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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.

23 COMMENTS
  • jj says:

    This makes no sense. Josh’s wrestling is great, why should he focus so much on wrestling when the rest of his game is under-developed? Sure, train wrestling–but not at the expense of not rounding out the rest of your skills.

    As much as I don’t like Koscheck you have to admit if you’re a fan of the sport that his last KO was very impressive. His recent battle with Chris Lytle was a crazy beatdown and Chris is very tough.

    Matt Hughes was great…for his time. One dimensional wrestlers are slowly becoming a thing of the past in the UFC. Look at GSP, the guy can do literally every aspect very well–should that not be the rolemodel for which people strive to achieve? Fedor is a good example how handy it is to have good striking and a complete game, not just wrestling.

    I don’t think Sakuraba can be used as an example for anyone fighting frequently. The Japanese referee’s (Yuji Shabata particularly) traditionally let their iconic fighters take serious, serious beatings in the ring when a bout should otherwise be stopped. That coupled with the lack of fighter suspensions after injuries and greedy promoters only compound the problem. Let’s not forget the damage that Saku endured during his pro wrestling career either.

    Some fighters are comfortable fighting often and sometimes make their promoters very happy by stepping into the vacuum on short notice. Others fight as often as possible if they’re not injured to gain experience, put food on their table and for the passion of it.

    The title of this article is quite inappropriate. Josh has only lost twice recently to two very worthy opponents, other than the other night and Josh was winning the fight. That fight could have very easily been the other way around.

    While I agree with the stoppage and highly value the safety aspect, I don’t agree that Koscheck was knocked out cold as you say. People that are knocked out cold lie on the canvas unconscious. It was a flash knockout and a good stoppage.

    This really is over sensationalizing what happened to Josh.

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  • fanoftna33 says:

    great article, i agree with your stance on the stopage, he was out and all the people who complain about it also tell you how much safer this sport is than boxing, well one of the points is always about how boxers can get knocked down ( and maybe out ) numerous times per fight, while in mma there is no standing eight count which reduces long term injury. Thanks for pointing out what really comes first in this or any pro sport, saftey.

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  • screwface says:

    “it was only a matter of time before Koscheck succeeded Matt Hughes as the top fighter in the world at 170 pounds.” I think ur jumpin the gun on that statement. kos was always a decent fighter who always found a way to keep improving yes, but no1 thought he was on his way to champ status, gatekeeper as best. since most of his early victories were nothing but lay and pray adding his super arrogant attitude he found himself a villain to the fans. and when you alienate the fans you find your fight opportunities will dwindle. no1 wanted to see him fight so dana wasnt really using him much. to satisfy the blood lust of the fans he started working on his striking and really improved on becoming somewhat exciting. ive never been a fan of kos, but i will say once he started striking well my opinion did change, i started becoming curious to see if hed pull off a victory, where before i didnt give a sh*t. he just needs to find a proper balance and i dont see him declining at all. every1s allowed a few bad nights. a career turner for him would be a rematch with diego sanchez with him winning the fight not in the judges hands (excitement). im not saying he will win, because i think a healthy focused diego would destroy him but id still like to see it. winning is important in this game, and there is beauty in the chess game that is good grappling and jj on the ground but fans will be fans, and you gotta keep them happy. a proper balance needs to be found is all. and i think kos is capable of this. but never a champion in that division; too stacked imo.

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  • 3OAM says:

    I agree with Snowden about not fighting so frequently. He needs time between fights to heal as well learn new stuff/develop what he has.

    …but as far as sticking to wrestling, I dunno. One dimensional fighters don’t seem to get very far and don’t really make for pay-per-view main events.

    I believe the stoppage with Paulo Thiago was a good one. He went limp for a good second and had the glaze in his eyes. Even if the ref didn’t stop it, one more good punch from Paulo would have definitely done it. Its better to call a fight a tiny bit too early than a tiny bit too late.

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  • Stan says:

    I’ve never seen someone criticized for trying to expand beyond their single dimensioned background, so I guess there is a first time for everything. I didn’t think I’d see it for a division that roundly displayed the error of the Matt Hughes style where one dimensional fighters are picked apart by versatile ones.

    And it seems a bit disingenuous to be critical of Kos for taking fights whenever he can. The dude likes to fight, and likes to put on exciting fights. I wonder why Snowden didn’t write this article after Kos put on that obviously ill-advised standup display vs Yoshida… on short notice no less.

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  • Jonathan Snowden says:

    “I’ve never seen someone criticized for trying to expand beyond their single dimensioned background, so I guess there is a first time for everything.”

