The upcoming bout between Josh Koscheck and Paul Daley at UFC 113 has given MMA fans a chance to dust off one of the sport's most well-worn cliches, that of the "puncher's chance."
Koscheck, who is rightly favored to win the fight, is a tough stylistic matchup for Daley. An excellent wrestler with good submissions and "improving standup," Kos should be able to dictate where the fight takes place, and take Daley out of his comfort zone on the feet. On the previous point, there is very little disagreement. Even unabashed Daley fanboys (of which this writer is one) understand that Semtex faces a stiff challenge in Koscheck, and will need to fight at the very top of his game to win.
But that doesn't mean that Daley has only a "puncher's chance." Taken from boxing, the term "puncher's chance" is usually used in instances where one opponent is woefully outclassed and can only win by landing the perfect knockout shot on his opponent. It is a dismissive term, sometimes used by announcers to generate or maintain interest in a clearly lopsided fight ("well Kid Joe has lost the last 9 rounds, but he still has a puncher's chance to win.").
In the case of Daley v. Koscheck, Kos may have a stylistic advantage, but he is hardly an ironclad favorite. That's because Daley is light years better than Kos in one major aspect of the sport, kickboxing. Every second that the two fighters are standing upright is a second where Koscheck is in danger of being knocked unconscious, and to counter a cliche with another cliche, "all fights start on the feet." If Koscheck is unable -- or unwilling -- to get the fight into his comfort zone, he will almost certainly lose. Thus, Daley has a very clear path to victory, and a very real chance of winning, the farthest thing in the world from a "puncher's chance."
When Chael Sonnen faces off against Anderson Silva, he will be a huge underdog, with exactly one path to victory: take Anderson Silva down and keep him there for 25 minutes. Few will give him a chance of executing on that strategy, but nobody in the MMA community will scoff that he only has a "takedown artist's chance" of winning the fight.
In recent memory the best actual illustration of a fighter with a "puncher's chance" was Matt Serra when he beat GSP at UFC 69. GSP was superior to Serra in every aspect of the game, leaving Serra with exactly one long-shot chance at winning...a chance he executed on perfectly.