Josh Koscheck will indeed make his return to the cage sooner rather than later at UFC 98 in May in Las Vegas as he vowed to do after suffering a stunning knockout loss to Paulo Thiago. This week Koscheck agreed to fight fellow welterweight Chris Wilson, a younger prospect who is coming off a unanimous decision loss to John Howard at UFC 94.
With this fight, Koscheck will have fought four times in about six months spanning from his UFC 90 fight against Thiago Alves in late October, to his knockout win over Yoshida in mid-December, to his recent loss to Thiago at UFC 95 in England and now to his fight with Wilson. It is a pace of fights that is seldom seen in the UFC today but one that should be noticed and hopefully replicated by others.
Whether or not you like Koscheck as a fighter, you have to respect his attitude about getting right back into the octagon after each fight rather than take the long layoff approach that so many fighters today take, for an example see BJ Penn. The only other fighter at the current moment that is scheduled to ave a quick turnaround (fights within 12 weeks of each other) is Quinton “Rampage” Jackson who will fight this coming Saturday at UFC 96 in Columbus, Ohio. Jackson last fought at UFC 92 on December 27th and with a win over Keith Jardine in the main event this coming Saturday could likely find himself fighting Rashad Evans at UFC 100 on July 11th. That would be a more natural layoff of about 16 weeks in between fights for the former light-heavyweight champion who now trains in England full time.
However, the practice now being implemented by fighters like Koscheck and Jackson is not the norm. The norm is more along the lines of what BJ Penn operates by and that’s a policy of two fights maximum per year and sometimes 1.75 or two fights every 13 -15 months. Penn, who lost to Georges St.-Pierre in his welterweight championship challenge in January at UFC 94, last defended his lightweight title against Sean Sherk in May of last year at UFC 84. He is scheduled to face Kenny Florian in his second title defense for his next fight but no date has been announced and it appears now that this fight won’t happen until the latter part of the summer.
This after Florian had been training for an expected date in May (at 98) and then for June (at 99). Florian, who was last seen capping a dominant first round effort against fellow lightweight title contender Joe Stevenson with a rear-naked choke submission finish at UFC 91 on November 15, is looking at a possible nine month lay-off which when asked about by Sherdog.com and his fellow MMA Live counterparts didn’t appear to be too happy about.
But why should he be? Fighters like Kenny Florian love to fight, it’s why they do it but it is also their way of making a living. Sure Florian makes some money on the side from his job at ESPN and with his mixed martial arts center outside of Boston, but he has to fight at least two times a year to get the type of money he needs to live off of and keep up his sponsors. While Penn may not have to fight regularly to make a living, coming from a well off family, his status as division champion effects the other fighters.
So it certainly begs an interesting question, what is the responsibility of a division champion in the UFC? If you ask me they have a responsibility to defend their title three times every year barring injury. However, the recent history in the UFC tells a much different story.
As the promotion furthers its global expansion — at least four events a year in the UK for the third straight year will be completed this year, a foray into Germany scheduled for June and future events being explored in Dubai, the Philippines and Japan — it’s number of events has risen from a pedestrian 13 or 14 to a more aggressive 18-22 events when including pay-per-views, fight nights and ultimate fighter finales. In 2008 the UFC put on 13 pay-per-views, four fight nights including the fight for the troops and two ultimate fighter finales for a total of 19 events. The year before, the promotion also did 13 pay-per-views.
With so many events you would think that the top fighters would be competing an average of three times per year with title defenses coming just as often yet that is not the case.
Last year the lightweight title was contested two times while Anderson Silva, often recognized as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world (and perhaps the more active of the recent champions), defended his middleweight title twice while fighting a third time outside of the division. The welterweight title, light heavyweight title (tied up by TUF 7) were also contested just twice last year while and the heavyweight strap was contested a mere three times counting both the interim and regular title.
It’s a very disturbing trend that hopefully will change in the wake of fighters like Koscheck, Jackson and Silva wanting to fight more than their counterparts have wanted. Whether or not other fighters follow the example that Koscheck is setting, kudos to the AKA product who does what he’s paid to do — fight.