Is Josh Koscheck’s Return for One Night Only?

Fightland Blog

By Dan Shapiro

Photos by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Say what you want about Josh Koscheck, but the man certainly knows how to make a lasting impression.

It was exactly ten years ago that Koscheck, along with castmates Chris Leben, Forrest Griffin, Stephan Bonnar, Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian, and a list of also rans, hit the national airwaves on the debut season of The Ultimate Fighter, and in the decade since, “Kos” has wrestled his way through the peaks and valleys of MMA.

He now returns to the Octagon after nearly 16 months away from competition to face Jake Ellenberger at UFC 184. But will this be the last time we see Koscheck?

A former NCAA Division-I champion on the wrestling mats, Koscheck made a splash on TUF, entering into a rivalry with Leben. The two traded words and pranks on the airwaves, Koscheck’s behavior at times uncouth. But when the opportunity came to back it up inside the cage, Koscheck wrestled his way to victory, and this is exactly where the legend of the blonde-dyed, curly-headed one began.

With TUF in the rearview mirror, Koscheck went on a tear in the UFC, winning seven of his first eight bouts, even avenging a reality TV loss to Sanchez. His stellar performances set up a bout with Georges St-Pierre at UFC 74, and while Koscheck would lose a unanimous decision to GSP, a new rivalry was born.

It would take Koscheck another three years to get a second crack at St-Pierre, but after stringing together a three-fight winning streak between late 2009 and early 2010, which included a submission over current light heavyweight contender Anthony Johnson, Kos would not only earn a re-match with GSP, but the two would fight for the title and the lead-up would play out on the twelfth season of The Ultimate Fighter.

Koscheck had clearly come into his own as a fighter by this point, but his work as a coach definitely left much to be desired. His team failed to field a finalist, but Koscheck made sure to let his mouth do the talking, as he venomously slung insults at St-Pierre for the better part of the 11-week run.

The rivalry was good for ratings, and good for the gate. Koscheck-versus-GSP II was a success on Pay Per View, but St-Pierre dominated over five rounds, jabbing his way to victory, giving Kos nothing in the takedown department.

Clearly outclassed, it appeared Koscheck was done fighting for the title. But after handing Matt Hughes his career-ending knockout loss and taking a decision over Mike Pierce, there was some chatter of a third bout with St-Pierre. It was at this time that Kos separated with longtime coach Javier Mendez and the American Kickboxing Academy, a tumultuous feud that played out on another reality TV show, the little-known Fight Factory.

Koscheck fled AKA and San Jose, relocating to Fresno, California to open the Dethrone Base Camp. But without Mendez in his corner, Koscheck was unable to tally another victory, dropping a closely contested split decision to Johny Hendricks in 2012. He would not fare any better the following year dropping a pair of knockout losses to Robbie Lawler and Tyron Woodley, the latter of which was so vicious it forced Kos to retreat from competition for over a year.

Following his brutal, head-spinning knockout at the hands of Woodley, many questioned to vitality of Koscheck’s aging chin. He was just two weeks away from his 36th birthday at that point, far older than many of the welterweight division’s top competitors, and in the midst of a three-fight skid.

Immediately following the UFC 167 loss, people began asking Dana White and the UFC if they would ask Koscheck to retire from the sport.

There was never any official retirement statement issued, but after taking 2014 off, it appeared that Kos might never return to the cage, and carry his 15 UFC wins, fifth all-time, and lavish riches, which he displayed to the world on UFC Cribs, into the central California sunset.

Or so we thought …

First came the rumors of a date with the up-and-coming Neil Magny, plans that were squashed when the Magny was partnered with Kiichi Kunimoto for a fight in Colorado. Then came the announcement of a dance with Jake Ellenberger, another California import in the midst of a three-fight losing streak.

With the bout agreement stamped and delivered, Koscheck’s return was imminent. But what are Koscheck’s realistic chances against the UFC’s 11th-ranked welterweight, a man who is eight years his junior?

Well, for starters, Kos and Ellenberger match up great against each other. Both rely heavily on their wrestling game with decent striking to set up takedowns. And while Ellenberger may own the advantage in the power department, it is tough to count Kos out in any fight, especially against Ellenberger, who has had difficulty finding his range in the last two years.

Ultimately, this fight will come down to takedowns and top control, departments where Koscheck has always excelled. But let’s not go calling him the victor just yet.

Regardless of the outcome on Saturday at UFC 184, it is likely to be Koscheck’s final salvo inside the Octagon. A fourth-straight loss would clearly be enough for the UFC to release him (this is unlikely because the penchant for members of the TUF 1 cast), and, at 37, one more win might be the perfect send off into retirement after eleven years in pro MMA.

But no matter what happens, let’s just hope we get to hear a few more classic sound bites from Kos. They’ll likely be the most lasting part of his legacy. 


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