Two extremely dangerous and powerful welterweight veterans will clash this Saturday night (Feb. 23, 2013) as former UFC title challenger Josh Koscheck takes on former Strikeforce title challenger Robbie Lawler on the UFC 158 main card in Anaheim, California.
Koscheck is always in the mix among the top welterweights in the UFC, but he has not fought since losing a close split decision to Johny Hendricks over nine months ago. He's looking to get back into contention, but first, he's got to take out a returning UFC veteran in Lawler.
Robbie Lawler was once one of the most hyped fighters in the UFC, but a string of losses found him unemployed. He found a home in Strikeforce and Elite XC, letting his fists do the talking, but after an unsuccessful run at middleweight, he's dropping down to 170 pounds in one last ditch effort to make something happen in his career.
Will Koscheck prove why he's a heavy favorite with a dominant showing? Can Lawler land that knockout blow he's always capable of connecting with? What's the key to victory for both men?
Record: 17-6 overall, 15-6 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 against St. Pierre.
In his rematch at UFC 124, Koscheck was dominated by GSP's jab, having his orbital bone broken badly and losing a five round decision. After a 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. Luck would not be on his side in his next bout, however, as the split decision MMA gods sided with his opponent Johny Hendricks.
Now, after a nine month layoff, he returns to the Octagon to battle returning UFC veteran Robbie Lawler.
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 Lawler's 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 Lawler down and he's clearly the superior MMA wrestler as well. The key will be to not leave himself exposed in the process and give Lawler an opening to land a big knee or uppercut from short range on the way in. .
If Koscheck can threaten with the takedown early, Lawler could become considerably less aggressive and become open to being hit on the feet due to fear of being put on his back. Hell, if all else fails, he can just dominate Lawler with his wrestling and take the power in both of Lawler's fists completely out of the equation.
It's all up to "Kos" how he wants to play this fight out.
Record: 19-9 (1 No Contest) overall, 4-3 in the UFC
How he got here: After first getting scouted at a Hawaiian MMA event in his fourth professional fight, Lawler was pegged as the next golden boy of the UFC. He got off to a great start with the Ultimate Fighting Championships with three straight wins but a tough stretch of three losses out of four fights would end his time with the world's largest promotion.
Lawler would spend the next two years building himself back up, eventually fighting for and winning the EliteXC middleweight title from Murilo Rua in 2007. He would successfully defend his title once before the promotion folded.
The H.I.T. Squad fighter would lose his Strikeforce promotional debut to Jake Shields but would rebound in an incredible comeback performance against Melvin Manhoef. After losing a very close decision to former light heavyweight Ranato Sobral at a 195 lb. catchweight, Lawler would go on to absolutely destroy Matt Lindland in another of 2010's nastiest knockouts.
The victory would earn him a title shot against Strikeforce middleweight champion "Jacare" Souza and Lawler would hold his own with the incredibly gifted fighter for over two rounds but would eventually be overwhelmed by the Brazilian's strength on the ground, succumbing to a third round submission.
Lawler accepted a bout with Tim Kennedy which had middleweight title contendership on the line. In that fight, the "Ruthless" fighter was tentative and didn't do nearly enough to impress the judges as he would go on to lose a unanimous decision. He bounced back impressively with a huge stoppage against top prospect Adlan Amagov, but after a tough loss at the hands of Lorenz Larkin, Lawler will be returning to welterweight to take on Josh Koscheck in the UFC.
How he gets it done: Robbie Lawler is a decent wrestler but it's the power in both of his fists that make him deadly. No matter if he's down on the cards, he'll always have that threat of the one-punch knockout, just ask Melvin Manhoef.
Lawler is capable of overwhelming his opposition with punches and knees, but he can't sit back and be too patient like he was in several of his previous losses where he was too concerned about the takedown or just hesitant to engage. He's got to find that buffer zone where he can be aggressive enough to land the heavy knockout blow but not so reckless that he gift wraps takedowns for the former national champion wrestler.
"Ruthless" Robbie is at his best when he has no respect for his opponents. It's during those times that he steps up the aggression and really goes for the kill. No matter how strong Koscheck has looked in his UFC career, Lawler needs to put that behind him and just try to punch the veteran in the face as hard as he can. If he hesitates, he loses.
Fight X-Factor: There are two major X-Factors for this fight. The first and most important is that Lawler has not fought at 170 pounds since a 2004 knockout loss at the hands of Nick Diaz. He moved up to middleweight for a reason because it wasn't easy to make the cut and that was when he was in the prime of his career. There's no telling how dropping back down to welterweight after nearly nine years away from the division is going to affect him both physically and mentally.
The other factor is Koscheck's health. He was long considered a workhorse in the UFC, taking fights on short notice and always being one of the combatants that Dana White and Joe SIlva could always depend on in a pinch. That's taken its toll and the fact that he had to pull out of a fight last September due to a back injury might just be the beginning of a longer series of health issues that could plague him until the end of his career. If Koscheck is slowed down against Lawler, that could open him up to getting hit by those powerful fists of his "Ruthless" opponent.
Bottom Line: This fight has plenty of potential to be a slugfest on the feet as both Koscheck and Lawler love to knock opponents out, but that doesn't mean it will be a big brawl. If Koscheck plays it smart, this fight is likely going to the ground or being threatened to be taken to the ground early and often and that means the fight could be one-sided. How exciting this fight in all depends on if Koscheck can dominate on the ground or if Lawler can fend him off and make it a fight on the feet.
Who will come out on top at UFC 157? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!