UFC Fight Night 40 Preview: Erik Koch vs. Daron Cruickshank

Erik Koch (14-3, 3-2 UFC) vs. Daron Cruickshank (14-4, 4-2 UFC)

A battle between rising lightweights is highlighted on the main card of UFC Fight Night 40 as former featherweight contender Erik Koch looks to move up the rankings in his new weight class when he takes on “The Ultimate Fighter” alum Daron Crucikshank in what shapes up to be a potentially exciting battle. Koch moved back up to 155 pounds in February and got his lightweight UFC career off to an impressive start in scoring a first-round knockout win over Rafaello Oliveira at UFC 170 in February. He is 3-2 over his last five fights. Cruickshank got back into the win column by scoring a knockout win over Mike Rio at UFC On FOX 10 in January. He is 2-2 over his last four fights following a career-best six-fight win streak.

Fight Breakdown- Erik Koch was once slated to fight for the UFC Featherweight Championship, but unfortunately, an injury kept him from getting that title shot. He had gotten the chance to face champion Jose Aldo after reeling off four straight wins following the first loss of his career to Chad Mendes. It started with first-round stoppage wins over Bendy Casimir and Francisco Rivera in the WEC, and then Koch moved over to the UFC following the merger of the WEC into the UFC. Koch had an impressive UFC debut, scoring a first-round knockout win over current bantamweight contender Raphael Assuncao at UFC 128 in March 2011, and followed that with a decision win over Jonathan Brookins at UFC Fight Night 25 in September 2011. Koch was first scheduled to fight Aldo at UFC 149 in July 2012, but Aldo was forced out due to injury. They were then re-scheduled for UFC 153 in October 2012, but Koch was forced out. Koch lost his title opportunity and then was matched up against Ricardo Lamas. Lamas ended Koch’s win streak and handed him his second career loss at UFC On FOX 6 in January 2013, and then Koch dropped a decision to Dustin Poirier at UFC 164 in August 2013. Those two losses, coupled with the fact Koch was starting to have trouble making 145 pounds, meant a move up to 155 pounds for Koch, and he started off with the impressive win over Oliveira in February.

Daron Cruickshank came into the UFC like many have over the last several years- through “The Ultimate Fighter”. He was a castmember on season 15 and a part of Urijah Faber’s team. He defeated Drew Dober to get into the house on that season, but was eliminated early when he was knocked out by James Vick. Cruickshank still got a UFC opportunity and scored a unanimous decision win over Chris Tickle in his UFC debut in June 2012. He followed that with a spectacular head kick knockout of Henry Martinez at UFC On FOX 5 in December 2012, running his win streak to six straight. He then suffered the first loss of his UFC career in his next bout, dropping a decision to John Makdessi at UFC 158 in March 2013. He got back into the win column in his next fight, winning a decision over Yves Edwards at UFC On FOX 8 in July 2013. He was unable to get a new win streak going as he was submitted in his next fight, tapping out to a straight armbar from Adriano Martins at UFC Fight Night 32 in November 2013. It was a disappointing 2013 for Cruickshank as he went 1-2 during the year. He started 2014 off with a bang, scoring the knockout win in the second round against Rio, finishing him with a spinning wheel kick and punches on the ground. Cruickshank looks to finally get a win streak going against his toughest test to date in Koch, and it will be the first main card appearance for Cruickshank in the UFC.

Koch looked like he adjusted very well in his move up to the lightweight division against Rafaello Oliveira, finishing him with a straight left and punches on the ground. Cruickshank is a step up in competition, but Koch showing that his power transitioned well in the move up is very promising. Most fighters struggle when moving up a weight class but Koch was cutting a lot to get down to 145 pounds, and it was draining on him in his last appearances in that weight class. He goes from a big featherweight to a good-sized lightweight, but while he is still tall for 155 pounds, he will be giving up some reach to Cruickshank. Cruickshank has a solid and diverse striking attack and will mix it up with some spectacular attacks at times. He finished Henry Martinez with a big head kick, and his spinning wheel kick finish of Mike Rio was super impressive. He has a taekwondo background that helps him with his movement and in setting up unique attacks. However, Koch also has a taekwondo background, so he will have the same kind of style that Cruickshank does. Koch fights as a southpaw and it will give Cruickshank trouble so Cruickshank will have to have some unique attacks.

Both men are going to be looking for an opening to attack, and both have good counterstriking. Koch has more power and the ability to take the fight to the ground, but Cruickshank has good takedown defense. If the fight goes to the ground, Koch is very active on the ground and has a solid submission game. Cruickshank can be submitted as half of his losses have been by submission, and half of Koch’s wins have come by submission. However, Koch hasn’t submitted an opponent in almost four years and it has been his striking that has found him the finishes. Cruickshank works at his best when his opponent has no answer for his striking. That will not be the case with Koch. They will each have trouble getting the upper hand on the feet, so look for Koch to turn this fight into a ground battle as the fight and the conditioning starts to drag on. Koch is solid in scrambles and good at taking the backs of his opponents, and that is what he will do against Cruickshank. Look for Koch to score a late submission or a decision win, but Koch will walk away on Saturday night with his hand raised in what should be an entertaining battle.

Why It Matters- Both fighters are looking to climb the rankings in the very tough lightweight division, and they are both at the stage of their UFC careers where now is a good time to match them up. Koch is a former top contender at 145 pounds, but the move to 155 pounds gives him a fresh start, and a 2-0 start would send him on his way back towards title contention. However, a loss for Koch and he may never sniff that title shot again. Cruickshank has shown himself to be a solid hand at 155 pounds, and he may never be a title contender, but he will be someone who can deliver some fun and exciting fights. There is a lot more riding on the line in this fight for Koch as he has the most potential between the two, but he is also a teammate of the current UFC Lightweight Champion, Anthony Pettis. Whatever happens, this fight is expected to bring some fireworks and is excellent matchmaking by Joe Silva. Fireworks are coming in Cincinatti.

Prediction- Koch

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