At one point, bantamweight Keoni “Evil Genius” Koch thought his career was over.
He had moved on to teaching in his own gym and was content working with students and his brother, UFC veteran Erik Koch, yet there were still lingering thoughts of competition in his mind.
So after three years away from fighting, Koch returned to MMA last year.
“I hadn’t competed in quite a while. Obviously, it had been some time since I’d been in the cage, but I got to a point where there were too many unanswered questions for me to really walk away from the sport (for good),” Koch told MMAWeekly.com.
“I had thought about retiring some time ago and just focusing on coaching because that’s where my passion is at, but after having the opportunity to open my own gym and train, I started questioning whether my legacy was what I wanted it to be and questioning whether I’d be able to be proud of what I accomplished. That’s when I got back into competition.”
Koch returned in April and picked up a unanimous decision victory over Anatol Grama at Iowa Challenge 83.
“He isn’t really known, but I also knew that he’d come from a fairly hard camp and we’d competed against guys from his camp a few times,” said Koch of Grama. “I went out there and, even after the layoff, I didn’t feel like I had any ring rust.
“I was very calm and right away, within two minutes, I threw a big overhand and broke my hand. I still fought through the fight and dominated with a broken hand, which was a big confidence builder because I had never been injured in competition and had to work my way through it.”
After taking time off to heal from his injury, Koch (5-0) is ready to return to action against Brian Ortega (7-0) for the featherweight championship at Friday night’s RFA 12 in Los Angeles.
“I want to fight the toughest guys out there and I think Brian is worthy,” said Koch. “I know he just recently got his black belt from the Gracies and I have a ton of respect for anyone who can earn a black belt from them.
“When I saw his fight against (Jordan) Rinaldi, I saw some holes that I could exploit. One of the big benefits I have is that I’ve seen quite a bit of footage on him and I know what his game is, but I doubt he’s seen much (footage) on me because I’ve been so inactive. That might pay off for me.”
Even though he doesn’t have a lot of fight experience, Koch is confident that he can showcase his skills well enough to join his brother in the UFC sooner rather than later.
“At 33, I’m in the best shape of my life and am relatively injury-free,” said Koch. “I’ve been training for a long time and have a lot of experience, but I don’t have the wear and tear that lot of these guys who have competed a long time do.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I feel like I have what it takes to compete in the UFC. Once I get there, I’ll be able to compete at that next level and go after a title.”