Josh Koscheck is angling for a middleweight fight and an easy commute. The UFC veteran announced on his twitter account that he has asked for his next fight to be November 19th at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, the city that also plays home to his training camp American Kickboxing Academy. Koscheck’s remarks caused a stir when he added that the fight he was seeking would take place at 185 pounds.
Koscheck was last seen in the UFC in December, losing to welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and has been on the sidelines recovering from a broken orbital bone ever since. Although Koscheck says this will be a one-time move before heading back down to 170, he recently told Fighters Only magazine about his desire to become a “moneyweight” fighter, name-checking Michael Bisping and Tito Ortiz as possible opponents.
With Koscheck indicating the fight will be at middleweight and Bisping tied up coaching The Ultimate Fighter against Jason “Mayhem” Miller, it appears he will have to look elsewhere in the division for an opponent. The name that keeps getting speculated about is a man that he has much history with, Chris “The Crippler” Leben.
The Koscheck-Leben saga is well-known to any UFC fan and was one of the catalysts for the popularity of The Ultimate Fighter. Clips of Koscheck’s taunting of Leben, including soaking the sleeping Leben with a hose and Leben’s subsequent rampage through the fighter house have been played at nauseum on Spike TV. The episode that saw the two square off in a two round exhibition (which Koscheck won by controlling Leben on the mat) was viewed by 2.4 million people, a record that stood for a regular episode of the program until season 10 and the introduction of Kimbo Slice.
What fans saw then was a struggle between two prospects in the sport, two athletes that were still more than a little green and unsure of their identity inside the octagon. Were the fight to happen now, not only would it be contested in a three round fight under the bright lights of the UFC’s production machine in front of thousands of fans in the arena and millions watching on pay-per-view; it would be a match-up of two UFC veterans (both men have now had eighteen fights a piece in the promotion) who have a much better idea who they are both as athletes and as people.
There’s not a fighter that fans love to hate more than Josh Koscheck (Chael Sonnen gets an honourable mention). With his blonde dyed afro, frat-boy attitude and hit-and-miss attempts at trash talking, there may not be a fighter in the UFC that comes off as more naturally unlikeable. But while his personality is up for debate, his credentials as a fighter are not. He has evolved from a wrestler into a true mixed martial artist, skilled in all aspects of the sport. Leben’s style has also evolved, going from a brawler who loved foot stomps to a man who could submit Yoshirio Akiyama with a triangle choke. Both men have also fought the men at the top of their division only to come up short, Koscheck with two decision losses to GSP and Leben suffering a first round KO against Anderson Silva in Silva’s UFC debut.
It is for that reason that the timing of a Koscheck-Leben grudge match makes sense. Although Koscheckinsists he will go back to welterweight, there aren’t a lot of options for him in the division. His teammates Jon Fitch and Mike Swick are also welterweights, and the AKA boys have refused to fight each other, much to Dana White’s chagrin. He finds himself in a similar position that Rich Franklin was in after being defeated twice by Silva, he is good enough to beat many fighters in the division, but not good enough to beat the champion. Taking a cue from Franklin’s book, Koscheck has decided to move up in weight, however temporarily. Leben’s stock is at an all-time high after his sudden and brutal KO of legend Wanderlei Silva, but the middleweight title picture is crowded with the upcoming Silva-Okami title fight, Bisping and Miller opposite each other and the returning Chael Sonnen taking on Brian Stann, a fight to keep Leben active and engaged while the division sorts itself out is a good idea from both an athletic and promotional standpoint.
Koscheck is a smart business man, he knows that a match-up against Leben, even more than five years after the original brouhaha is an easy to sell pay-per-view fight. With Matt Hughes tied up with Diego Sanchez, it may be the biggest money fight Koscheck has available. If he is victorious against Leben, it raises his cache for future “moneyweight” opponents, if he comes up short then he loses nothing in a move back to welterweight. From Leben’s perspective, he gets to settle an old grudge, keep his standing as a contender at 185 and hear the roar of the crowd as the left hand of one of the promotion’s more popular fighters makes contact with the skull of one of the most hated. The timing may finally be right for these two to meet on a UFC pay-per-view.