by Tom Hamlin – MMAWeekly.com
The roots of Josh Koscheck’s resurgence in the UFC welterweight division lie in the moments after his loss to Georges St. Pierre at UFC 69.
The American Kickboxing Academy regular hadn’t put much energy to his wrestling game to prepare for St. Pierre. He was an NCAA Division I champion; wrestling was in his blood. But after spending most his time under the weight of the then-fallen champion, Koscheck realized he could’ve changed the course of the fight by working on his first stock and trade.
“He gave St. Pierre a lot of credit,” longtime training partner Mike Swick says. “I don’t think he fought (St. Pierre) how he really wanted to. The second that fight was over, Josh’s confidence grew as a fighter. He realized that he could have done so much better.”
Koscheck admits that his respect for St. Pierre clouded his judgment about how to face fighters in the upper echelon of the division.
“Mentally, I was a little bit not there,” Koscheck says about the experience. “I didn’t really work much on my wrestling back then, so I’ve become more of a complete fighter. It’s one of the lessons I’ve learned.”
Determined to make himself a well-rounded fighter, he went back to the mats, working hard to sharpen his wrestling skills.
In his next two fights, Koscheck bounced back with two wins against Dustin Hazelett and Chris Lytle, putting him back within striking distance of a contender fight.
His original plan was to return at the UFC’s “Fight for the Troops” event on Dec. 10, but when Diego Sanchez tore his rib cartilage preparing for Alves, Koscheck quickly agreed to step in.
“I actually had a feeling about a month and a half ago that one of those two could possibly get hurt, and I’ve been in the gym training really hard for my upcoming fight in December, so I just had to change a couple of things,” Koscheck said.
His opponent on Saturday, Thiago Alves, has definitely earned a spot in top five of the UFC’s best 170 pound class. Save for a loss to Jon Fitch, Koscheck’s tough-as-nails training partner who recently dropped a decision to St. Pierre, Alves’ last six opponents have not survived past the second round. He’s one of the biggest welterweights in the division, walking around at 200lbs off-season weight. And he’s a finisher—he’ll try to take Koscheck’s head off.
There’s strong evidence the winner of the fight would be next in line for a title shot sometime in mid-2009. Koscheck doesn’t want to wait—should he emerge healthy from Alves, he will keep his Dec. 10 fight with Yoshiyuki Yoshida.
“I felt like me and Thiago should have been fighting in the first place, but I don’t make the decisions,” Koscheck said. “There must have been someone out there who maybe didn’t want to fight. I personally will fight anybody, anytime. I’m always in the gym training year round, I don’t take any time off.”
Swick says he’s noticed a big change in the seriousness of his teammate’s attitude towards the fight game.
“He’s always had a really good work ethic, he’s always trained hard,” Swick said. “But lately, it seems like he’s training a lot harder. He’s training like he’s never trained before. Even before he knew about the Thiago fight, he’d been in fight shape.”
Alves’ aggressive style and performances as of late might give anyone pause about a short notice fight, but Koscheck says it’s a two way street.
“The way I see it, it’s a short notice fight for him too,” Koscheck explains. “He’s got a lot to prepare for, because I’m not Diego Sanchez. I’m Josh Koscheck, and I’m a lot better than Diego Sanchez. I pose a lot of threats in the cage, and he’s got only two weeks to prepare for me.”
Swick believes Koscheck’s athleticism, borne from his days as a collegiate wrestler, may be a deciding factor in the fight.
“He’s far more athletic than Thiago is, so the longer that fight goes on, the more it’s going to favor Josh,” Swick said.
And should Koscheck meet St. Pierre somewhere down the road, he’ll be ready.
“If he and St. Pierre fought today, it would be a completely different fight than before,” Swick said.