sport.
“It would be nice for the French to have their belts at home and claim that France is a really good country for MMA.
“The French supporters and fighters lived for the moment. So for me this is normal and it’s a great opportunity to show the world that we’re in the game. We’re here now – let’s do this.”
‘In France we got some criticism’
The growth of French MMA over the past few years is evident.
Born in Cameroon and trained in France for many years, Francis Ngannou is the current UFC Heavyweight Champion.
Meanwhile, Ngannou’s former teammate, Ciryl Gane, is the biggest French star in the promotion.
guessed Gane will headline his first UFC event in France later this year.
Bellator Paris has 11 French players on the card.
Kongo ignores the importance of winning and instead celebrates France’s presence at the event and dedicates it to the fans.
“Here in France we got a little bit of criticism. [for our ability]But now everything is growing very fast,” said Kongo.
“The French are very good because they got the opportunity to see this. No need to travel. You can see this in your home country.
“It doesn’t really matter. [to be champion] I’m just trying to get what I deserve because I’ve beaten everyone.”
‘There’s a reason Vader is number 1’
The rematch with Bader comes after their first meeting almost three years ago.
The fight ended in a no contest when a 38-year-old American accidentally stabbed a Congolese in the eye and was unable to continue.
Kongo has expressed dissatisfaction with the time it took to schedule a rematch, but said he has nothing against Bader.
“I expected the fight to happen really quickly, but it took almost three years. We had to keep fighting no matter what,” Kongo said.
“I have nothing to prove, I’m just trying to do what I’m used to. I’m leaving trash talk and bad blood to the side.”
Bader holds the title for over three years after defending the belt twice in 2019, beating Fedor Emelianenko.
At the time, he also held a gold medal in light heavyweight and became the first fighter in Bellator’s history to become champions in both weight classes at the same time.
Kongo said on Friday he wouldn’t underestimate himself.
“He’s a good fighter. He got to the top and stayed there, so there’s a reason he’s there.
“I have all the work to do. Tomorrow he will oppose me and try to prove that he is still the best.
“We both want the same thing. We both want to win.”