LAS VEGAS – Josh Koscheck continues to collect victories in the UFC welterweight division. But unlike other fighters who frequently get their hand raised, he doesn't seem to be winning over fight fans.
Koscheck earned their wrath with his obnoxious antics on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. But even after running his pro record to 13-2 with a unanimous decision win over a game Chris Lytle, the crowd at the Mandalay Bay Events Center still let the former NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion have it Saturday.
"It's the fans in Vegas, man," Koscheck said. "Everything I do, they boo me, no matter how hard I fight. That's OK though. I'm OK with being the bad guy."
Koscheck's match became one of UFC 86's most intriguing battles by the second round, when he opened a gruesome cut on Lytle's forehead with a series of elbows on the ground. Koscheck continued to work on the cut for the remainder of the fight but couldn't put the gritty Lytle away. Lytle (35-16-4) even managed to finish the fight with a wild flurry of punches, but it wasn't enough.
"I was a little disappointed," Koscheck said. "I thought I was in position to finish him off. But not too many people have finished Chris Lytle. I'll tell you what, he showed a lot of heart out there tonight and he has my respect."
Koscheck has won seven of his past eight fights, with the only loss in that span a decision against current welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre. While a win over a gatekeeper like Lytle would seem to put him in line for a bigger name, Koscheck said he's not concerned with what's next.
"I used to be considered just a wrestler," Koscheck said. "And I want to prove everyone wrong. I want to improve in all aspects of the game. I'm not all the way there yet, but I'm going to improve every time I step in there."
Return of the Young Assassin: If you believe Melvin Guillard, his old punk self is gone, replaced by a new, more mature fighter.
UFC president Dana White isn't so sure though. After giving Guillard a $60,000 bonus for knockout of the night for demolishing Denis Siver in short order, White cracked that the old Guillard could emerge.
"Look out, Melvin's got a pocket full of money," White said. "We might not see him again for the rest of the year."
White's joke drew laughter from those assembled in the press room at Mandalay Bay, but no one had a broader smile than Guillard himself. The Louisiana native had a well-documented, adventurous 2007, which included a string of losses and a cocaine-related suspension.
"It's been a long way, baby," Guillard said. "But this is the new Melvin Guillard you've seen out here. I've got my head together. I've grown up. I know you only get so many chances in this game and this time I'm going to make the most."
Guillard (40-8-3) has long been known as a power puncher with a not-so-hot ground game. He affirmed the former with his blitz to victory in just 36 seconds, including a final flurry that bounced Siver's head off the mat twice. But Guillard was almost disappointed he didn't get a chance to show off his ground work.
"I'll tell you what, I'm working on that aspect of my game," Guillard said. "You might not believe me right now but one of these days I'll get my chance."
Gonzaga's got game: Another fighter with a lot on the line Saturday night was heavyweight Gabriel Gonzaga. Last summer, the Ludlow, Mass.,-based fighter was in the main event of UFC 74, where he was TKO'd by Randy Couture in the octagon at Mandalay Bay.
But Gonzaga entered UFC 86 on a two-match losing streak as he fought Justin McCulley. This time, "Napao" wasn't going to be stopped, as he made quick work of his Team Punishment opponent with a first-round submission win.
"I knew this was an important fight tonight," Gonzaga said. "I know you can't lose too many fights in a row and stay in the UFC."
Gonzaga controlled the pace from the outset and knocked McCulley off his feet with a sweeping kick. A quick ground clinic led to an opening for an expertly applied Kimura. McCulley tapped at 1:57 rather than get his arm snapped.
"To go out and win like that, that was good," Gonzaga said. "I knew if I went back to my jiu-jitsu I would be OK."
Here and there: Other $60,000 bonus winners on the night were Cole Miller, who took submission of the night for his deftly executed triangle choke finish of Jorge Gurgel; and Forrest Griffin and Quinton Jackson took Fight of the Night honors. … White on Griffin: "He kind of reminds me of me. I'm not the smartest guy. I'm not cut out to be a corporate guy. But I'll work harder than anyone else and never say die. That's how Forrest is."