Promising young Featherweight mixed martial arts (MMA) talents Erik Koch and Dustin Poirier will square off this Saturday night (Aug. 31, 2013) on the pay-per-view (PPV) main card of UFC 164, which takes place at BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Although Koch and Poirier are promising contenders with a ton of upside, they are also in need of a win to stay near the top of the highly talented 145-pound landscape. Not long ago, Koch was slated to face Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight champion Jose Aldo for the title at UFC 149 until an injury forced him to withdraw from the bout. A subsequent loss to Ricardo Lamas at UFC on Fox 6: "Johnson vs. Dodson" curbed his momentum for the time being.
Across the Octagon, Poirier will await, also having his hype lessened after losing two out of his last three bouts to Cub Swanson and Chan Sung Jung. Both combatants are still evolving their skills, and a win this weekend will propel the victor into bigger and badder divisional bouts moving forward.
Let's dive into this intriguing UFC 164 matchup between Erik Koch vs. Dustin Poirier:
Record: 13-2 overall, 2-1 UFC
Key Wins: Jonathan Brookins (UFC Fight Night: Shields vs. Ellenberger), Raphael Assuncao (UFC 128)
Key Losses: Ricardo Lamas (UFC on FOX 6), Chad Mendes (WEC 47)
How he got here: The No. 10-ranked Koch is a Taekwondo black belt who has been involved in martial arts since a very young age. He trains at Milwaukee's Roufusport with famed Taekwondo stylist and current UFC Lightweight title challenger Anthony Pettis.
Koch got his start in the sport at the ripe age of 18, fighting for promotions like Mainstream MMA, where he became the Lightweight champion, and Midwest cage Championships (MCC), where he won the MCC 20 Featherweight Tournament in April 2008. His undefeated (8-0) MMA record got him enough recognition to get signed onto World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), making his debut against Jameel Massouh at WEC 45. He won a unanimous decision, and then went on to face future UFC Featherweight title challenger Chad Mendes.
It would be Koch's first taste of defeat, but he rebounded swiftly, defeating Bendy Casimir and Francisco Rivera with convincing finishes earned him a spot in the UFC.
Koch would make his Octagon debut at UFC 128, besting Raphael Assuncao with a "Knockout of the Night"-winning performance. He kept his momentum rolling with a unanimous decision over former The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) winner Jonathan Brookins in Sept. 2011. The win put him into immediate title talk, and he was then slated to face champion Jose Aldo at both UFC 149 and UFC 153, but had to withdraw from both bouts because of multiple injuries.
That left him on the shelf for the entirety of 2012, and ring rust may have factored into his return when he lost to surging contender Ricardo Lamas via technical knockout at UFC on FOX 6. Koch will look to get back to his usual winning ways, and he'll the hometown crowd on his side against Poirier on the main card of UFC 164.
How he gets it done: Koch has myriad ways to dispatch his opponent inside the Octagon, but he's most well versed in submissions, having seven tapouts to his name. He's no slouch in the striking department, with the skill to knockout opponents with an array of kicks and punches.
However, Poirier is a man who's never been knocked out.
Of his 13 wins, only three have been decisions, showing that he's a proven finisher. "New Breed" will need to be at the top of his game in Milwaukee to accomplish that feat. Koch's best bet might be to use his strikes to transition to a takedown, then look to for a submission on the ground. Poirier has only been finished once, but it was via technical submission.
Koch would be well served to mix it up with unpredictable strikes, using his kicking range to keep Poirier at bay. If he does get taken down, all is not lost. Koch has exhibited a diverse arsenal of holds, and his submission defense is top-notch, too. He's never tapped out in his career, and that fact will help him stay comfortable wherever his bout with Poirier takes him.
To win, Koch will need complete control of his mental faculties. The hometown crowd could be a great help to him, or the nerves could adversely affect his performance. It's tough to predict after "New Breed" has seen so little cage time recently because of injuries.
