Koscheck earns jeers but deserves cheers

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

You can follow Kevin Iole on Twitter at @KevinI

MONTREAL – Josh Koscheck would be at or near the top of any list of the Ultimate Fighting Championship's most reviled fighters.

Just his image on a screen inside the arena elicits lusty choruses of boos from the crowd. It seems a safe bet that when Koscheck meets trash-talking Brit Paul Daley on Saturday in an important welterweight bout as part of UFC 113 at the Bell Centre, he will be greeted about as warmly as Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby has been by Montreal Canadiens fans during the NHL playoffs.

Which is to say, he won't be greeted with open arms or welcomed as a conquering hero. What's more likely is that if Daley somehow manages to knock Koscheck cold, the crowd will cheer as loudly as if the Habs had won the Stanley Cup.

People who plunk down their money for tickets have a right to root for whomever they wish, but it seems a bit odd that Koscheck is so disliked at this stage of his career. He'll fight anyone, he'll fight anytime and, as he has evolved, his fights have become consistently more exciting.

Koscheck was a part of the original cast of "The Ultimate Fighter" and deservedly earned his boorish reputation with juvenile behavior. That, though, was five years ago. Today, Koscheck is a different man and a different fighter. In those days, he was a wrestler trying to survive in mixed martial arts with wrestling skills alone.

Now he's a far more complete fighter and hardly the boring guy who in his early days would use his wrestling skills to take an opponent down and keep him there while grinding out the clock.

The majority of his past seven fights – in which he's 5-2 with three knockouts and a submission – have largely been entertaining. He won Knockout of the Night for his devastating victory over Yoshiyuki Yoshida in 2008 and won Submission of the Night as well as Fight of the Night for his victory over Anthony Johnson at UFC 106 in Las Vegas on Nov. 21.

And while the smart move for him would be to take the power-punching Daley down so as to eliminate his foe's greatest strength, Koscheck is the kind of guy who just might opt to stand and swap punches with him.

Koscheck was asked Wednesday to rate Daley's striking. It would have been easy, and politically correct, to rave about Daley's power and technical skills on his feet.

Koscheck, though, is the type to give a direct answer to a direct question – even if it rubs many people the wrong way.

"He's a good stand-up fighter," Koscheck said. "I'm not going to compliment him too much, but he is a good stand-up fighter. I think that's all he poses, really. Maybe on Saturday night he comes out and takes me down. Who knows?"

He beamed as he said that, realizing the absurdity of it. The elite wrestler was a four-time All-American while at Edinboro University and went undefeated while winning the 2001 NCAA Division I championship at 174 pounds. Daley's greatest weakness, meanwhile, is his wrestling.

Koscheck has been fighting professionally for 6½ years, but he's kind of been on a crash course since "The Ultimate Fighter." He's got to be UFC matchmaker Joe Silva's best friend; every time Silva has a hole on a card, it seems as if Koscheck volunteers to fill it.

That's because he doesn't want to be the one-dimensional wrestler who so aggravated fans in his early UFC days.

"I'm new to this sport, still," Koscheck said. "I think I have a lot to bring to this sport and I think I have a lot to improve. I have obviously put my time in and I've changed dramatically over the past couple of years as a fighter. The more time I get in the Octagon, the more comfortable I'm going to get and the better I become as a fighter.

"That's been a big attribute to my success here in the UFC – that the more fights I get, the better I get."

Daley, coming off a vicious knockout of Dustin Hazelett which earned him Knockout of the Night at UFC 108 on Jan. 2 in Las Vegas, would seemingly be the beneficiary if Koscheck were to back his boasts and make the fight a stand-up battle. But he insists that it really doesn't matter to him.

Daley says he has a plan for whatever Koscheck may try. It's a big fight for both men, as the winner could be in line for a title shot against champion Georges St. Pierre.

Daley sneered, however, when asked if he was excited about the bout, and responded in the manner that Koscheck often does – the one that so irritates the fans.

"I'm not one to get excited about an individual," Daley said. "Especially if it's a man. Especially if it's a man with blonde hair – with dyed blonde hair. A dyed-blonde Afro. Let's get it right: The most important thing for me is winning. I'm excited about winning."

Koscheck, you see, isn't the only guy who sticks the knife in and twists it. It's all an act. But it's not an act when the cage door is closed. And when that happens, there are few who are better and more entertaining than Josh Koscheck.

Boo him, if you must. Be sure, though, to respect him.

The sport is better off with guys like Koscheck who are not only willing to fight the best but who are so committed to getting better that they devote their lives to it. This is a guy who has lived in the gym so that it would be easier to train and learn.

He deserves your respect. And, yeah, maybe even your cheers.

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