Young: Koscheck’s late-career face-turn

February 22, 2013, 2:15 PM

By Ryan Young

There’s something off about Saturday night’s UFC 157 event.

Ok, 80 per cent of my readers probably just went “yeah we know, there are girls in the main event, get with the program buddy,” but that’s not what I’m referring to.

What has me scratching my head is that a certain trash talking Californian not Ronda Rousey has flown so under the radar.

Eight-year Octagon veteran Josh Koscheck opens the pay-per-view portion of the card by welcoming Robbie Lawler back into the UFC following his extended leave. On paper, the fight promises fireworks like most of Koscheck’s bouts, but there’s one key ingredient we’ve become used to that’s missing… the trash talking.

A villain ever since he entered the UFC as a cast member of the inaugural season of the Ultimate Fighter, Kos has been uncharacteristically quiet prior to this fight.

Remember, this is the guy who in the lead-up to fighting Johny Hendricks last May said Hendricks “looked like he threw a lucky punch with his eyes closed and it landed,” in reference to the now second-ranked welterweight contender’s knockout of Jon Fitch.

At least he knew who Hendricks was. When he fought Mike Pierce he claimed to have had to look up who the long-time UFC fighter was. Before that he took aim at UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes by questioning if the two-time champion was “man enough” to fight at UFC 135, and need I remind everyone of how badly he tried to antagonize Georges St-Pierre during their time spent as coaches on the Ultimate Fighter set?

The fact of the matter is the egocentric sound bites have disappeared for one reason or another, and I’m intrigued as to why.

One explanation could be that Koscheck’s fight simply isn’t garnering the media attention some of his others have and therefore the microphone hasn’t been put in front of him as much. It’s hard to verbally abuse your competition if there’s nobody there to listen.

Another is that Lawler has not only been fighting outside of the UFC for Koscheck’s entire Octagon stint, he’s also been in a different weight class, so the idea of the two meeting may have seem farfetched not too long ago — meaning the bad blood may not be there.

That doesn’t sound like Koscheck though, does it?

My guess is that at 35 years old he may be trying to reinvent his image during the twilight years of his career.

Before you laugh, last year Koscheck was at the centre of a sour falling out with trainer Javier Mendez of the American Kickboxing Academy camp that ultimately led to him training out of his own gym in Fresno, Calif. It was typical Koscheck 101 with insults flying and buildings being wished to burn to the ground.

But something else happened in 2012, the “face-turn” of another long-time UFC bad guy.

Like Koscheck before him, Michael Bisping first built up the hatred of UFC fans through the Ultimate Fighter reality show. With their brashness, well-delivered verbal jabs, top-10 fighting ability, and flare to draw the ire of spectators and fellow combatants alike, the argument could be made over the course of their careers they’ve become the two most disliked fighters in the promotion’s history.

But something started to happen with Bisping following his questionable decision loss to Chael Sonnen in January last year. Instead of sulking, he congratulated Sonnen regardless of how he felt of the decision. It showed maturity, and in turn, it won over a couple fans.

This became even more evident when Bisping fought Brian Stann at UFC 152 in September. Instead of launching a verbal tirade in the direction of Stann to promote the bout, which is hard to do with a Purple Heart-winning Marine, Bisping was cordial towards his opponent and even reached out to fans embracing the local Canadian crowd as part of the Commonwealth.

Despite a less than spectacular unanimous decision win over Stann following the Sonnen loss, Bisping was rewarded with a No. 1 contender’s fight because, one can only imagine, he’s paid his dues and the fans had begun supporting him.

While that didn’t end particular well for the Brit, is it so unfathomable to think Kos may be headed in the same direction?

With two losses to reigning champion St-Pierre, Koscheck has admitted to wanting “big fights” to close out his career as another title shot seems unlikely. Although he entered the sport a wrestler, never has his fighting style left fans wanting more. Grappling may be his base, but Kos has proving himself to be entertaining and competitive fighter inside the cage time and time again.

This means the only thing really preventing him from the “big fights” he wants is whether or not the fans want to see him in them.

The counter-argument here is obvious; why can’t he get those desired fights while continuing to play the heel? Everybody likes to cheer for a bad guy to get beat up, and Koscheck plays that role as good as anyone (the beating he took from St-Pierre in Montreal screamed comeuppance).

That may very well work, but after eight years and 21 fights inside the Octagon, and given the success of Bisping’s image change, why not try something new for once? Besides, I’m sure even Koscheck wouldn’t mind hearing a couple of cheers before he retires after pouring so much of himself into entertaining the fans over the years.

It may be jumping gun, and Koscheck needs to beat Lawler before he gets anywhere near the “big fights” he desires, but if Michael Bisping can re-energize his career by winning over some fans there’s no reason Koscheck can’t do it… if he wants to.



Ryan Young is a regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s MMA section. Follow him on Twitter @YoungRyan4.

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