Jonathan Brookins, who won The Ultimate Fighter 12 as a lightweight, is back down to his natural weight class and paired with featherweight finishing machine Erik Koch at UFC Fight Night 25: Shields vs. Ellenberger.
Brookins was not the overwhelming favorite to win the show, likely because he's a 145-pounder who fell short in his lone WEC stint. His unstoppable lateral drops and positional dominance powered him through to the finals, reminding us that his WEC 36 opponent was alpha-featherweight Jose Aldo and that Brookins was for real. He controlled BJJ black belt Kyle Watson, who is an exceptionally strong lightweight that used to fight at 170, and mounted a comeback at the live finale after Michael Johnson came out blazing early.
While we typically envision powerhouse wrestlers to be short and stocky, Brookins has the unique combination of a lanky frame matched with shocking quickness and excellent fundamentals. He applies massive leverage through pure technique, and anyone who's rolled with an agile and long-limbed wrestler with tip-top mechanics can attest to how utterly frustrating they can be to tangle with.
Erik "New Breed" Koch is another Roufusport product that I'm anxious to see wade into the UFC. Thus far, he's been a bright star and an entertaining prospect while somehow managing to fly under the 145-pound radar.
Thirteen fights deep, the undefeated and top ranked Chad Mendes is his only defeat. Since they met at WEC 47 in March of 2010, Koch has piled on three consecutive wins, all brief and violent first round stoppages. Of his twelve wins, Koch has seven by submission and three by TKO with eight of those stoppages also coming in the first.
Gifs and analysis in the full entry.
Koch is a southpaw with a style similar to his teammate Anthony Pettis.
His striking is diverse and improving rapidly, his footwork and balance are phenomenal and his guard play is dynamic.
Koch shows his power and precision against Francisco Rivera to the left with a perfectly timed and placed high kick that lands square with the shin.
To the right, Raphael Assuncao falls prey to Koch's simply applied but highly effective boxing.
This type of "phantom punch" that only becomes clear on the slow-motion instant replay is often the best indication of a naturally gifted striker.
Don't make the mistake of under-rating Assuncao's chin either: this was his first and only career loss by TKO and he's battled with inclement strikers like Jorge Masvidal, Yves Jabouin and Diego Nunes.
The scary part about Koch is that he started out as a grappling whiz, submitting six of his first eight opponents.
Jonathan Brookins' secret weapon is the lateral drop. He employs it perfectly to the left against Jose Aldo and replicates it again below against Sako Chivitchian on TUF.
It's one of the many techniques in his vast arsenal that he excels with because of his dexterous footwork (especially for a 6'0" tall featherweight), excellent balance and astounding leverage.
There is just something foreign and unfamiliar associated with fending off a gangly but nimble wrestler. It's an unorthodox package that can be cryptic to decipher.
It's worth noting that both of these fighters are accustomed to having a height and reach advantage over most other featherweights. Brookins will still have two inches on Koch, but many of their usual size advantages will be reduced.
Brookins is a freak on the ground with overbearing pressure, scrambling furiously to advance position and pouncing on the slightest opening to latch in a sub.
Against Koch, who is just as adept at slithering to ideal positions on the mat, Brookins will probably be the stronger athlete and better wrestler.
His extra inches of height and reach will translate more to the application of leverage in the clinch and with takedowns than to a striking advantage.
Where Brookins gets in trouble is closing the distance and keeping his hands up.
At the TUF 12 Finale, Michael Johnson owned the first round (left) by peppering a volley of straight punches through Brookins' porous guard.
He lends a little too much attention to rushing in and not enough on defending strikes.
Normally Brookins would carve through the average featherweight on the ground, but Koch should be able to hold his own if not match Brookins if it hits the floor.
The key difference is Koch's electric striking.
Though Brookins has solid footwork and balance while standing, it's more grappling oriented. Koch is just as fluid but moves with a striker's grace, which will open up opportunities to pelt Brookins with punches but might expose him for a few takedowns.
I can easily envision Brookins doggedly pursuing takedown after takedown to take a decision, even if Koch is active from the bottom. The power of a takedown can be overbearing. However, even if Brookins lands them at will, Koch should be slippery enough to escape or keep the big fella at bay. Standing, it's all Koch. His ability to use underhooks and circle out of danger will be tested, but even if he fails miserably his striking might be good enough to make up for it.
My Prediction: Erik Koch by decision
Brookins vs. Aldo gif via CagePotato.com
All others via Zombie Prophet of IronForgesIron.com