Record: 13-3 overall, 5-2 UFC
Key Wins: Jonathan Brookins (TUF 16 Finale), Max Holloway (UFC 143)
Key Losses: Cub Swanson (UFC on Fuel TV 7), Chan Sung Jung (UFC on Fuel TV 3)
How he got here: "Diamond" got his start in MMA by winning a string of bouts in his home state of Louisiana. An undefeated (7-0) run got him a spot in the WEC, where he began with a unanimous decision loss to Danny Castillo.
Poirier came back with a technical knockout win over Zack Micklewright at WEC 52, and that was all the UFC needed to see to enlist him. He made his Octagon debut at UFC 125 against the formerly touted Josh Grispi, winning a unanimous decision.
It was a sign of good things to come, as Poirier continued his run by defeating Jason Young, Pablo Garza and finally Holloway with a highlight reel triangle armbar from the mount at UFC 143. The win streak got Poirier some serious recognition and put him on the list of legitimate contenders to Aldo's belt.
However, it was not to be a perfect run to the top, as "Diamond" tasted defeat against "Korean Zombie" in their now-classic headlining bout at UFC on Fuel TV 3. It was a rousing back-and-forth battle that saw the fighters trade strikes on the feet while looking for various submissions on the ground. In the end, Poirier was forced to succumb to a fight-ending d'arce choke in the fourth round. The bout ended up winning "Fight of the Night," and eventually even obtained "Fight of the Year" status.
Poirier got back on track with a d'arce choke of his own against Jonathan Brookins at TUF 16 Finale. The much-needed victory earned Poirier another chance to prove himself against one of the UFC Featherweight division's elite against Swanson at UFC on Fuel TV 7. While Poirier fought valiantly, he dropped a unanimous decision and has now lost two out of his last three fights.
How he gets it done: There's little doubt that the No. 6-ranked Poirier is a scrappy Featherweight with a penchant for producing very exciting fights. Against Koch, he's going to have to balance that explosiveness with a degree of calculated strategy. Koch is a dynamic striker on the feet thanks to his Taekwondo background, but he owns more submissions than knockouts.
That's going to make for an interesting battle if and when the fight hits the ground, because Poirier's last three wins have come via tapout. Koch most likely won't be submitted; he never has been before. On the other hand, "Diamond" hasn't won a fight with a (technical) knockout since 2010, but his best bet still might be to look to push the pace on the feet.
Koch has only seen the Octagon once since Sept. 2011, and that was the stoppage loss to Lamas. That's not exactly a stellar track record in today's fast-paced, ever-evolving UFC landscape. Despite Koch's immense potential, Poirier could find a way to win the fight with his striking, most likely by decision.
If he can land some bombs while Koch is searching for a submission, they'll go a long way in the eyes of the judges. Both fighters are incredibly hard to finish, so Poirier will need an excellent gameplan to gain points wherever they become available.
Bottom Line From Milwaukee: The bottom line here is that Poirier has seen a ton more cage time recently than Koch has. We truly don't know just how recovered "New Breed" is from the string of injuries that haunted him throughout 2012. He'll also have a ton of pressure on his shoulders from his Milwaukee faithful.
It's really a guessing game of how well he will perform against the top fighters in the Octagon. Poirier's an ultra-competitive fighter who still has the bitter taste of defeat in his mouth, but his loss to Swanson shouldn't sway his confidence too much.
Unlike Koch, Poirier lost a decision, and ultimately the loss could be the best thing for his overall motivation.
In this battle of truly well-rounded and talented combatants, the edge should be razor thin, so it could come down to who makes the first mistake. Both Koch and Poirier have the intelligence and ability to capitalize on even a small window of opportunity.
This fight has the potential to be a slugfest or a technical ground war, making it potentially one of the best bouts at UFC 164. Don't be surprised if this turns into a slugfest mixed with takedowns where it's anyone's guess who prevailed on the judges' scorecards.