Two of the top ranked featherweights in the UFC will settle their spots in the pecking order this Saturday night (Jan. 26, 2013) as Erik Koch takes on Ricardo Lamas in the opening bout of the UFC on Fox 6 main card in Chicago, Illinois.
Koch had a tumultuous 2012, earning a title shot against Jose Aldo but having the bout delayed due to an injury to the champ only to get injured himself and miss out on a shot at the belt altogether. Now, he's looking to take out one of the hottest rising featherweights on the roster to prove he deserves the opportunity again.
Ricardo Lamas has been a wrecking machine since dropping down to 145 pounds, knocking out Matt Grice, choking out Cub Swanson and then handing Hatsu Hioki his first loss in years this past summer. Now, he could be fighting for a potential shot at the champ against Koch.
Will Koch prove he deserves a shot at the champ? Or will Lamas' tremendous run against the division's elite continue? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 13-1 overall, 2-0 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 smashed three straight 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.
The "New Breed's" second fight in the UFC was a grueling affair against Jonathan Brookins in which he fended off takedowns for three straight rounds in the clinch to earn a decision. With a lack of title contenders, he was chosen to face Jose Aldo but a pair of injuries prevented the fight from taking place and the UFC went with the sexier option of a Frankie Edgar fight. Now, Koch will look to earn the title shot by taking out a man who's been on fire in the featherweight division.
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 Lamas, he will likely have to rely on his striking to carry him to victory in this bout.
"New Breed" will be looking to create space with his jab and potentially push kicks throughout the fight, not letting Lamas close the distance for takedowns. He's got some killer head and body kicks but those are something he'll have to be cautious throwing because one mistimed head or body kick could result in being stuck on his back for the remainder of the round.
The smartest plan of action will be to utilize proper footwork and punches. Koch has proven he has one-punch knockout power and Lamas is a fighter who has been knocked out twice in the past. One big shot could be all it takes. He's got the accuracy, power and speed to knock out Lamas 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.
Record: 12-2 overall, 3-0 in the UFC
Key Losses: Yuri Alcantara (WEC 53), Danny Castillo (WEC 42)
How he got here: Ricardo Lamas was a successful wrestler while competing at Division III Elmhurst college, earning All-America honors as well as eventually become a wrestling coach there. He transitioned to mixed martial arts, turning pro in 2008 and winning his first six fights, including an impressive unanimous decision victory against IFL standout Bart Palaszewski in his WEC debut.
Lamas would unfortunately fall victim to Danny Castillo's superior striking in his next bout, but would win three straight in the promotion before again getting knocked out by powerful striker Yuri Alcantera at the final WEC event ever. The Chicago transplant would drop to featherweight for his UFC debut and would knock Matt Grice senseless with a beautiful head kick and follow up ground strikes.
What really put "The Bully" on the map were his last two fights, a come-from-behind submission victory over Cub Swanson at the first Fox event and then a huge upset against then-number two ranked featherweight Hatsu Hioki this past summer at UFC on FX 4.
Now, Lamas could be fighting for an opportunity to vie for the 145 pound title should he get past Koch on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Lamas is facing a superior striker this weekend so he'll need to do what wrestlers do best, take a fighter out of their comfort zone.
While it was a long time ago, Koch's lone career loss was against an elite wrestler in Chad Mendes, so Lamas should attempt to utilize his very strong wrestling base to try and keep "New Breed" from remaining upright. Whatever he does, he can't let Koch get comfortable on the feet because Lamas has been susceptible to heavy strikes in the past and with a fighter as dangerous as Koch, it could only take one good blow.
Look for Lamas to repeatedly close the distance whether it be with clinch attempts or powerful wrestling shots whenever Koch commits to anything big. He does not want to screw around with him on the feet and getting the fight up and personal is the best way to neutralize him.
Koch has a solid jiu-jitsu game, with nearly half of his career victories coming by way of submission, but Lamas hung with Hatsu Hioki on the ground for three rounds so he shouldn't be too concerned about getting tapped. As long as he's active either in the clinch or from top position, he'll at least be on his way to winning a decision.
Fight X-Factor: The biggest X-Factor for this fight has to be Koch's evolving defense against solid grapplers. His loss to Mendes was nearly three years ago and for a fighter that's only 24 years old, that's practically a lifetime. The Rufousport fighter has seen teammate Anthony Pettis lose the exact same way in his UFC debut and he trains alongside perhaps the best amateur wrestler to transition to MMA in Ben Askren so there's a very good shot that he's learned enough in the last three years to stifle Lamas' attempts.
If so, Lamas could be in huge trouble, but the battle between Lamas' takedowns and Koch's defense is going to be the biggest factor to keep an eye out for on Saturday night.
Bottom Line: Erik Koch is one of the most entertaining fighters in the featherweight division and possesses one of the most dynamic and powerful striking arsenals pound for pound. Lamas will be looking to neutralize that with his grappling and we've seen what has happened before when Koch was forced to fend off takedowns for three rounds, a brutal war of attrition against Jonathan Brookins. If Koch is playing defense all night, this fight could get ugly very quickly, but depending on if either man can take the fight into their comfort zone, it could also become extremely entertaining. Stay cautious with this one, but don't give up on it just yet.
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