You'd be hard pressed to think of two careers more enigmatic than those of Josh Koscheck and Robbie Lawler. Koscheck started his career as the water-hose carrying heel on the first Ultimate Fighter. He was the guy people loved to hate; a fact that really cemented itself with his post-fight interview at UFC 69, boasting about Diego's newfound blemish on an otherwise spotless record with the cry "nineteen and oooooooone!".
I've been amused by Koscheck ever since. His fratboy petulance likens him to MMA's version of Limp Bizkit. And like Limp Bizkit, he feels outdated. Unlike the deceased rock band, however, he's still relevant. But his relevancy is being threatened.
It's hard to see how too. With the exception of Fickett, Koscheck's career hasn't been mired by bad losses, save for the Paulo Thiago knockout. Outside of that, he's only lost to Georges St. Pierre, Johny Hendricks, and Thiago Alves back when Alves was on a tear. But his game remains the same.
Lawlor hasn't changed much either. Like Koscheck, he's been able to remain relatively successful stuck in one mode. His power kept him in fights that weren't always favorable, stylistically, be it against Manhoef or Lindland. Like a VH1 Special, there's something very retro about this fight.
But it still promises to be a good one.
What both men can do: the longstanding criticism of Josh Koscheck is that no matter how good his wrestling, his striking boils down to one straight right at a time. Which is still true. Against Hendricks, there it was again; round 1, Hendricks gets hit with what appears to be an eye poke, the ref ignores it, Koscheck suspects he's hurt, and when cornering Hendricks against the cage, Koscheck unloads a barrage of punches...all right hands.
We all know this is Koscheck's problem, but I'd argue it's also one of his strengths. He's got plenty of power in his right hand, and if you look at his progression from his fight with Diego Sanchez to his fight with Hendricks, you see him using it more effectively. Like Lawlor, subtle changes in his game have allowed him to maintain success in mma. He times his punches much better, and whereas before he would wind up as a way of defending himself from getting barraged with strikes, now he uses them because he's comfortable on the feet (he also incorporates his kicks much better as well, though like his right, they're not thrown with enough purpose). It's hard to really quantify what I mean, but he looks far better on his feet than he did five years ago, and it's just one more thing to compliment his already stellar wrestling.
Speaking of wrestling, there's nothing to say except Koscheck has some of the best forward movement when he locks in a double in the game. It can be sort of dazzling at times; the slam on Paul Daley to punctuate the first round of their fight, the double leg on GSP in their first scrap, etc. It's unfortunate that the one guy who can shrug off St. Pierre's takedown also happens to have terrible head movement.
For Lawlor, his game has never been a secret. But he's become a mainstay in Strikeforce because he also developed some better takedown defense along the way.
What both men can't do: For Koscheck, it's the same old story. A good striker can take advantage of his lack of head movement, and limited resources on the feet. Watching his rematch with GSP, St. Pierre isn't even mesmerizing. In fact, George is lunging each time with his jab, and you worry he's a few inside leg kicks away from being punished, and bullied into not throwing anymore jabs but Josh just takes it. Granted, an early jab broke Koscheck's face, so there's that...
For Lawler, victory will hinge upon whether he can stop the takedown, which brings me to my prediction.
I favor Koscheck, knowing full well Lawler will hit him at some point, because I like what I saw in the Hendricks fight. Koscheck got caught by what we now know to be one of the hardest hitters in the game, and kept his composure the whole way, keeping the fight close on the scorecards. For some reason Koscheck is thought of as being a bit 'chinny', but I think his fight with Hendricks and Alves, in which he got tagged and/or hurt are more indicative of his toughness than his fights with Fickett and Thiago.
And this is to say nothing of Lawlor coming back to Welterweight; a guy notorious for being lax about fitness, and being explicit about not enjoying cutting weight. He's fought most of his career at this point at MW. Personally, I think Lawlor is fine at MW. I suspect cutting weight will simply be the first of many problems for Robbie, who will likely start the fight out on his back, finishing his fight with his back still on the ground after fifteen minutes.
Prediction: Josh Koscheck by Decision.