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Josh Koscheck: ‘My butt’s on the line’
As the UFC celebrates its 20th anniversary during this weekend’s event in its home base of Las Vegas, the organization will look back at its past and salute the pioneers who helped build the foundation for today’s success. The obvious names like Royce Gracie and Chuck Liddell will be singled out for their contributions, but few will give any thought to such a legacy for one of the men still actively competing, and set for Saturday night.
The UFC would not have survived without The Ultimate Fighter, and while the Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar final is forever recalled as the promotion’s tipping point, few were more pivotal to that crucial first season than Josh Koscheck, whose antagonism of Chris Leben drove ratings and helped ensure there would be an audience to tune in to the finale.
Since that run on TUF in 2005, Koscheck has remained an octagon mainstay, but the welterweight is nearing must-win territory when he faces Tyron Woodley at UFC 167.
Just two weeks shy of his 36th birthday, Koscheck has lost two straight in the cage for the first time in his career. Few fighters survive three consecutive defeats, and even though UFC president Dana White admitted that he has a “soft spot” for the inaugural TUF cast members, Koscheck isn’t promised anything past the weekend.
If winning isn’t enough motivation, there’s always fighting for a future.
"My butt's on the line when it comes Saturday night,” Koscheck said. “My last performance wasn't great, and the one before that was OK. You've got to come out and win. In this sport right now, there are a lot of people waiting on limbs trying to get into the UFC. The UFC knows there are a lot of guys they have on roster. There's always a lot at stake when it comes to financially, and winning and losing fights. For a fighter, you've got to come out, you've got to compete, and you've got to win."
The original TUF cast had an incredible run of success in the UFC. Griffin won a championship. Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez, Nate Quarry and Koscheck all fought for belts. Leben, Mike Swick and Stephan Bonnar were all popular longtime staples.
But with their collective impact mostly made, they’re slowly fading off. As of now, only Leben, Sanchez and Koscheck are active in the UFC. (Although Swick is not officially retired, he hasn’t fought for all of 2013.)
There was a time when Koscheck’s mouth might have made him unexpendable. In his heyday, he would routinely make headlines for his incessant trash talk. At his best, he was an excellent promoter, understanding how to get fans invested in his fights, even if it was against him.
Recently, he’s toned it down a notch. At Thursday’s UFC press conference, he didn’t have a bad word to say about Woodley. In fact, he was something of an elder statesman, discussing the growth of the promotion, along with the accompanying pressures and opportunities that brings.
At one point, an admirer screamed out “I love you, Josh!”
Koscheck smiled and thanked her, and White, seizing on Koscheck’s villainous past, cracked, "That was Josh's one fan. Thank you for coming. We appreciate it. Thank you, Mrs. Koscheck."
The truth is that Koscheck has slowly moved past that reputation. In his last fight, which came against Robby Lawler in February, he received more cheers than boos. Perhaps it is his longevity that has won people over. Think about this for a second: Koscheck’s Saturday night fight will be his 23rd time in the Octagon, good for top five all-time. That’s more fights in the UFC than Frank Mir, B.J. Penn, even Saturday’s headliner Georges St-Pierre.
With his most recent losses to Lawler and Johny Hendricks, Koscheck isn’t exactly losing to pushovers, but in a results-driven business, success is the only guarantee of a future.
History will be celebrated on Saturday, but the thing about it is, when you’re an active fighter, it can remind you of your own mortality. One day you’re on top of the world, the next, you’re just in the way of the next generation.
Right now, Koscheck is caught somewhere in between, an important though mostly unrecognized part of the UFC’s rise, and an aging fighter trying to claw his way back towards the contender role he held so long. After Saturday, we’ll have a better idea of exactly where he is and he’ll have a better idea of exactly where he’s going, and whether it’s the end, or the beginning of one last ride.
"I know what's at stake here,” he said. “I know that I've been around a long time. I've had some good days and bad days in this game. That's part of being a mixed martial artist."