An upset-minded underdog battles a top ranked former title contender this Saturday night (Feb. 4, 2012) as short notice fighter Mike Pierce battles the vilified Josh Koscheck on the UFC 143 main card in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Pierce has quietly gone 5-2 in his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) career, putting up very tough and close efforts in his two defeats to elite welterweights Jon Fitch and Johny Hendricks. He took this fight on late notice and is hoping that the third time's the charm when he battles his third elite UFC welterweight in Josh Koscheck.
Koscheck is one of the biggest villains in mixed martial arts (MMA) today, embracing the role and trash talking his opponents to the best of his ability. The blonde-topped wrestler returned from his orbital fracture to smash Matt Hughes into semi-retirement late last year and was hoping to follow up with a strong showing against Carlos Condit, although he had to settle for Pierce after accepting a new opponent.
Will Koscheck avoid looking past his opponent and take care of business? Will Pierce's constant pressure and scrappy style be the recipe for an upset? What's the best path to victory for both men on Saturday night?
Let's find out:Mike Pierce
How he got here: Mike Pierce originally wrestled at Portaland State University before making the transition to mixed martial arts. He had a crazy start to his professional career, losing his second fight to Mark Munoz and his fifth to eventual Strikeforce standout and current MFC title challenger Nathan Coy.
While still competing in the local northwest circuit, Pierce defeated the likes of UFC veterans Mike Dolce and Paul Bradley which earned him an invite to the big show. Once in the UFC, Pierce took a decision from highly regarded Brock Larson in his debut, and was rewarded with a shot against Jon Fitch. He put up a tough fight with him, even rocking Fitch badly in the third round, but was eventually on the bad side of a unanimous decision.
Three straight victories over subpar UFC competition got him back on track and he again found himself against a top welterweight in Johny Hendricks. In the fight, Pierce put up a very strong effort, but his occasional takedowns was barely not enough as he lost a close split decision.
He followed up the defeat by again beating Paul Bradley in a rematch this past November at the UFC on FOX show and then made the decision to accept a fight against former title challenger Josh Koscheck when his opponent got switched around on him.
How he gets it done: Pierce has a very durable chin, is built like a tank and thrives on a pressure based striking and offensive grappling attack. Outwrestling Josh Koscheck is almost certainly out of the question but the Oregon based fighter is physically strong enough to potentially have some success if he were to put this fight in the clinch and keep "Kos" pressed against the fence. Once on the fence, Pierce must work some knees and elbows, make this fight dirty and close just like his other performances against the best in the division.
The scrappy welterweight should keep his stance low, and constantly be moving forward. Matt Hughes had success against Koscheck by utilizing proper boxing technique and working quick straight strikes which got through the former All-American wrestlers's defenses. If Pierce can keep moving forward, put Koscheck on his heels and snap a nice jab, he could definitely score some points.
The key thing for Pierce to avoid is Koscheck's wrestling, that's why the low stance is important. If he can stuff Koscheck's takedowns and outbox him in the stand-up or at least put some pressure on him and force him to fight defensively, we could be ripe for an upset.
Record: 16-5 overall, 14-5 in the UFC
Key Wins: Matt Hughes (UFC 135), Anthony Johnson (UFC 106), Paul Daley (UFC 113)
Key Losses: Georges St. Pierre 2x (UFC 124, UFC 74), Paulo Thiago (UFC 95), Thiago Alves (UFC 90)
How he got here: Josh Koscheck was a national champion Division I wrestler and four time All-American at Edinboru University in Pennsylvania. He was very inexperienced in MMA with just two career fights when he tried out for season one of The Ultimate Fighter. He was able to utilize his wrestling to handle rival Chris Leben but would fall short in a decision to Diego Sanchez.
Koscheck would get off to a strong start in the UFC, winning seven of his first eight fights in the promotion including gaining his revenge against Diego Sanchez. This earned him an opportunity to face Georges St. Pierre, the former champion in the first fight after losing his title. GSP surprised "Kos" by wrestling with him and earning a unanimous decision.
The TUF veteran bounced back with strong showings against Chris Lytle and Dustin Hazelett but would suffer a rough stretch of taking fights on short notice and losing to both Thiago Alves and Paulo Thiago.
The former All-American got back on track against veteran Frank Trigg with a first round knockout and would defeat Anthony Johnson in one of the best performances of his career at UFC 106. He outwrestled Paul Daley at UFC 113 to earn a title shot, drawing the ire of the Brit.
In his rematch against St. Pierre at UFC 124, Koscheck was dominated by GSP's jab, having his orbital bone broken badly and losing a five round decision. After an nine month layoff, he stepped in on short notice to fight Matt Hughes in the co-main event of UFC 135 and after a rough start, he knocked the UFC Hall of Famer out with some violent ground and pound.
Originally scheduled to fight Carlos Condit at UFC 143, his opponent scored an interim title shot instead and Mike Pierce stepped up to take him on.
How he gets it done: In the stand-up, Koscheck will likely do what he always does, look to land his big power strikes. He's got some lethal looping hooks that can put Matt Hughes' lights out if he can connect flush.
Don't be surprised one bit to see Koscheck go back to his roots with his wrestling. He has the technique and skill to take Pierce down and go to work against the veteran on the ground. The key will be to not leave himself exposed in the process and give Pierce an opening to land a big power strike from short range on the way in. .
Expect to see him really head hunt in the striking department as "Kos" loves the knockouts, almost to a fault. His best plan of attack would be to utilize his wrestling to put Pierce on his back and then go to work with heavy ground and pound like his last fight. Hopefully he listens.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight is whether or not Josh Koscheck has remained motivated despite the ranking of his opponent reducing drastically. Say what you want, but Mike Pierce is one of the toughest welterweights in the UFC and has always put up tough fights even against the best in the division. If Koscheck takes him lightly like he's taken some opponents in the past (ex. Paulo Thiago) we could be in serious position for an upset.
This is a major trap fight for the former title challenger.
Bottom Line: This bout is likely not going to be a finish. Mike Pierce has never been stopped in his MMA career which includes fights with a plethora of top opposition while Koscheck should be savvy enough to avoid getting clobbered with a big uppercut or hook in the stand-up department. I expect to see a bit of a sloppy kickboxing fight, but if either man starts to look the worse for wear, the man who's down on the cards will either shoot for the takedown or work their way into the clinch. There is some small potential that this fight turns into a clinch-fest, but it's not likely. Expect a grind it out decision victory earned with either wrestling or strong clinch work and forward pressure.
Who will come out on top at UFC 143? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!