This Saturday night (Nov. 16, 2013) welterweights Josh Koscheck and Tyron Woodley will square off on the main card of UFC 167 from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Both fighters are two of the most highly-decorated amateur wrestlers in mixed martial arts (MMA). Koscheck won the 2001 NCAA Division I national championship at 174 pounds, while Woodley was a Division I All-American in both 2003 and 2005. That shared wrestling prowess could translate to this fight taking place mainly on the feet.
In addition to their considerable mat skills, "Kos" and Woodley have also shown they are very proficient strikers.
Koscheck was last seen losing to Robbie Lawler by technical knockout at UFC 157 back in February. A veteran of a lofty 22 Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bouts, Koscheck got his start on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 1 and hasn't looked back ever since.
But at 35 years of age, Koscheck has lost three out of his past five Octagon bouts. It's time for him to sink or swim in the ultra-talented and competitive 170-pound division. It's unlikely that he'll ever contend for the title again, but he can provide an excellent test for rising welterweights looking to make a splash.
Woodley is the opposite of Koscheck only in the sense that he has two UFC bouts to his name. He won his debut at UFC 156 by knocking out Jay Hieron in a mere 36 seconds. However, he couldn't capitalize on the momentum, losing a boring decision to grinder Jake Shields at UFC 161 in June.
Despite the loss, Woodley has a golden opportunity against one of the toughest fighters he's ever faced in Koscheck.
Takedowns are going to come at a premium in this one. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Josh Koscheck vs. Tyron Woodley:
Record: 17-7 overall, 15-7 UFC
Key Wins: Matt Hughes (UFC 135), Frank Trigg (UFC 103), Diego Sanchez (UFC 69)
Key Losses: Georges St-Pierre (UFC 74, UFC 124), Johny Hendricks (UFC on FOX 3), Robbie Lawler (UFC 157)
Keys to Victory: Koscheck has seen a lot in his eight-year UFC career. He's faced off against many of the best welterweights in the world during that span. That experience is going to prove invaluable against Woodley come Saturday night.
With both fighters being such experienced wrestlers, this bout will come down to who can impose their will the most. For a national champion wrestler, Koscheck doesn't actually have an alarmingly high takedown defense rate. He's defended 63 percent of his opponents' takedown attempts in UFC.
If he allows Woodley to capitalize on one out of three attempts, it could be a long night for "Kos."
Instead, Koscheck should utilize his own takedown offense. Woodley hasn't been taken down in UFC yet, but he can be ground out by top-level grapplers such as Shields. Woodley won't go easily, but pushing him up against the cage to use dirty boxing will negate his thunderous knockout power. This strategy will not be pretty and it may draw a lot of boos from the boisterous Las Vegas fans.
But Koscheck is used to hearing those. In fact, he thrives off them.
Koscheck has grown to love his big overhand right in recent years. He'll most likely be throwing it early and often this Saturday. Woodley showed that he can be knocked out against Marquardt, so getting in his face with some combinations will be an obvious path to success for Koscheck.
"Kos" does have six submissions on his MMA record, but Woodley is a hugely powerful welterweight who has never tapped out. Koscheck's safest way to win is with a smothering decision. His most impressive is an age-defying knockout.
Record: 11-2 overall, 1-1 UFC
Key Wins: Tarec Saffiedine (Strikeforce Challengers: Woodley vs. Saffiedine), Paul Daley (Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson)
Key Losses: Jake Shields (UFC 161), Nate Marquardt (Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy)
Keys to Victory: Woodley will be looking for the biggest win of his life when he steps into the cage to face Koscheck at UFC 167. He's been competing at a high level in wrestling his whole life so the butterflies won't get to him on the big stage.
To win in Las Vegas, Woodley has to find some room to unleash his brutal strikes. It's no secret that he has an impressive wrestling resume, but he hasn't notched a single takedown in the Octagon as of yet. But his small sample size is hard to draw from as he knocked out Hieron in under one minute and then got neutralized by an absolutely suffocating opponent in Shields.
Going for some takedowns will help Woodley's cause in a big way. He should be able to use his size and strength advantage to drag Koscheck to the mat and land some ground and pound shots. If he can secure his first UFC takedowns, he'll earn the favor of the judges. In a fight that could go to a decision, winning the wrestling battle will be critical to success.
Woodley has explosive power in his hands and he won't shy away from exchanging with "Kos." That makes this fight unpredictable. Woodley has to show up focused and ready to avoid the power shots that are thrown his way. If he gets tagged on the chin with a big right hand, it could be lights out. Woodley will need excellent head movement to avoid this dire fate.
At this point in time, Woodley appears to be the fresher, more motivated fighter. His relative inexperience when compared to Koscheck could definitely be erased by his hunger to make a statement in UFC. It's debatable as to whether or not "Kos" remains motivated to fight the best MMA talent in the world.
Woodley needs to test that willingness.
Bottom Line from Vegas: The bottom line for this fight is that both of these fighters are top-flight wrestlers with knockout power, to boot. They could easily cancel each other out in the takedown game, leading to a boxing match that could end several ways.
Koscheck could use his Octagon savvy to grind Woodley out against the cage. He could also knock out Woodley with a well-placed combination.
But that would be a big surprise.
Koscheck hasn't finished a fight in UFC since 2011 and one isn't going to easily present itself here. Thankfully for "Kos," Woodley doesn't have an iron chin.
He is quite a formidable foe, however, and he'll come into this bout beyond motivated.
Koscheck's will to fight has been questioned during his recent slide. This fight will show if his head is still in the game or not. Another stoppage loss will undoubtedly have many calling for his retirement.
Woodley has the chance to rise up in the stacked welterweight division. He'll have to pass the test that "Kos" presents first. He can do that by keeping his movement high and creating a cushion to land some fight-changing punches. This will be the biggest fight of Woodley's MMA career. He needs to change levels and keep "Kos" guessing and notch the huge victory.
Koscheck and Woodley are at different spots in their respective careers but their styles really aren't all that different. With two heavy hitters like these, this bout might just come down to who lands the biggest shot first.
Will Josh Koscheck prove that he still belongs among the top welterweights in the world, or will Tyron Woodley score the biggest win of his career at UFC 167? Let us know your thoughts below!