To the chagrin of MMA fans the world over, the UFC has been on an extended hiatus that has felt like an eternity.
Their last big card, UFC 73: Stacked, was on July 7th. The Ultimate Fighter Finale was a couple weeks before that on June 23. And the last UFC Fight Night was in mid June.
Sure, I appreciate the other MMA venues now available to us—the IFL, EliteXC, the WEC, etc.—but without the UFC it still feels like being abandoned in the Mojave Desert with just a measly 12-oz. bottle of Poland Spring.
Everyday I consult Spike TV’s schedule, even though I know damn well they’re only showing replays of Unleashed. It’s like when you keep opening the door to your empty fridge every other minute, hoping some delicious groceries will magically appear.
But the dry spell ends this Saturday night (10 PM ET/7 PM PT) with UFC 74: Respect. In a previous column we analyzed the main event between Randy Couture and Gabriel Gonzaga. But we’d be remiss for leaving it at that. While the stacked undercard offers numerous big names in compelling match-ups—Renato Sobral-David Heath and Joe Stevenson-Kurt Pellegrino, for example—there’s one fight in particular that has the industry buzzing.
George St. Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck has my interest every bit as much as the main event.
Had someone told a knowledgeable fan a year ago that TUF star Josh Koscheck would in the not-too-distant future face the ridiculously gifted and well-rounded George St. Pierre, he would exclaim “Murder!” No one has ever questioned Josh’s athleticism and strength, and he is arguably the best wrestler in the UFC.
A collegiate wrestler at Edinboro University in Pennsylvania, Koscheck was a four-time All-American. In 2001, he was the NCAA 1 national champion, and boasted a 42-0 record. There’s no doubt about it, the 5’10’’ 29-year-old welterweight is a thoroughbred.
But that’s all he had going for him. And this game is called mixed martial arts for a reason—multiple disciplines must be mastered in order to compete at the highest levels of the sport. Any chink in your armor will be quickly exploited when you face upper echelon fighters. In his early MMA fights, Josh’s standup was painfully nonexistent and he had almost little grappling to speak of.
GSP, on the other hand, was seen annihilating Matt Hughes as recently as last November, stopping him in two and taking his UFC Welterweight belt in the process. It was assumed that George would be king of the jungle for a long time. Then, in one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, Matt Serra flipped the script last April (UFC 69) when he TKO’d GSP in one round.
Meanwhile, with the help of the respected Team AKA, Koscheck has been improving his game alarmingly fast. The confident—actually, downright cocky—Kos would tell whomever would listen, “I’m a very fast learner.” He made that point infinitely clear when on the same card in which GSP was vanquished last April, he handed Diego Sanchez his first loss via unanimous decision.
Now, when I ask various experts their pick for GSP-Koscheck, they hedge their bets.
Credit goes to Jonathan Brown of Fighbeat.com for giving it to us straight—or at least intelligently breaking down this difficult one to call.
“I like GSP in this fight,” he explained. “He is arguably the most well-rounded fighter in the sport. He’s a physical marvel. But, unfortunately, like every great fighter, he has a weakness. He sometimes lacks confidence. He’s admitted this much.
“If GSP comes into this fight with confidence issues,” Brown continued, “Josh is actually a good opponent for him. Josh fights cautiously against fighters he respects, often resorting to his signature style: the lay n’ pray. His last fight with Diego Sanchez looked more like ballroom dancing than it did a prizefight. Kos’ cautious style he used to control and dominate Sanchez in his last fight will actually benefit GSP. It will give GSP the time he needs to gain his confidence, and then start to opening up on Kos.
“I won’t argue with those that say Koscheck has the best wrestling game in MMA,” said Brown. “But wrestling ability alone won’t beat a complete fighter like GSP. With the exception of Matt Hughes in their first fight, GSP has never had problems with elite wrestlers. He dominated the likes of Frank Trigg, current UFC Lightweight Champion Sean Sherk, and of course his big re-match TKO victory over Hughes. Yes, Kos’ stand up has improved, but it’s still light years behind GSP’s. In short, GSP is going to be able to stop his takedowns and hit him with fast combos both up and downstairs. Kos will be confused and have no choice but to try and strike with GSP, or desperately shoot for a takedown. Either way, he will be caught by one of MMA’s most lethal and accurate strikers. Kos is going to get caught and get KO’d in this fight.”