It was like a Rembrandt painting inexplicably finished, not with wispy brushstrokes, but with bright orange spray paint. It was a Mozart piano sonata if you played the final stave with a xylophone. It was masterful - right until the very end.
Of course, I'm not talking about Josh Koscheck's performance in the cage last night. In the Octagon he was simply outclassed by the world's best fighter, jabbed to the point I was feeling legitimately worried for poor Georges St. Pierre's left hand. No, where Koscheck shined was in the build up, the world building, the character development. He played what wrestling announcer Jim Ross called the best bad guy in the entire combat sports business. At least he did until the end when he suddenly lost his nerve.
In a full season of trash talk on The Ultimate Fighter, Koscheck perfected his swaggering frat boy character. He made promises to the fans, not just in St. Pierre's native Montreal, but worldwide that he was going to knock the champion into next week. Taking his normal personality and magnifying it by ten helped Koscheck make fans care about this fight in ways they didn't for equally one sided GSP beatdowns of Thiago Alves and Jon Fitch. Fans enjoyed the idea of a good old fashioned grudge match. And that's just what they delivered, right up until the very end. The perfect game was right around the corner, ruined by an error in the ninth.
I could live with the embrace between fighters at the end of the bout. Who knows what was said between them? That moment was theirs, the perfect time for Koscheck to congratulate Georges before stepping back into character. Instead, they made it all a lie. St. Pierre told the crowd Koscheck had just been building a fight; Koscheck played the role of the humbled contender, even praising the Montreal crowd.
It was a little nauseating.
Professional wrestling used to get this right. In the old days, the bad guys and the good guys were kept separated at all costs. They didn't share dressing rooms, and in some parts of the country were expected to put on a little bit of a scene if they met in public. In the 1980's "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan and the Iron Shiek were arrested in New Jersey, driving between matches. The car was like a pharmaceutical factory, but that wasn't the issue in the wild and wooly 1980's. They were both let go because they were supposed to be heated rivals. How were fans supposed to buy their feud if the wrestlers themselves couldn't even pretend?
I don't care if the real life Josh Koscheck adopts orphans, rescues kittens from tall trees, don't even care if he cured cancer. I don't need to know that he's a decent human being. Fans can only be fooled so many times. You can't sell them a match steeped in enmity, only to pull the rug out at the end and say 'Hey, none of this was real.'I know Josh Koscheck probably was feeling pretty humbled. And I know GSP is a nice guy who wanted to give Josh an out. But save it for backstage, away from the prying eyes of fans you have just taken $45 from. It will make us feel better about investing in your next pretend grudge match.