Most sports stars are celebrated as heroes in their home country. But up until recently, not only was Cheick Kongo an uncelebrated Frenchman, he wasn’t even allowed to compete in his homeland. That only came to an end in 2020, when the sport was fully legalized in France.
Not that Cheick Kongo suffered too much as a result, nor will it have a dramatic impact on his future. He has already made a name for himself. The 46-year-old routinely receives favorable odds at OddsChecker, and his reputation has meant that he’s awarded big fights that receive close to top billing. The Frenchman is helping his compatriots make names for themselves, too. Though MMA was historically outlawed in French, Kongo’s success led to huge interest in the sport, and not only is the sport now legal, but there are plenty of up-and-coming French MMA fighters, too.
One such French fighter making waves in the sport is Ciryl Gane, who’s already the biggest MMA star in France, and is quickly moving his way through the ranks of the sport. And then there’s Francis Ngannou, the fighter born in Cameroon but trained in France and who is the current UFC champion.
Francis Ngannou’s success is evidence of the rapid development of MMA in France. Up until a couple of years ago, there were heavy restrictions on the sport; you couldn’t even watch it on television. Today, the country has produced a winner. This should come as no surprise to people who are familiar with the sporting prowess of France; when they put their minds to it, they can compete in just about any sport.
There will be bigger French stars than Cheick Kongo; there’s no doubt about that. But in the future, it’ll be Kongo who’s heralded as the early pioneer of MMA in France. At forty-six, he won’t have too many fights left in his career, especially after his recent defeat to Ryan Bader. However, if there’s one thing that Kongo has shown the world, it’s that he’s determined and willing to make his dreams come true.
In the future, it’s easy to imagine that Kongo will be a pivotal figure in the continued development of MMA in France. After all, the success of the sport in his homeland is clearly important to Cheick. “It will be great for the French people to claim France as an excellent country for MMA,” he says.