    No one is criticizing Koscheck for expanding his skills. It is important to learn how to defend submissions and strike standing. I’m cirticizing his decision to focus almost entirely on standup, to the point a novice fan would have no idea that this is a guy that can put people on their backs and pound them out.

    Koscheck’s and other wrestlers should look closely at those who have success fromn that background. They, almost to a man, use their other skills to compliment their wrestling. They don’t ignore their wrestling to become mediocre kickboxers. The exception is Chuck Liddell, but he only survived as long as he did like that because of exceptional God-given power in both hands.

    ” I wonder why Snowden didn’t write this article after Kos put on that obviously ill-advised standup display vs Yoshida… on short notice no less.”

    This is exactly my point. As a kickboxer, Koscheck is the kind of fighter that can either win or lose against the likes of Yoshida and Thiago. As a focused wrestler (with strong standup and sub defense), Koscheck rolls over guys like that.

    For the record, I thought it was ill-advised for Kos to fight again so quickly after the Alves fight.

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  • Bryan Levick says:

    Home run Jonathan on all three points. Koshcheck has gotten away from what has made him a good fighter. Look at his fight with Chris Lytle, he took him down time and time again and battered him causing him to bleed profusely. He has completely gotten away from his wrestling and it showed in his loss to Alves and his loss to Thiago.

    Rogan made a comment that Koshcheck is dedicating 85% of his trianing to his stand-up. While I agree he needs work in that area he also needs to keep his grappling skills fresh. Your body’s muscles need to be refreshed and he is not doing that. If you are a scholar and start to forgo studying eventually your brain will begin to squander a lot of what you learned your muscles are no different.

    He does need a rest, he should pass on this UFC 98 fight especially now that Karo will probably be suspended. Get some rest and get your mind back into what has gotten you to the dance thus far.

    As far as being responsible I think that has always been a problem for him, Starting on TUF when he acted like an immature jackass every opportunity he got. He has this attitude that he should be a bad boy and carry an image of being tough and outlandish when more people would like him if he was dedicated and respectful.

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  • whammo says:

    i think this article has some fundamental problems, some of which may be problems with the conventional wisdom about josh koscheck.

    koscheck’s wrestling background means that he has the ability to take most MMA fighters down, but i think that his effectiveness on the ground ends there. when has koscheck displayed even average ground and pound? fight fans dislike lay and pray, not ground and pound, and i can’t remember a fight where koscheck’s striking on the ground made a difference in a fight. in the diego sanchez fight, i figured that diego thought his standup was better than koscheck’s, and that he wouldn’t be able to take koscheck down, so he stood with him for the entire fight. but if memory serves me right, the only time koscheck took diego down was at the end of the first round – from what i can remember, diego quickly reversed him and had a big advantage for the remaining seconds.

    koscheck has also never showed any jiu-jitsu skills. no jits + no ground and pound = a pretty ineffective ground game, lay and pray aside. i think that’s the big issue with him. being well-rounded is of course necessary to be an elite fighter. but i’d argue that it’s even more necessary to do one thing very, very well, be it striking on the feet, striking from inside the guard, being able to pull off submissions, etc. and that lack of a real strength is what i think has been limiting koscheck.

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  • Stan says:

    “Koscheck’s and other wrestlers should look closely at those who have success fromn that background. They, almost to a man, use their other skills to compliment their wrestling.”

    I guess where this becomes problematic is in the Alves fight. Clearly Koscheck tried to take him down and could not. Had he been better prepared for a standup battle, I wonder if he’d have been able to put up a decent fight instead of getting spun around by leg kicks for 15 minutes.

    He ran into two brick walls when his wrestling was ineffective vs Alves and inferrior to the novice wrestling of GSP. In his only two previous losses since 2005, his wrestling failed him. I guess I don’t blame the guy for looking for other options. Yeah he probably could grind out wet blanket, workmanlike victories over these lesser opponents rather than kickboxing them, but he’s seen how far his one-dimensional style got him. If he’s going to pose a legitimate threat to the GSPs and the Thaigo Alves’s of the world, he had to improve his standup. Obviously getting caught Saturday shows he has quite a long way to go in that.

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  • Ft. Dub says:

    The reality is Kos isn’t that good and may never be. It takes a well-rounded fighter these days, especially with GSP lurking the division and Kos is never going to be on that level. I personally don’t like the guy and enjoyed watching him get knocked out. He has definitely drastically improved his striking, but I don’t consider it nearly strong enough to be at an elite level.

    Kos can’t strike with the best strikers and wrestling just isn’t enough these days. It sounded to me like Snowden was saying not to give up on his wrestling, which I agree with. However, I don’t honestly think that wrestling is the only thing limiting Kos. He fights too much which seems to affect his game planning and preparation both. When he was dominating the Thiago fight, an elite fighter would then take it to the ground which further establishes control while minimizing the risk of getting knocked out. Instead he wanted to show how proud he was of his striking and got knocked out.

