Its operations improving under President Scott Coker, Bellator 172 sees the promotion return to the former home of Strikeforce—the SAP Center, otherwise known as “The Shark Tank” in San Jose, California—on Saturday night.
In typical Bellator fashion, the card has a number of fights featuring competitors who are just starting out. Highlights of these include Abner Perez (with a record of 0-0) taking on Gaston Bolanos (also 0-0).
However, there are some familiar names on this event which make up for the padded 16-fight card—Strikeforce favourite and San Jose’s fighting son Josh Thomson will be taking Brazilian Bellator veteran Patricky Freire, while a clash between former UFC heavyweights Cheick Kongo and Oli Thompson is complimented by Bellator 172’s main event which sees a living MMA legend in Fedor Emelianenko taking on fan favourite Matt Mitrione.
Emelianenko’s fighting return to US soil is undoubtedly the main attraction of this event, but one fight flying under the radar is the contest between former UFC title challenger Josh Koscheck and Brazilian welterweight Mauricio Alonso.
Koscheck’s Bellator debut has been a long time coming for the 39 year old. The Pennsylvania-born All American wrestler inked a multi-fight deal with Bellator in June, 2015, but a series of injuries have kept him out of action—even ruling him out of a hometown fight against former The Ultimate Fighter alum Matthew Secor in Fresno, California, in early 2016.
Having not fought since March 2015—a submission loss to Erick Silva—Koscheck has had to wait two years to make his attempt at stemming the flow of defeats which has seen him endure a run of five losses in a row.
To be fair to Koscheck, those five losses have all come to top-level opposition with Jake Ellenberger, former UFC welterweight champions Johny Hendricks, Robbie Lawler, and current UFC titleholder Tyron Woodley, adding to his poor run of fighting form. Though, having not won a fight since February 2012—a split decision victory over Mike Pierce—the manner how Koscheck lost his recent fights has been particularly disturbing, with vicious knockout defeats to Woodley and Lawler prompting UFC president Dana White to lead calls for Koscheck’s retirement.
Koscheck didn’t retire. Instead, he opted for pastures new away from the UFC.
To the outsider, Koscheck’s spate of injuries suggests he should have heeded White’s words, but “Kos” appears happy at his decision to continue. "I've had a great career. I've fought some of the best in the world," Koscheck told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto. "With what Bellator's got going on, I can fight guys my own age, which is cool. I'm not in this to make money. I'm trying to test myself at age 39, see what I'm still capable of. And we'll get to find out on Saturday."
Koscheck’s comment about fighting opponents his own age quickly prompted depressing thoughts of BJ Penn’s return to the Octagon—a devastating TKO loss to rising star Yair Rodriguez last month. It was a mismatch as clear as day and, unsurprisingly, given his penchant for criticising the UFC, Koscheck had his own take on Penn’s return. "They fed BJ to the lions in that one," Koscheck said.
"If BJ were to come to Bellator, they'd put him in a good matchup that is something exciting for the fans. I hated to see BJ in that kind of fight, taking that kind of damage. That kid he fought is a stud. BJ has money. He's not fighting for money. He wants to compete. I also want to go in and compete, get my hand raised."
That’s one skewed way of looking at Koscheck’s opponent, the relatively unknown Mauricio Alonso. The 36-year-old Brazilian has a record of 12-7 and lost his sole fight under the Bellator banner—a unanimous decision to the 5-1 Nick Pica.
Alonso may not be the most stellar of names for Koscheck’s belated Bellator bow, but as he alluded to in a rare instance of Kos self-reflectance, Alonso is the kind of fighter which fits the bill for a 39-year-old man who hasn’t competed for two years and has had a tough time in the cage of recent.
Koscheck’s Bellator debut has been hyped for some time and it will certainly be interesting to see how he gets on following such a long stint away from the cage and in the midst of the worst run of form in his MMA career. Make sure you catch this fight on Saturday night.
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