Some have speculated whether a win for Josh Grispi (14-1) in the WEC 52: Faber vs. Mizugaki co-main event could put him in line for a shot at the featherweight title. But Grispi’s opponent, Erik Koch (10-1), thinks he has the tools to beat Grispi and give current champion Jose Aldo fits.
As impressive as Grispi has looked in going 4-0 in the WEC, Koch points out that he brings a combination of size and skill Grispi hasn’t seen before. At 5’11”, Grispi is one of the larger featherweights in the WEC, but Koch has a similar build.
“I honestly think I’m a terrible match up for him,” said Koch, who will face Grispi on Nov. 11 in Las Vegas. “That’s what is going to surprise people … We compare in reach and in height. He hasn’t fought another big [featherweight] like me.”
Often having a reach or striking advantage, Grispi has been able to control the action against his previous foes and force them to shoot in, where he’s reacted quickly to submit Mark Hominick, Jens Pulver, and L.C. Davis by guillotine choke.
Koch, on the other hand, is more than comfortable standing and trading. He first began working on his stand up at four years of age and sees some holes in Grispi’s striking game.
“A lot of people are frustrated with his reach,” Koch said. “I don’t shoot. I’ve never shot in a fight.”
Koch added, “You watch his last fight against LC Davis, and I swear he didn’t throw one punch, just kicks. I’ve been kicking since I was four years old, so if he wants to do that, that’s fine with me.”
Of course, Koch isn’t taking Grispi lightly. In 15 professional fights, Grispi has only gone the distance once and hasn’t even been out of the first round during his WEC stint. As confident as he is, Koch is prepared for his toughest fight to date, but he also isn’t in awe of Grispi.
“I don’t think his movement is the greatest,” Koch said. “He hits hard and he’s a good scrambler, but his movement … he’s not very fluid.”
That confidence is bolstered by the instruction and sparring partners available to him at Duke Roufus’s Roufusport MMA Academy in Milwaukee, Wisc. Among the several UFC and WEC fighters in the camp is WEC lightweight contender Anthony Pettis, who is also Koch’s roommate.
Training and living with one of the best 155-pounders in the WEC has its advantages. Neither guy has to venture far to find someone to help with extra pad work and other drills, and both Koch and Pettis aim to bring a WEC title back to the gym.
“We’re always doing something,” Koch said. “That’s what I like. Me and Anthony feed off of each other.”
Training as hard as they do, Koch said that the fight is actually the easy part. All he has to do is go out there and do what he loves, so fighting in the co-main event against someone with Grispi’s talent doesn’t faze him.
“Just because a couple fights happen before me, that makes it bigger?” Koch said. “He’s got two legs and he’s got two arms. It’s a fight. A lot of people let that stuff get in their mind. I don’t.”
Koch is also motivated by the one setback on his record — a decision loss to Chad Mendes at WEC 47. Mendes used his superior wrestling to secure a unanimous decision win.
“With Mendes, I think I beat myself,” Koch said. “I stuffed the first few takedowns … But then I got it in my head that I’m an entertainer. So when he stayed back, I came forward [too aggressively] and left myself open for takedowns.
“Obviously when it happened I knew I lost. It sucked. Winning is the greatest thing in the world. When you lose, it’s the worst thing in the world. I didn’t get damaged and I really didn’t get hurt. Those are the losses that hurt the most.”
Before long, Koch was back in the gym determined to improve and put the loss behind him. “After those couple weeks and you get back in training, it lights a fire under your butt,” he said.
With his mentality, it’s easy to understand why Koch wouldn’t mind a shot at Aldo. Much like how he breaks down his fight with Grispi, Koch believes he or Grispi could be Aldo’s toughest test yet.
“Me or Grispi is a tough match up for him,” Koch said. He’s a tough dude, explosive, and his reaction time is ridiculous. But he doesn’t move a lot. Fighting a bunch of short wrestlers lately, he can stand in the middle and throw a lot of leg kicks and keep them on the end of his punches. [Grispi and I] know how to throw kicks, we know how to defend kicks, and we’ve both got reach.”
Hominick will reportedly get the next shot at Aldo, but Koch certainly thinks he should get an opportunity to fight for the title if he defeats Grispi.
“If I get the win, I think I deserve it,” Koch said. “This guy is getting all of this hype, so beating him should put me right up there.”
Aldo has easily defeated two former featherweight champions — Urijah Faber and Mike Brown — with relative ease and dominated top contender Manny Gamburyan at WEC 51 last month. But nothing lasts forever in MMA. Just ask B.J. Penn, Brock Lesnar, and Lyoto Machida, all of whom have lost their UFC titles in recent months.
“It’s just a matter of time; [Aldo]’s lost before, he’s not undefeated,” Koch said.