Two of the UFC's top young featherweights will throw down this Saturday night (September 17, 2011) as season 12 winner of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), Jonathan Brookins, takes on the dynamic "New Breed," Erik Koch, on the main card of UFC Fight Night 25.
Brookins has suffered injury setback after injury setback since defeating Michael Johnson this past December to be crowned The Ultimate Fighter and has decided to go back to his more competitive weight of 145 pounds. The UFC is not doing him any favors as he'll be tested immediately against top divisional threat Erik Koch.
Koch trains out of Milwaukee alongside an extremely gifted coach in Duke Roufus and he may be one of the most talented young featherweights on the planet. At just 22 years old, he's already cracked many top 10 lists and he's currently riding a three fight win streak in which he stopped all three opponents in the first round.
Will Brookins be able to utilize his grappling advantage against the dynamic striker? Or will the diverse Koch connect with his killer kicks?
Which top featherweight prospect will take it to the next level on Saturday night?
Record: 12-3 overall, 1-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Jose Aldo (WEC 36)
How he got here: After winning a state championship in high school wrestling, Jonathan Brookins would eventually get his start in MMA after meeting Charles Bennett, a fighter many fans would recognize as "Krazy Horse."
Brookins primarily used his wrestling and submission skills, working his way up the ladder and scoring some impressive victories along the way including submissions of Yves Jabouin and current M-1 lightweight champion Jose Figueroa.
He would earn a fight in the WEC against a then-unknown Brazilian named Jose Aldo and it wouldn't end well. Brookins was beat up thoroughly for two straight rounds before finally succumbing to a TKO in round three.
The long-haired wrestler got back on track with a first round submission at the first ever Bellator event and followed it up by defeating veteran featherweight Luis Palomino. He would earn a spot on the twelfth season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) and quickly became the favorite to win the show after running through both Armenian judo fighters in the first round in consecutive fights.
Brookins would defeat Kyle Watson via decision to earn a spot against Michael Johnson in the show's finale and after recovering from getting rocked standing in the first round, would go on to outwrestle the wrestler and become the winner of TUF 12.
His UFC debut has been delayed twice already, with bouts against John Makdessi and Jeremy Stephens being cancelled due to injury. Brookins has since decided to drop back down to featherweight to face Erik Koch this Saturday night.
How he gets it done: The TUF 12 winner still has a ways to go with his striking so it will be imperative that he get this fight to the ground. Brookins possesses solid wrestling, takedowns, transitions and submissions and he'll need to use them all to defeat Erik Koch on Saturday night.
Koch is a phenomenal striker capable of finishing bouts quickly with his punches and kicks so Brookins absolutely needs to get inside and take away Koch's angles. Look for Brookins to immediately close the distance with either a takedown attempt or by pushing the fight into the fence. The clinch and the ground will be his sanctuary.
The Gracie Barra fighter is very aggressive with his jiu-jitsu so don't be surprised to see multiple attempts at passing guard if the fight goes to the ground or even something crazy like attempting a standing rear naked choke if Koch turns away from him in the clinch.
Record: 12-1 overall, 1-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Chad Mendes (WEC 47)
How he got here: Erik Koch jumped into his MMA career immediately out of high school. He dominated the local Iowa scene with superior striking and some very aggressive jiu-jitsu. During this time, he began training part-time at Duke Roufus' gym in Milwaukee.
After winning two fights in one night in April of 2009, Koch would make his debut in the WEC where he would gut out a decision victory against the veteran featherweight Jameel Massouh. His momentum would be abruptly halted by current top UFC featherweight Chad Mendes last year at WEC 47 in a fight where Koch was dominated in the wrestling department and controlled over the course of three rounds.
Koch rededicated himself to Roufus' gym after the loss, becoming a full-time member and the results have been extraordinary. Since the loss to Mendes, Koch has smashed all three of his opponents in the first round. His last two knockouts in particular have been particularly brutal and have garnered him a "Knockout of the Night" bonus for each fight.
Koch was scheduled to face WEC veteran Cub Swanson twice this year but Swanson has pulled out with an injury both times. After the second time, Koch accepted a fight with the TUF season 12 winner instead.
How he gets it done: Erik Koch has two big strengths coming into this bout, his striking and his Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Because he's not nearly as good of a wrestler or capable of utilize his skills positionally like Brookins, he will likely have to rely on his striking to carry him to victory in this bout.
"New Breed" will be looking for the finish via strikes at every moment of this bout. He's got killer kicks but those are something to be cautious about because one mistimed head or body kick could result in being put on his back for the remainder of the round.
The smartest plan of action will be to work footwork and punches. Koch proved in his last fight with Raphael Assuncao that he has one punch knockout power. In fact, he made Assuncao go stiff while moving backwards with a crisp inside right hook while the Brazilian was coming in.
He's got the accuracy, power and speed to pull off a similar feat against Brookins but the key will be to time it. Koch knows the clinch or takedown attempts will be coming, he just has to be ready for them so he can land that killer blow.
The Rufousport fighter isn't helpless off his back either. He's got a submission victory in more than half of his 13 fights so don't be surprised if he immediately starts attacking off his back if taken down.
Fight "X-Factor:" This bout will hinge on whether Jonathan Brookins can take Erik Koch down and keep him down. Sure, Chad Mendes was able to utilize a similar gameplan but that was four fights ago and Koch has likely been training his ass off with Ben Askren and other top wrestlers to prevent it from ever happening again.
What will Koch's plan be if he can't defend the takedown? What is Brookins' backup plan in case he's repeatedly denied with his attempts to take the fight to the ground? How each fighter responds to this battle for positioning will be the deciding factor in how this bout finishes.
Bottom Line: There are definitely some serious possibilities with this fight. The UFC is not babying Jonathan Brookins like they've done to previous winners of The Ultimate Fighter. Erik Koch is a legitimate beast and is on his path to being a title contender within the next year and a half. If Koch forces Brookins to stand, he could light the TUF 12 winner up. If Brookins puts him on his back, we'll probably see a lot of positional play with little to no submission attempts simply because Koch is too experienced in the art of jiu-jitsu. The problem is that neither fighter wants to play in the other's specialty so there may be very little engaging until one simply takes over.
Who will come out on top at UFC Fight Night 25? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!