Erik Koch's 2012 can best be described by looking at a seismograph during an 8.2 earthquake.
The talented featherweight out of Milwaukee's Roufusport Gym missed out on a fight against Dustin Poirier due to injury, but was selected to fight champion Jose Aldo anyways. The initial fight against Aldo fell apart due to an injury to the champ, and when the fight was rescheduled, after nine months of non-stop training camp for his shot at the belt, Koch would go down with a knee injury himself and be forced to pull out of the biggest opportunity of his lifetime.
Now, Frankie Edgar has taken his place as number one contender and Koch finds himself having to earn a crack at the title all over again. The road to a shot at the top spot begins tomorrow night (Jan. 26, 2013) when he battles fellow top contender Ricardo Lamas in the opening bout of the UFC on Fox 6 main card in Chicago Illinois.
By the time Koch steps into the cage, it will have been 15 months since he last competed in the UFC. Hell, his last fight, a unanimous decision victory over Jonathan Brookins, was aired on Spike TV in the final UFC Fight Night event.
The "New Breed" spoke to MMAmania.com during a guest appearance on The Verbal Submission about makings ends meet while being injured for over a year, his growth as a fighter and why he wants Jose Aldo to defeat Frankie Edgar in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I see you all the time tweeting about the San Francisco 49ers. How did it feel when they beat the Falcons to make it to the Super Bowl?
Erik Koch: I'm cutting weight and I'm tired but I was up in front of my TV moving around, shadow boxing. I was pumped, man! I'm just happy my team won. I'm feeling good, man. I'm pumped up and that's motivating me for Saturday.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What I need to know is, being a guy who grew up in Iowa and now trains out of Milwaukee, how did you become a fan of the San Francisco 49ers in the first place?
Erik Koch: Funny story, my brother was actually a fan of them when they had Jerry Rice and Joe Montana and all those dudes. My brother was a bandwagon fan. He even told me today that he only liked the team at the time because they were so dominant. Me, being a little kid and looking up to my older brother, I liked them because he liked them. It was one of those things I didn't find out until later that he was just a bandwagon fan but I ended up sticking with them and they're just my team now
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your 2012 had to have been one of the most up-and-down rollercoaster frustrating emotional messes of any fighter. You had an injury to start out the year, you get the opportunity of a lifetime to fight the champion, he gets hurt. The fight gets pushed back a couple months and then you get hurt and lose the title shot complete. Now here you are, pretty much right back where you started. What are you feeling after that whole ordeal now that your next fight is finally about to come to fruition?
Erik Koch: It was one of those things. Like you said, a bunch of ups and downs. It was definitely a rough year. I trained my butt off and had like a nine month camp for Aldo. I trained for him for a long time. It was frustrating. It was one of the biggest blows when I got injured, especially a knee injury. That always scares a fight fighter. Me, as a fighter, especially with how explosive I am, that scared the heck out of me.
It was a really down time for me. It was one of those things where now, just starting the new year, I'm not really worried about the title. I'll get my title shot. I just want to fight, man. Keeping a fighter out and not having them fight for a year, that just drives me crazy. I'm refreshed. I was down, but I've got myself in the right mindset and I just want to fight again.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now I know the UFC has the insurance policy to make sure you're not getting set back with medical bills and whatnot, but when a fighter is sidelined for over a year like you were, how do you take care of yourself? Do you just have sponsors that help you out along the way? Did you have to pick up a job on the side? What was going on in that department?
Erik Koch: You know, I've got a couple really good local sponsors in Milwaukee. One is Southport Bar and Grill and they help me out financially a lot just getting ready for this camp, having the money to buy food and all that stuff. Yeah, it's rough. Everybody thinks us fighters make a bunch of money. Yeah, we make money, but we've got to make it last and with injuries and stuff like that, it definitely throws a wrench into it. Money's tight, but we're here. I'm just glad I'm here, my fight is coming up now and I get to do what I love.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'm sure you don't want to talk about the title because you're focusing on Ricardo Lamas, and I don't know if I've actually heard officially if this fight is for number one contender, but you two have the most momentum right now in the featherweight division. Have you actually heard if this is a number one contender fight because there are quite a few pretty big fights at 145 pounds in the next month?
