Saturday, March 31, 2007

This isn’t business; this is personal

By Michael DiSanto

As the Good Book says, ask and you shall receive.

In a November interview with, Josh Koscheck made a bold statement when asked who he wanted to fight next. Without as much as a blink of the eye, the UFC welterweight star responded, “I’d pay (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva money to let me fight Diego Sanchez in my next fight.”

Excuse me? The “Nightmare” is perfect in his 19 professional MMA bouts. Why is Kos so eager to jump into the ring with such a difficult opponent? Easier targets surely exist as he looks to continue his ascent toward an eventual welterweight title shot.

The answer to that question is very simple: this fight is about more than just climbing up the welterweight rankings; Kos has a personal score to settle with Sanchez.

For those who are new to the sport, the pair previously locked horns in the middleweight semifinals of the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter. After a closely contested bout, Sanchez walked away with a narrow split-decision win.

Kos had thoughts of avenging the difficult defeat the moment UFC president Dana White announced the judges’ decision. But that isn’t t source of the bad blood. Instead, the AKA-trained fighter claims that events not shown by the reality-show cameras lit a flame inside him that has since morphed into a white-hot fire.

“It all started after we fought,” he explained. “Diego talked a lot of trash, saying, ‘oh, I beat your ass’ and stuff like that. Yeah, he really beat my ass. I didn’t know what I was doing back then. I was just a wrestler who wanted to experience the fight game, so I transferred over two months before the show. I don’t think he beat my ass at all. We actually got along during the show. But after we fought, it all changed. He is a very self centered person. I do not like him whatsoever.”

According to Kos, the trash talking didn’t stop with the reality show.

“I ran into him in Las Vegas [in late 2006],” he said. “He and his brother were out partying and they were very disrespectful by mocking me and calling me derogatory names,” he explained. “They probably had a few too many drinks, but I didn’t appreciate the fact that they did that in public. Now, I’m going to make a statement on April 7 and get my payback.”

Payback means winning, something that no man has experienced against Sanchez. But he remains confident of victory, principally because of how the first fight unfolded.

Kos, who was a fight novice heading into the reality show, surprised everyone in that fight by shying away from his biggest strength – his All-American wrestling skills. It was a decision that left his fans bewildered, but Kos insists that there was a method behind the perceived madness.

“I wasn’t very skilled at submissions back then, and I knew from training with Diego that submissions were his strength,” he explained, regarding his decision to largely ignore his takedown game during the TUF semifinal. “My thinking back then was his standup sucked and my standup sucked, so why not just stand there and bang it out.”

Kos vows that things will be different this time around. After more than two years of rigorous training, he believes that he is ready for Sanchez wherever the fight unfolds, whether on the feet or on the ground. In fact, one can rest assured Kos will be looking to score big takedowns early and often, although he still concedes the fact that Sanchez is at his most dangerous once the fight hits the ground.

“I know that he is a very good scrambler,” he said. “That was evident from watching him during the reality show and also the Karo Parisyan and Nick Diaz fights. He loves to roll around and scramble. If I can avoid the quick, fast transition scrambles, then I think I will win the fight very easily.”

Conventional wisdom says that Kos also needs to avoid the takedown to win. Sanchez might be a betting favorite heading into the bout, but many believe those odds increase dramatically if the Nightmare can somehow put the former national champion collegiate wrestler on his back – you know, the adage that wrestlers are like cockroaches; put one on its back and it dies.

Not surprisingly, Kos completely disagrees.

“First of all, he has to put me on my back,” Kos asserted. “There is a chance that it could happen. I don’t know. I don’t know if he has been working on his wrestling, but I’m sure he has been. If he puts me on my back, that is fine. I’m a purple belt in jiu-jitsu now. I know the fundamentals of jiu-jitsu very well, and I will stick to those basic fundamentals if I end up on my back. Remember, I’ve been on my back before. Dave Menne took me down. I was fine. If he takes me down, my plan is to reverse him or get back up Chuck Liddell-style and then take him down.”

If Kos remains committed to a game plan of scoring takedown after takedown and controlling the position once the fight hits the ground, then a win seems likely. And a win over Sanchez moves him one giant step closer to the realm of the welterweight elite – a world occupied by BJ Penn, Matt Hughes and champion Georges St-Pierre.

“Let’s take Matt Hughes out of the equation now because I think he is over the hill, and I will whip his ass,” Kos responded. “BJ Penn is one helluva fighter. And Georges St-Pierre is obviously the champion. That is where I want to be – up there with those guys.”

Do I sense a bout with Hughes around the corner?

Kos wasn’t interested in talking about any such future fights. Instead, he chose to remain focused getting his revenge against Sanchez next Saturday night at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.

“I think this fight will be good for my career,” Kos mused. “He hasn’t lost yet. This is my way of showing the UFC who I am. I’ve worked hard to make myself a well-rounded fighter and to show that I’m one of the top welterweights. That is what I have to prove to the UFC [to get a title shot], and I think the UFC is giving me a fight with Diego so that I can prove that point. And so I can finally shut his mouth.”

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