LAS VEGAS – There are plenty of uncertainties regarding the welterweight title elimination bout between Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck at UFC 74 on Saturday at Mandalay Bay.
No one can be certain whether St. Pierre's claim to be mentally over his upset title loss to Matt Serra on April 7 is correct.
No one is sure whether Koscheck's game is well-rounded enough to defeat a superb all-around fighter like St. Pierre.
And no one knows if St. Pierre will be able to cope with Koscheck's world-class wrestling.
But what seems certain almost beyond doubt is that the first time Koscheck's face is shown on the video boards inside the arena, the sellout crowd will respond with a loud, resounding and lusty jeer.
Koscheck, 29, has somehow become a villain to a large contingent of UFC fans, though he gruffly says he doesn't care.
If playing the bad guy role is what it takes to make him a draw in the UFC, he's willing to play along.
"I don't mind it, because bad guys make money too," said Koscheck, who was the NCAA Division I champion at 174 pounds while wrestling for Edinboro State outside of Pittsburgh in 2001. "If that's the perception the fans have of me, that's fine. I can't change it. But if they at least have an opinion one way or the other, it's better."
Koscheck has a point. The May 5 boxing match between Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather Jr. became the best-selling fight in history, amassing more than 2 million pay-per-view buys and generating over $150 million in gross revenue.
A large contingent watched to root for De La Hoya, long the good guy in boxing promotions. And just as many came to root against Mayweather, who has slipped comfortably into the bad guy persona.
From that standpoint, Koscheck is hardly concerned.
"You'd rather them have a very strong opinion about you, one way or the other," he says. "You either want them to really care for you and live and die with everything that happens to you or you want them to hate you. If they're in between and just shrug their shoulders at you, that's when you have trouble."
Koscheck, one of the stars of the debut season of The Ultimate Fighter, was stunned to learn of talk on Internet bulletin boards this week accusing him of being racist.
During a video interview on one site, Koscheck was talking about mistakes Matt Hughes made during his 2006 loss to St. Pierre.
Koscheck was critical of Hughes' decision to stand and trade punches with St. Pierre. He said, "Matt Hughes is slow, he's a farm boy and he's white. He has no speed and no athletic ability. He's a wrestler. Matt Hughes should just have been trying to take him down, take him down, take him down."
That prompted howls of outrage from fans across the Internet, who interpreted the observation as racially motivated. Koscheck is of mixed racial background, with Caucasian and African-American ancestry. Hughes is white.
Koscheck scoffed at the notion that he meant it racially, but did little to help improve his popularity when he lashed out at the critics.
"I'm racist? Yeah, that's a good one," Koscheck said. "First off, I'm more white than I am black. I was raised white. I'm the darkest (skinned) one in my family.
"It's a joke to think I'm racist or I meant those comments in that way. Here's something: I'm sick of those drunken, racist UFC idiot fans who say things like that."
Koscheck clearly wasn't speaking about all of the fans, but bet on that getting lost in the translation. He can count on getting booed with more vigor against St. Pierre than he did in his dull win at UFC 69 on April 7 against previously unbeaten Diego Sanchez.
Sanchez was being groomed for stardom by the UFC until he ran into Koscheck.
Koscheck and Sanchez have had a long-standing feud and Koscheck said on Monday, "I still hate the guy and I probably always will."
Koscheck said he suspects the UFC would have preferred Sanchez to win their fight and said he gained particular delight in being the one to derail Sanchez.
And though the only way Koscheck would have the fans cheering for him on Saturday would be if he were fighting Michael Vick, he said it won't affect him in the least.
"I fought for the national title, I had so much pressure in my last fight with Diego, but it's never bothered me," Koscheck said. "I'm the kind of guy who knows I'm there to do a job and I just go out and do it. I've been in these kinds of situations for many, many years.
"I'm prepared for a fight. That's what I do. This other stuff, it really doesn't mean anything when it all comes down to it."
Koscheck said he's expanded his game and doesn't think he'll have to rely solely on his wrestling to win, though clearly that would give him his best opportunity.
He said he's been athletic and a fast learner ever since he could remember while growing up in Waynesburg, Pa., which is about 60 miles southwest of Pittsburgh.
When he was a child, he was taken skiing for the first time at Seven Springs, a nearby resort.
"By the second day, I was doing moguls and in a week, I was doing 360s," he said. "I pick things up so quickly. Things that take other people three, four, five years to learn, I learn in a matter of a couple of weeks or a month.
"That's a good example. I've really picked up a lot as a fighter in a short period of time. I'm a lot better fighter than I was."
But he'll be facing perhaps the most gifted fighter in the game when he meets St. Pierre on Saturday. St. Pierre has something to prove, too, but Koscheck refuses to be intimidated.
"Of course I have respect for Georges, but I believe I'm going to win this fight because I know how hard I've worked to get ready," Koscheck said. "People are going to be surprised when they see how much different I am. I've had a great camp and you'll see the results of it (on Saturday)."
- Josh Koscheck
- Matt Hughes