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Snowden: The Decline of Josh Koscheck

It all started so well for Josh Koscheck. With just six months of training, he was competitive with the very best young fighters in the world on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter. His future seemed limitless. He was the best active wrestler in a sport that had been dominated for more than a decade by strong grapplers. With the athleticism and the work ethic necessary to learn how to defend himself from strikes and submissions, it was only a matter of time before Koscheck succeeded Matt Hughes as the top fighter in the world at 170 pounds. Along the way, something went horribly wrong.

Koscheck has become a victim of the internet, of bad advisers, of high expectations. His path to success seemed obvious-he would and could ground and pound his way to glory. Instead, after facing early criticism from fans and UFC insiders because of his deliberate style, Koscheck made catastrophic changes to his training regiment. He no longer worked on wrestling-at all. Instead, he made it his mission to become a crowd pleasing striker. Koscheck wanted more than just success in the Octagon, he wanted to be loved by the fans and respected by the hardcores and his peers. His desire to be a “well rounded” fighter has cost him the chance to be a champion.

Instead of the most dominant welterweight in the UFC, Koscheck has become an average kickboxer. It’s like Barry Bonds deciding to become a singles hitter, or Peyton Manning taking on the challenge to see if he can play tight end-just to see if he can. Look at Koscheck’s fight with Brazilian Paulo Thiago last Saturday in London. He never even considered a takedown, insisting on throwing a succession of loopy punches, each one a swing for the fences. And the reason why was right there in the commentary: Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg were incredibly positive about Koscheck’s approach, believing that his decision to eschew wrestling in his training was a positive development. It wasn’t and it isn’t. It’s time for Josh to make some hard decisions to rescue his career, before he becomes just another fighter. Here’s three ways he can start.

Step One: Train wrestling. Everyday. Hard. It’s smart to learn how to strike and defend strikes. It’s smart to learn how to apply and defend submissions. But, at the end of the day, whether the fans like it or not, wrestling is your bread and butter. It’s what brought you to the dance. Use it. Your hands aren’t going to make you a world champion. You’ll be an average fighter, winning some and losing some, just one of the guys in your division. Wrestling gives you the opportunity to be great-just look at Hughes, Fedor, Couture, and a host of others. The best fighters with your skillset use striking to set up their ground and pound attacks. You should be doing the same.

Step Two: Stop fighting so frequently. We’ve seen, over the course of the sport’s 15 year existence, that frequent fights are never a good thing for a championship level fighter. The fights, and more importantly the training, leave you exhausted and unable to heal properly. The long term costs are staggering-look at the precipitous decline of Kazushi Sakuraba for one example. You have fought three times in four months. It’s time for a break.

Step Three: Be responsible. The post fight display after the fight in London was uncalled for and dangerous for the sport. You were knocked cold. You were out and the referee was right to stop the fight. Encouraging officials not to stop fights when a fighter has suffered a concussive blow is dangerous. It’s the blows after a devastating brain injury that are the most traumatic. Allowing the fight to continue after one of the fighters is impaired is how deaths happen. Let’s be responsible, as fighters, fans, or media, and keep our priorities in check. Safety first.

There’s no guarantee that this guidance can help Koscheck become a champion. He’s going to be 32 this year, an age that denotes a drastic decline in athletic ability in most sports. It may not make the difference, but it certainly can’t hurt. Josh Koscheck’s championship potential is dwindling away while the UFC announcers and the fans stand and cheer. It’s up to him to rebuild his career. And it starts in the wrestling room.