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  • Angry Mike says:

    Koscheck got caught. If you fight long enough, it’s bound to happen. Ask GSP, Chuck Liddell, ‘Wand, Couture, or any of the greats. And if he doesn’t work at his stand up, how’s he supposed to become the well-rounded fighter he needs to be? Finally, I’m not sure he was ko’d. When the fight was stopped he had his arms up and moving like he was trying to block shots. Maybe he was still dazed, but I couldn’t tell. I’d hate to see him take unnecessary punches, but one or two more would’ve indicated whether he was capable of defending himself or on autopilot. I still can’t tell, and that’s why I can’t rule out the possibility that it was stopped too soon.

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  • GetItOn says:

    It only looks like he focused purely on his striking because his opponents were willing to stand and strike with him. I am sure that if the fight were taken to the ground then he would work his magic there too. He’s found a new love in striking. I say let him work it out. This is MMA and I’m surprised that someone this far in the game is saying that Josh Koscheck should go back to their roots. That’s what Matt Hughes did, he stuck with his roots. Look where he is now. I believe that Kos has the ability to be a champion someday and I think he is doing right by training his standup. He just leaves too many openings. Let the dude learn from this mistake. I promise Kos will come back from this an even greater fighter.

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  • Lord Faust says:

    I heavily disagree with this article. I think anyone would rather strike with a world-class BJJ guy than grapple… I mean, maybe that’s just me, but Kos got caught with the only decent strike Paulo threw the whole fight — that happens to everyone eventually. Small gloves and trained fighters; anyone can get KO’ed.

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  • KTru says:

    Kos in his last fight was as simple as “One Lucky Punch” from Paulo Thiago.
    It happens in MMA, thats why we crave the sport. I agree with the point that Kos tried to take Thiago Alves down and failed miserably.
    I think it is being to looked down upon to say that “Kos needs to do this and should do more of that”
    With his ego that is infamous, we saw a highlight reel knockout of Yoshida, only to be Kos’ ultimate downfall. He may think he can do that every fight and should take a step back and actually game plan against an inferior opponent.
    Hopefully he learns from a simple mistake and lives up to the billing as a top ten WW in the UFC.

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  • mu_shin says:

    Snowden makes some great points, not only in the specific context of Josh Koscheck, but in a general sense as well. I read several MMA blogs regularly, and many posts are written disparaging what a lot of guys call “lay and pray”, a label usually applied to wrestlers. Clay Guida and Sean Sherk are two fighters that I’ve seen consistently tagged this way.

    My perspective is that a strong wrestler often poses a technical problem for less well rounded fighters who have no solution for the wrestler’s tactics. Heath Herring against Jake O’Brien comes to mind, where Herring, a true badass and experienced MMA fighter, complained vociferously after the loss that O’Brien wouldn’t stand and trade with him, wouldn’t give the fans what they wanted. Thing is, O’Brien dominated the fight, controlled the action, dictated the pace, place and mode of the fight, and by every definition, that’s a win. Herring had no answer for O’Brien’s wrestling, and all he could do was whine about it afterward.
    it would have been more effective for Herring to go back to the drawing board, come up with some tactics to deal with a dominant wrestler, and learn from the loss.
    Many current fighters have done what Koscheck has tried to do, which is focus on stand up striking, as the fans react most strongly to toe to toe stand up, and getting tagged as a “boring” fighter is death in this business. Look at all the grief that Lyoto Machida took previous to his overwhelming knockout of Thiago Silva. Many fans, to my mind fans who are not as well versed themselves in the intricacies of the grappling/Gn’P/BJJ game, are not as enamored of the chess match that takes place on the ground. They’d rather see non-stop stand up action followed by a quick knockout, which I understand, but this is mixed martial arts, and the sport encompasses all of these combat aspects. Fights like Evans/Liddell and Rampage/Silva were great, but I also love to watch fights like Uriah Faber/Jens Pulver, or GSP/Fitch, where all aspects of the game come into play.

    I’d be happier if more fans were appreciative of the ground game, and if less pressure was put on some fighters, like Josh Koscheck, to be “more exciting” and to abandon what Snowden appropriately acknowledges as his greatest strength. Styles make fights, and when a wrestler faces an all around master with superior skills, like Sean Sherk against BJ Penn, then everyone is happy. I just wish some of the strong wrestlers could apply their best techniques and not have to worry about how they win, just that they do win.

