In the co-main event of the evening, former welterweight champion and ‘Hall of Famer’, Mat Hughes (45-8) will extend his incredible career one fight further against TUF alumni and perennial welterweight contender, Josh Koscheck (15-5).
Though there is a generational gap between these two warriors, there is one strong parallel between them: both come from collegiate wrestling backgrounds having nurtured their talent upon the mat and have developed those skills to tremendous effect within the MMA arena. In fact, one could that argue that there would be no Josh Koscheck in MMA, if it wasn’t for the great success of the ‘wrestler in MMA’ prototype that is Matt Hughes and in fact Koscheck is simply a more advanced version of the original model.
Hughes has already written his name into UFC folklore and has achieved more in a career, spanning thirteen years, than most fighters could only dream of. He is a two time welterweight champion, defending the belt for a record breaking seven times and has had his hand raised more than any other in the octagon, with an incredible eighteen wins. He also holds notable victories over a plethora of MMA greats beginning with his capture of the title back at UFC 34 against Carlos Newton, as well as well as defeating the likes of Hayato Sakurai, BJ Penn and Royce Gracie. In fact his list of achievements extends much further and if an opponent were to pay much attention to it, they could be forgiven for being a little intimidated.
However, I think we can safely say that these seismic accomplishments will count for little, to the man staring back across the cage from him, MMA’s pantomime villain, Josh Koscheck. The AKA stand-out, makes a hasty return to action following the withdrawal of Diego Sanchez through injury and will be hoping to quickly erase the memory of his last outing and bounce back in some style, after being thoroughly beaten in his challenge to the man who assumed Hughes’s mantle a-top of the welterweight division, George Saint Pierre. Koscheck has come a long way since his first appearance on the Ultimate fighter series, where he was defeated in the semi-finals to the aforementioned and eventual winner Sanchez. Not only has he avenged that loss but he has gone on to establish himself as one of the best and most well rounded fighters competing today and is a mainstay in the top ten of the welterweight rankings.
Since losing out on the title to GSP, it was rightly assumed that Hughes was on a downward spiral, with his best years behind him, but though the Hillsboro, Illinois native is certainly not as quick, or perhaps as strong as he once was, he remains the ever dangerous veteran, who retains the capacity to finish fights in an instance, as Hugo Almeida will attest, after being choked out in a fight few gave Hughes a chance of winning. With that being said, the level of competition he has faced since his championship reign has been reduced significantly, with a grudge match against Matt Serra and his glorified exhibition with Renzo Gracie, it appears as though the UFC has given the ‘Hall of Famer’ a free reign to hand pick opponents that would make interesting match ups in the twilight of his career.
Koscheck enters the cage at a crossroads in his career; after falling short in his title tilt to GSP, he has much more to lose then gain in this contest and although a victory against a ‘Hall of Famer’ like Hughes would look good on his resume, a defeat would be disastrous. Unless GSP were to drop the title soon, he stands little chance of ever competing for the strap again and no matter the outcome of this match-up, one would fully expect Koscheck to step up to the middleweight mark sooner rather then later.
Koscheck would have been bitterly disappointed with his last performance and I fully expect him to show no mercy to the former champion, with the main difference being the speed and striking discrepancies between the two, forcing the TKO stoppage in the second round.