Erik Koch: Yeah, you never know unless it's officially announced. I look at it as a number one contender fight but like you said, I'm focused on Ricardo and we'll get this win and see what happens.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Ricardo has a similar wrestling/grinding style to Chad Mendes, who's the only man to ever beat you. That was three years ago, however. How much of a different fighter are you today compared to what you were when that Mendes fight took place?
Erik Koch: Oh man, not even close. I watched tape from when I fought Mendes and I'm not even close to the same fighter. I'm completely different. Everything has changed. I've just matured as a fighter. I was a young kid when I fought Chad and I've grown a lot mentally and physically and in every aspect of my game. I'm complete. I'm a complete fighter now and that's all there is too it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): The last time we saw you in the cage was against Jonathan Brookins. Now I don't know if you're seeing the same parallels here, but it looked like Brookins was trying to enact a very similar gameplan to what most likely Ricardo Lamas is going to be trying to do. He was trying to take you down the whole fight. There was a lot of clinching. It was a grueling fight. Is that what you're prepared for worst case scenario?
Erik Koch: Yeah, me as a fighter, just being a well-rounded fighter, I don't really set on one specific gameplan. I feel wherever the fight goes, I'm comfortable. If that's what his gameplan, my wrestling, just working with Ben Askren and rolling with him and everything we've got going on, I don't think it would be that much of a problem.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Being such a dynamic fighter yourself. How do you counter a guy that wants to close the distance constantly. How do you create that space? Is it just all about footwork and using distance-creating strikes like the jab and push kicks, or is it more complicated?
Erik Koch: There's a lot that goes into it. A lot footwork and also making him make mistakes and capitalizing on them. That's one thing I'm good at doing and I plan on doing it here on Saturday.
Erik Koch: Yeah, the Assuncao fight, I was doing good. I was using range and frustrating him and he came in hard and he ate that counter right. That's a perfect example of making a fighter do something they're not used to because they were getting flustered.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Ricardo Lamas has looked really good, but we've seen him wilt in fights against guys that tag him with a good shot or two. Do you think that might be all it takes, just land that one big shot?
Erik Koch: Well any fight it can go that way if you land that one big shot. He's a tough dude. I respect him and he's gonna bring it. There's a lot on the line for both of us. I expect him to bring his A-game and he expects the same from me. That's what makes this such a great opener for Fox.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of that, it seems like the UFC is putting a lot a lot of faith in you to open up this Fox card. Do you feel any extra pressure or incentive to go out there and put on a tremendous show knowing that you're potentially the fight that will decide whether or not all the casual fans stick around and watch the rest of the show?
Erik Koch: Not at all, man. I'm a pitbull right now. I'm just hungry to fight because it's been so long. There's no added pressure. It won't ever be a problem for me to go in there and give the fans what they want to see.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): MMA fighters can be very superstitious. Do you have any pre-fight rituals that you have to go through, lucky underwear or anything?
Erik Koch: I'll tell you this. After weigh-ins, I HAVE to have a Jimmy John's sandwich and a German chocolate cupcake. I need to have it. The first thing off the scales is a German chocolate cupcake, every time.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): After spending about nine months of your life preparing for a fight against Jose Aldo, are you rooting for him to defeat Frankie Edgar so you can make those nine months mean something?
Erik Koch: Definitely. No, definitely. I want to fight Aldo. Totally, I went through hell in that camp. If people could have seen what I was doing in training and what I was capable of, there's definitely unfinished business.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): If everything goes perfect for you at least in your head, how would you like the fight to play out?
Erik Koch: I want a knockout, man. It's my return, baby! It's my return and I want to give fans what they want to see. I want to make people remember my name. People forgot a bit because I had an inactive year the last year but I want people to remember my name. I want to put a stamp on it. I don't just want to beat Ricardo Lamas, I want to finish him.
Erik would like to thank Roufusport, his teammates Ben Askren, Pascal Krauss and Anthony Pettis who all had/have fights this weekend, his coaches Duke Roufus and Scott Cushman, and his brother who will be in his corner on Saturday night and his dad. You can follow him on Twitter @NewBreed04.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Koch get his wish and crush Lamas quickly to earn a shot at the title again? Would you want to see him against Jose Aldo this year?
To listen to our complete conversation with Erik Koch, click here (interview begins at 12:00 mark)