The Garden State hosts mixed martial arts action Saturday night as East Rutherford, New Jersey’s IZOD Center is the battleground for UFC on FOX 3. Submission specialist “Toquinho” Rousimar Palhares (14-3) takes on stand-up extraordinaire “The Talent” Alan Belcher (17-6) in the opening bout of the main card. Expect heads to fly as the heavyweights take to the cage when “HD” Pat Barry (7-4) collides with fellow striker “Big” Lavar Johnson (16-5). In the main event “The Mongoose” Jim Miller (21-3) gets the homefield advantage when he challenges Nate Diaz (15-7) in a pivotal match-up in the lightweight division. “Kos” Josh Koscheck (17-5) and “Big Rig” Johny Hendricks (12-1) will meet before the night’s end in the co-main event. Koscheck has always been held high in the welterweight picture and looks to re-establish himself as a viable contender. Hendricks, on the other hand, is finally coming into his own and will look to keep the “Big Rig” moving on all gears.
At First Glance: Once a former contender falling like many to current champ “Rush” Georges St. Pierre (22-2), Josh Koscheck is still looking to find his way back to the top of the welterweight ladder. Koscheck steamrolled through Matt Hughes (45-9) with an impressive knockout but with a lackluster Split Decision victory over Mike Pierce (13-5), the former American Kickboxing Academy namesake is going to need to make an example out of Johny Hendricks to get momentum going again. Hendricks has been a darkhorse in the division but with a 12-second knockout over Koscheck’s former training partner, Jon Fitch (23-4), he is finally getting the recognition that has been long coming to him. Though a win may not promise any title aspirations, adding Koscheck to his list of victims would guarantee Hendricks the fights that can get him there sooner.
In Depth: Johny Hendricks and Josh Koscheck are nearly two of the same as both began as NCAA wrestling veterans who managed to add a striking game to their arsenal. “Kos” when in control opts to stand and bang, but his trademark overhand right has become nothing short of predictable. On the opposite end of the cage, Hendricks presents a dynamite-esque left hand, the very that handed Fitch his first stoppage loss in nearly a decade. Hendricks has shown a better grasp of striking as he has become more active in using combinations to find his opportunities, but his edge stops there as Koscheck holds the four-inch reach advantage and the knockout power to even the playing field.
Here the wrestling will come into play. “Big Rig” and “Kos” are definitely in the driver seats when in top-position as they use it to deliver their heavy shots. Hendricks though is the more decorated wrestler between the two and has rightfully used his wrestling to benefit his ground-and-pound. However those minute adjustments that would allow Hendricks to maintain that control are often overlooked and have him reversed or swept for his troubles. Koscheck has seemingly abandoned his wrestling, now using it only when on the bad end of an exchange. But as the beginning of his career proved and even up to the present, when he chooses to shoot he is a hard man to easily shrug off. Furthermore, as much as Koscheck can ground-and-pound to match with Hendricks he can also be seen as more adept at submissions. His last submission victory was over “Rumble” Anthony Johnson (10-4) in 2009, but his lengthier career has called for more time expanding his game beyond just wrestling. Hendricks has one submission win to his credit but short of the butterfly guard against “The Horror” Rick Story (13-5) to get back on his feet, he might want to avoid lying on his back at all cost. All things considered, the pressure of the fight is beset on Hendricks’ shoulders. Koscheck is more than likely going to look to stand and exchange hoping for another knockout to punch his way back into title-talk. If Hendricks can get in range and utilize his combinations to set up his left hand or even a takedown to throw off the former contender, he can bring Koscheck back to his wrestling roots where by paper, he should have easy pickings.
Wild Card: Hendricks might have momentarily taken out Jon Fitch from the welterweight’s elite but for only 12 seconds of action, it is hardly enough to say he has seen the best the division has to offer. Koscheck might appear one-sided now but when the track records are laid out side-to-side, he has seen the tougher competition as not many can hold their own against Georges St. Pierre twice and “Pitbull” Thiago Alves (19-9). This might be why the former NCAA stand-out has grown comfortable striking than wrestling for the most part. With Koscheck’s career being built primarily in the UFC, he surely amassed his own tricks of the trade as he has climbed the ranks. Hendricks should not be counted out by any means but unless he can plant the instant killshot again, he will have to be ready for a three-round tussle with a true veteran of the organization.
The Verdict: Koscheck should be seen as the hands-down favorite but then again, he was too against Pierce and barely scraped by with a victory. Hendricks has shown some tenacity to move up the ladder and the knockout over Jon Fitch may have been the catalyst to get things moving for him. This match-up should look similar to the Koscheck-Pierce bout at UFC 143 as each will land their shots and respective takedowns. The difference in this is that Hendricks should be able to find a home for his punches to a greater degree and defend the takedown as well. Koscheck will not be a pushover by any means, but the time seems to be now for “Big Rig”. Hendricks via Unanimous Decision