Ken Pishna, MMAWeekly.com
One of the most common discussions that analysts, writers, and fans have regarding teams and competitors is the idea that being mentally prepared for whatever competition that an athlete is about to participate in is a key to winning. Confidence is a term that is the most fitting to talk about in the lead-up to any sporting event. Football, baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey, gymnastics, your Saturday poker game, hell... even curling all require a level of confidence in order to win.
Josh Koscheck's peformance on Saturday night against Anthony "Rumble" Johnson was the perfect example of a bout that showed Koscheck's mental stability as a fighter. Despite Johnson being the betting favorite among fans, being the heavier athlete, and having over a 4" reach advantage, Koscheck not only stood with the Sanshou striker, but he proved that his NCAA Division I wrestling skills were still a major part of his game that shouldn't be forgotten.
The most impressive feat from Koscheck was his pre-fight demeanor, and it's been the single part of his personality that has won me over as a fan. While I was one of the many fans who disliked Koscheck from his antics he displayed on season one of The Ultimate Fighter, it's hard to dislike a fighter who backs up all the talk by walking the walk against any opponent put in front of him. Entering the cage, Koscheck wasn't calm, cool, and collected. He was in a quiet rage, hopping around his corner with a dangerous look in his eyes. His confidence was through the roof, and he had the look as if he needed to definitively finish Johnson to end any doubt.
A lot of fighters become a little over-aggressive when it comes to anger. The perfect example was that of Marcus Davis vs. Dan Hardy at UFC 99 in which we saw a lot of pre-fight footage and heard the stories of Davis' anger during the training camp and at the weigh-ins. It was obvious that Hardy was able to affect Davis' pace and style in the early part of the fight, but Koscheck's patience in the stand-up game and dominance in the ground game against Johnson never gave the impression that he was being impatient or impulsive, two attributes that come along with fighting angry.
Instead, Koscheck came out with the same attitude we've seen in his past few fights. Go into the Octagon, get the job done, and shut the critics up. Although the first round was marred by a couple of eye pokes and an illegal knee to a downed opponent, it was obvious that Johnson was uncomfortable from the beginning of the fight. Whether it was the extensive weight cut, the possibility of dealing with Koscheck's wrestling early, or the respect he gave Koscheck's power, he never looked calm or confident standing in front of Josh. Once the bout hit the floor, Koscheck's wrestling background took over in dominating fashion.
It's tough to pinpoint exactly where my opinion of Koscheck changed, but it's easy to sell me on a UFC event that features Josh Koscheck. He'll fight anyone at anytime, he shows up in shape with tough skill-set of powerful striking and top-notch wrestling, and he lets his performances do all the talking instead of flapping his gums for weeks before the fight, one of the sole reasons why I couldn't stand the guy in the first place. He doesn't shy away from opponents, and his confidence is through the roof at this point in his career.
Most of the writers have brushed off the idea of the UFC creating a Dan Hardy vs. Josh Koscheck showdown, and I'm under the same thought that there aren't many contenders to go around. Hardy will fight Georges St. Pierre, and I have a lot of confidence in St. Pierre grounding Hardy and crushing him. As Michael Rome mentioned, I think a rematch with Thiago Alves would be a perfect match-up. Koscheck took it on relatively short notice last time, and he still managed to go to decision. A second showdown with the Brazilian would be much different as he's gained considerable skill in the striking department. Give Koscheck the actual time to train for Alves, and it could be a truly explosive match-up.
The Koscheck-Hardy build-up works out perfectly in any scenario, but it works out very well for Koscheck if Dan Hardy somehow upsets Georges St. Pierre. If not, Koscheck will more than likely get a crack at him before an eventual title showdown, but he needs to avoid another upset at the hands of someone like Paulo Thiago, another fighter who has seen some substantial gains in his striking game (Notice how he looped far less and threw straight jabs with power against Volkmann).
While Koscheck might not be the flavor for every fan out there, he's been getting it done on the biggest stage in MMA in fan-pleasing performances. He's went from a guy who many considered to be fairly one-dimensional to a guy who can not only throw a knockout punch, but outwrestle nearly every fighter in the welterweight division. Hopefully, we won't see Koscheck get over confident (see Paulo Thiago) in the Octagon anytime soon. If not, he should be winning his way into title contention next year.