French striker Cheick Kongo (15-6-1 MMA, 8-4 UFC) has surprisingly become one of the most polarizing figures in the UFC's heavyweight division.
While his intimidating physique and aggressive style have earned him a legion of fans, his tendency to find himself in controversial situations have left other fans observers questioning Kongo's commitment to sportsmanship.
But despite having a point deducted for an illegal blow in his win over Paul Buentello this past Sunday, Kongo insists he's not a dirty fighter.
"I'm not a dirty fighter," Kongo told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com
) following the win. "I just try to be a good fighter, as does everyone. Sometimes people just want to put a bad name on my back."
Kongo's highlight film of less-than-sportsmanlike blows in the UFC includes a series of knees to the groin of Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. On Sunday night, Kongo delivered a knee to the head of a downed Buentello, prompting referee Herb Dean to deduct a point for the second-round blow.
Kongo said the foul was purely accidental.
"I didn't know," Kongo said. "I tried to be careful with my knee. At that moment, he just touched the ground. When I gave the knee, I thought I was safe, and it was correct. But at that moment, the referee came in and stopped the fight and said, 'Yeah, I've got to take a point because it was a bad knee.' I said, 'Oh, I didn't know.'
"With the emotion of the fight, you never know. You can't pay too much attention to that. You're just thinking about the fact that he's off of the ground, so you can hit him."
For his part, UFC president Dana White said he doesn't believe Kongo's blows have been intentional.
"I personally didn't think it was intentional," White said. "I like to believe that these guys have great sportsmanship and have enough in them not to do [expletive] illegal on purpose. Is it going to happen sometimes? Absolutely. I've seen fights on our show when a guy gets hit really hard in the nuts, then he hits the other guy really hard in the nuts.
"This is fighting. Stuff like that is going to happen sometimes, and it's up to the referees to make those calls and decisions. If I think it's something that's bad enough and looks absolutely flagrant and bad, then I'll get involved."
Kongo said his reputation probably isn't helped by his heritage.
"They say, 'OK, he's a French guy; French people are very ugly and blah, blah, blah,'" Kongo said. "I come here to fight, and I just try to give all of my best. I try to change all the negativity. Also, I'm black; I'm not white, but I'm French. Everywhere I go, that's a French flag I show to everyone.
"All the fighters are not like me, but I just try to be very good, very respectful. Even if I'm mad or crazy, I'm still respectful."
Despite the criticism that Kongo has been forced to endure during his three-and-a-half years in the UFC, the 34-year-old said he does appreciate those fans that have remained supportive.
"MMA is a big sport, and it's very good and very dangerous," Kongo said. "Today, you can win everything, and then another day, you don't.
"I just try to be exciting to watch and be at peace with this. About the rest of it, if people love me, I'm very thankful. I'm thankful for the good mood they give me, and they make me better."
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