Photo by Esther Lin for SBNation
Josh Koscheck only had two mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts under his belt when he tried out and was selected for the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). A standout collegiate wrestler, Koscheck used the skills he honed at Edinboro University to make his way to the semifinals of the reality show before losing out to eventual winner Diego Sanchez.
Having been so early into his career when he gained the widespread recognition only the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) can offer, fans have seen Koscheck evolve and grow before their very eyes. He's gone from a takedown-heavy wrestler to a legitimate threat in the stand up department. And while he won't be winning the K-1 World Grand Prix any time soon, he's produced more than enough highlight-reel knockouts to prove he's got what it takes to put someone to sleep.
He did so against Dustin Hazelett and then again when he obliterated Yoshiyuki Yoshida, who might still be unconscious somewhere after getting knocked out at the first "Fight for the Troops" event way back when.
More recently, Koscheck tangled with Matt Hughes, the prototype for brutish welterweight wrestlers. Despite his success, the UFC Hall of Famer never really made the commitment to take his striking to the next level the same way the former American Kickboxing Academy pupil did.
When they met inside the Octagon at UFC 135, it showed.
Before Koscheck locks horns with Johny Hendricks at UFC on Fox 3: "Diaz vs. Miller" this weekend (April 5, 2012), we'll take a look at that welterweight clash that ended with yet another vicious knockout for the surprisingly heavy-handed TUF veteran.
Let's do this:
The two welterweights meet in the middle of the Octagon and Hughes instantly begins throwing a jab out a la 170-pound kingpin Georges St. Pierre. The French Canadian used the jab to perfect in a 25 minute rout of Koscheck in the TUF veteran's previous bout.
Both men seem hesitant to engage entirely, knowing too much of a commitment to a strike could lead to a takedown from either side of the fight. Hughes established his empire with the takedown, getting opponent to the mat and elbowing their faces to smithereens. While Koscheck has been more willing to engage in stand-up affairs, his wrestling acumen also isn't one to be taken lightly.
Nothing of consequence connects for either fighter two minutes into the opening round aside from a hook which rattles Hughes. The Hall of Famer answers back with one of his own but Koscheck shrugs it off and pushes forward.
Hughes continues to pop off his jab, hoping to cause both physical and psychological damage. He repeatedly attacks the same eye GSP had shattered in their UFC 124 main event. One jab, then another and they're followed up with an uppercut that elicits a positive response from the decidedly pro-Hughes crowd.
They exchange again and for the second time, the former welterweight champion connects with an uppercut while avoiding damage himself. Koscheck charges forwards and grabs a hold of his opponent, pinning him momentarily against the cage. Hughes shoves off and eats a couple of uppercuts from the TUF veteran before throwing a knee as they break the clinch.
What can often happen with a fighter who finds success with a certain punch or combination is they became overconfident and reliant on it, allowing their opponent to adjust. This is exactly what happened that night in Denver.
Hughes continues to stick with the jab while sneaking an uppercut in every once in a while and eventually Koscheck is able to catch him with a big hook. Hughes seems rocked but he begins to fire back quickly. A hook and another uppercut from the legend miss their mark and an attempt to clinch with Koscheck indicates maybe Hughes is more hurt than we originally though.
The TUF veteran pushes his opponent off and cracks Hughes with a bomb across his temple. A jab connects to the former champ's chin and he again tries to clinch with Koscheck. The younger welterweight immediately begins forcing Hughes off, covering his mouth and pushing his head away while also landing a couple of uppercuts in the process.
As they jockey for position, Hughes throws an ill-advised knee to his opponent's head which causes him to lose his balance and he tumbles to the mat. Two monster hammerfists from Koscheck connect and are followed up by even bigger hooks. Hughes rolls onto his stomach and right before the horn sounds off to end the round, Koscheck's fist smacks across the Hall of Famer's skull and turns the lights off.
Hughes hasn't fought since and barring a last minute replacement fighter needed, it doesn't appear as if UFC President Dana White will be phoning him any time soon.
Koscheck, meanwhile, hopes to make it two in a row when he battles the Oklahoma State University wrestler this weekend. Hendricks, in many ways, is what Koscheck was to Hughes: a younger version of himself.
Will the UFC villain suffer the same fate as his UFC 135 opponent? Or does he still have some fight left in him?