As far as Josh Koscheck is concerned, Johny Hendricks is the luckiest guy on the UFC roster.
The two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion cracked the top 10 welterweight rankings by delivering a stunning 12-second knockout of Koscheck’s friend and longtime training partner, Jon Fitch, at UFC 141 in December.
Despite handing the No. 2-ranked fighter his first stoppage loss in nine years, Hendricks hasn’t exactly impressed Koscheck.
“The fight didn’t last very long, so I really couldn’t judge how good he is,” Koscheck said at a recent UFC press conference. “I watched the fight and it looked like he threw a lucky punch. He had his eyes closed and it landed.”
Koscheck gets to test Hendricks himself when the two meet at UFC on FOX 3 in East Rutherford, N.J., May 5. The card will be headlined by a lightweight contender bout between Jim Miller and Nate Diaz.
It’s hard to tell whether Koscheck truly believes Hendricks stumbled ass-backwards into the biggest win of his career, or if he’s simply getting a head start on his usual trash-talking.
But usually when a fighter throws a strike and it lands, people don’t refer to it as a “lucky punch.”
They simply call it a punch.
Hendricks said everything about the strike was perfect.
“If you really watch it — watch where my eyes are and watch where that punch lands — it couldn’t be any better than that,” Hendricks countered. “My eyes were watching the punch. He tried to throw a jab to stop it, but my left hand is a little bit more powerful than a jab. So I would take that any day.”
Knocking out Fitch may be the biggest moment of Hendricks’ career so far, but he’s not dwelling on it. His focus is squarely on beating Koscheck and earning a shot at the welterweight championship.
“The whole goal of fighting for me is to get to the belt,” Hendricks said. “Nothing else matters. Second place, third place — none of that matters. Whoever holds the belt is somebody and that’s all I care about. So the pressure of winning this fight? It’s just another stepping stone.
“My last fight doesn’t matter; it’s in the past. I just need to get better and put on a good fight for you guys.”
Koscheck said Hendricks is delusional if he thinks he’s getting past him.
“Listen, kid; I’m not a stepping stone,” Koscheck said. “I see this fight as a big opportunity for me to make that run again.
“Johny Hendricks is not going to win this fight.”
Though Koscheck has already attempted to discredit Hendricks’ victory over Fitch, he does respect him as an opponent.
A former NCAA Division I champion himself, Koscheck said Hendricks’ wrestling achievements speak for themselves.
“Yeah, this fight excites me; it’s kind of like the pride of wrestling,” Koscheck said. “This guy’s a two-time NCAA champ. I can respect that because I know how hard it is to win the NCAA title. This fight definitely excites me.”
Not only are both fighters skilled grapplers, they each pack knockout power.
On top of his destruction of Fitch, Hendricks has also dispatched T.J. Waldburger, Charlie Brenneman and Amir Sadollah during his UFC stint. Koscheck’s list of victims includes UFC Hall of Fame inductee Matt Hughes, Frank Trigg, Yoshiyuki Yoshida and Dustin Hazelett.
Often, when two evenly-matched wrestlers square off, their grappling skills cancel each other out and the fight turns into a stand-up affair. If that happens, it will be interesting to see who packs the heavier punch.
But the reverse can also be true and fans could be treated to a clinch-heavy grind-fest.
Koscheck’s last outing saw the latter happen, when he barely squeaked by former NCAA Division I wrestler Mike Pierce in a lacklustre bout at UFC 143 in February.
Following the split-decision victory, Koscheck admitted he lacked any motivation to fight an up-and-comer like Pierce. He also revealed he was leaving American Kickboxing Academy due to issues with AKA founder Javier Mendez, who Koscheck felt publicly threw his teammates under the bus after losses.
He has since opened his own gym in Fresno, Calif.
“I feel like I’ve got a new life,” Koscheck said. “The last month of training since my last fight has been great. I feel like I’m in a great place and I’m really focused right now. I’m excited for May 5th. I can guarantee you’re going to see the best Josh Koscheck you’ve ever seen. I’m looking forward to it.”