Two former Division I national champion wrestlers will duke it out this Saturday night as two-time champion (and four-time All-American) out of Oklahoma State Johny Hendricks takes on the national champion (and four-time All-American) Josh Koscheck out of Edinboro in the co-main event of UFC on Fox 3 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Hendricks is on the heels of one of the biggest victories of 2011 when he upset number two ranked welterweight Jon Fitch to rocket into the top of the 170 pound division and immediately enter title contention. If he can pull off a victory against Koscheck, he'll earn a title shot.
Koscheck, now 34 years old, is starting to run out of time if he wants to be champion. He came up short in 2010, losing a decision to Georges St. Pierre, and he hasn't quite looked the same since. If he wants to make another serious run at the championship, he's got to go through Hendricks.
Will "Big Rig" earn his shot at UFC gold? Can Koscheck avenge his former AKA teammate on national television? What's the key to victory for both men on Saturday night?
Let's find out:Johny Hendricks
Record: 12-1 overall, 7-1 in the UFC
Key Losses: Rick Story (The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale)
How he got here: Hendricks was a stud who transitioned to MMA. While wrestling at Oklahoma State University, he claimed both the 2005 and 2006 national championships. After graduating college, he quickly joined up with Team Takedown and began training MMA full time.
In just his fourth professional fight, he was making his WEC debut, defeating an overmatched Dustin Haskins via second round knockout and after the UFC absorbed all WEC weightclasses over 155 pounds, he was taken along for the ride.
"Big Rig" made his UFC debut against The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 7 winner Amir Sadollah and he made quick work of him, crushing the TUF champ via technical knockout in less than 30 seconds. After four straight wins in the division, including another impressive stoppage of Charlie Brenneman, he earned another main card slot against Rick Story on TUF 12 Finale.
Hendricks would be no match for Story's relentless pace, losing a unanimous decision to suffer the first and only loss of his career. Since then, he's gotten back on the winning track with consecutive victories over T.J. Waldburger and Mike Pierce, respectively.
He was ready for a huge step up in competition in Jon Fitch and he proved it with an unbelievable 12 second knockout of the former title challenger. Now he's gearing up for a title run of his own if he can beat Koscheck.
How he gets it done: Hendricks, despite competing for Team Takedown and possessing national champion amateur wrestling skills, should want to keep this fight standing. He hasn't quite been able to transition those elite college attributes into his MMA game, at least against some of the better welterweight wrestlers in the UFC.
What he has been able to develop is an vastly improved striking game, one that continues to grow and evolve in technique and power every time we see him. Hendricks has severe knockout power in his hands if he can land a clean strike to the chin or temple and he'll be looking to catch Koscheck just like Fitch. His left hand is absolutely nasty.
Expect to see Hendricks work his angles, maneuvering his feet so he's not caught out of position and he can fend off Koscheck's attempts to either shoot in for takedowns or close the distance in the clinch. While he's comfortable on his back, that's the last place he wants to be against an MMA wrestler of Koscheck's caliber.
For some reason, Koscheck wipes his eye and readjusts his shorts like crazy during his fights. If he does that against Hendricks, "Big Rig" should lunge in and crack him on his exposed jaw. He's powerful enough that he could end the fight that way.
Record: 17-5 overall, 15-5 in the UFC
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 battled Mike Pierce to a close split decision victory. He's got a huge test ahead of him this time around in Hendricks.
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 potentially put Hendricks' 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 Hendricks down and he's got more experience with MMA wrestling, similar to what Rashad Evans did to Phil Davis. The key will be to not leave himself exposed in the process and give Hendricks 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 Hendricks on his back and then go to work with heavy ground and pound like his last fight. If he can get Hendricks thinking takedown, it could leave a huge opening in the stand-up for him to land with power.
Fight X-Factor: The X-Factor for this fight is how Josh Koscheck adapts to working at his new gym. He's got a custom gym in his hometown of Fresno where he's been flying in all kinds of training partners and specialty coaches geared just for him. Will they be able to push him the same way he was pushed at AKA when he was a star there? That remains to be seen. At 34 years old, who knows how smart of a decision it is to switch things up so drastically.
Depending on if his new team can help get the best out of him, this could be a very good or bad night for Koscheck.
Bottom Line: This bout has potential to be both interesting and boring. Both men have serious knockout power but they can also be frustratingly patient. Koscheck is not the most accurate striker and he could be swinging at air all night. Hendricks shocked the world with his 12 second knockout of Fitch, but he can also slow things down as well like in his fights against Story and Pierce. There's also a chance that Koscheck doesn't want anything to do with Hendricks on the feet and goes back to his wrestling roots, turning this bout into a grappling contest. I could be wrong and both welterweights slug it out until someone goes down, but don't say I didn't warn you.
Who will come out on top at UFC on FOX 3? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!