    Finally, anyone who thinks Thiago scored a “lucky punch” should watch more matches and learn more about this sport. Thiago trained for years to land that punch, and you think it was an accident?

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  • StayDown says:

    I think to criticize Kos for not taking down Thiago is ridiculous. Thiago is amazing on the ground and no way did Kos want to go there with him. His wrestling is great but how long would he last on the ground with an expert submission guy?

    I do agree that he needs to ease up a bit on the fights. He is going to wear his body down but that is his decision and if he feels good I am not the one to tell him otherwise.

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  • KTru says:

    I know it was a lucky punch. ANYONE that saw the fight could tell.
    Was he trained for years to eat a bunch of punches before he landed that uppercut?

    Sure he knows how to throw a punch and have exchanges through many long hours in the gym. But in no means does that make him a devastating striker. Kos probably did not have much tape on him (highly doubt he would have watched anyways) and knew Thiago’s pedigree was BJJ. It was not an accident, nor did I say it was. It was well placed and Kos’ overconfidence became his downfall. But you cannot say that coming into the fight that the stand up would be even.
    I have watched plenty of MMA and know first hand about this sport. So do not spout off when you clearly have no clue.

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  • fightingwords101 says:

    “His desire to be a “well rounded” fighter has cost him the chance to be a champion. ”

    -worst comment of the week on any mma related “news” site. his original style was lay n’ pray blanket-style. he got caught by a punch, got barely outpointed in a match with diego that was horrendous on both sides, and lost to GSP. it’s not a skid, it’s a tough sport with a ton of variables. he’s become a far more dominating & dangerous fighter than his TUF days as a result of his dedication to becoming more well-rounded.

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  • Jak says:

    KTru- you don’t need to highlight ANYONE, just because you think it was a lucky punch does not mean everyone agrees with you.

    Some think that Kos leaves himself very open when throwing the looping right hand which he does rather predictably.

    I’m sure Thiago’s coaches broke down film prior to the fight and at least planned for Kos’ game plan.

    Would i take Thiago in a rematch, h*ll no, but that doesn’t mean it was “lucky” or a fluke or anything else, it was a solid upper cut, followed by a devastating left hook.

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  • wardog says:

    Josh Koschek is a fighter everyone heaped praise on and was ready to just hand the title over to based on his wrestling pedigree. Well I remember watching an episode of him training before he got dismatled by GSP and I was not impressed. He didn’t listen to his coaches then, I am sure he doesn’t now! He is a good wrestler, but that does not mean he is going to be a great MMA fighter. He has a few flashy KO’s but his striking is not that good. But when most of your pay is on sponsors and getting a fight bonus you might throw those being looping punches.

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  • Alan Conceicao says:

    Kos seems to be seriously considering a change in his career path. No, wait, he’s gonna rush back in against a guy who’s a solid grappler and striker in Chris Wilson. I wonder if he loses again whether or not people will keep heaping praise upon him for taking all these fights or talk about how he’s “washed up” or “was never good”?

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  • mu_shin says:

    Always an honor and pleasure to engage in intelligent, insightful debate with such knowledgeable, respectful interlocuters. Just callin’ it like I see it gentlemen, appreciate all points of view.

    I’m sure these words have been posted here many times, but they serve the point: Luck is where preparation meets opportunity. Yeah, by that definition, perhaps Thiago’s fight ending uppercut/hook combination was a “lucky” shot. Sounds like some folks may have had preconceived notions about the abilities of these fighters, and may have been disappointed when the reality diverged from those preconceptions. signed, clueless

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  • EJO39 says:

    He needs to go back to his bread and butter which is his WRESTLING. His stand up game will keep improving along with his submissions, but its so stupid of him not to train wrestling, something that he is so good at. I love his takedowns being a wrestler myself. And all of the people who complain about his style being boring just really don’t understand fighting. As a fighter, you are supposed to build on your base, like Koscheck’s is wrestling… and his strategy should be set up his takedowns with his ever improving striking, and then work his ground and pound once it hits the mat.

    Josh Kosheck is the second best wrestler at 170, behind GSP. I think the reason he couldn’t take GSP down is because he was so overconfident that he trained zero wrestling. Which was stupid because that is where Koscheck would have had the advantage. Not only that, but he is probably the second best pure athlete in the division as well. He is very good, but his fighting strategies have been very poor.

    Bottom line, which I think this article nails is that Koscheck is great athlete and a wrestler who has the potential to become a great fighter, but his strategies with his training and his fights have been poor. Its sad to see someone as talented as him lose fights just because of bad strategy and him trying to shut up the critics. He needs to stop listening to the people telling him he’s boring and start using what he’s best at… and thats his wrestling. If he can do that, everything else will come.

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