When UFC featherweight contender Erik “New Breed” Koch (11-1) goes up against Cub Swanson (15-4) on March 3 at UFC on Versus 3 in Louisville, Ky., he’ll be facing arguably his most well-known opponent to date in his first appearance under the UFC banner. Not only is Koch up to the challenge, but he seems more amped up than nervous about the opportunity.
Koch’s lanky frame and solid striking creates a match-up nightmare for most guys at 145. Swanson is fairly adept and aggressive on the feet, but Koch believes he’ll have the advantage in that department.
“He’s a scrapper; he does some unorthodox stuff,” Koch told ProMMAnow.com. “But I do think when it just comes down to plain striking, that I’m a better striker. I think I pack a little more power than he does.”
Koch added, “I just gotta be patient and stay on my feet.”
Of course, Koch is no slouch on the ground, with seven of his 11 career wins coming by submission. However, he’s planning to dictate where the fight takes place and neutralize any of Swanson’s takedown attempts.
“I’m confident I’ll be able to stop” his takedown, Koch said. “Who knows, I might take him down. I think when it comes down to it I’m going to be the stronger fighter. The one thing I have to look out for is he’s a good scrambler. I have to be careful and not make any dumb mistakes.”
Koch has never shied away from fighting the toughest competition, defeating the likes of T.J. O’Brien and Joe Pearson before going to the WEC, where he went 3-1 with the Zuffa-owned promotion before the UFC merger. And as unbeatable as featherweight title holder Jose Aldo has looked, Koch believes his style and skill set would present a significant challenge for the champion.
So would a win over Swanson — who has faced Aldo and holds a win over DREAM champion Hiroyuki Takaya — help validate Koch’s status in the division with any remaining doubters?
“Totally,” Koch said. “”And he’s the best now that he’s ever been. I definitely think it’s a good test and it’s a good matchup. I definitely want to get this fight on TV.”
Although the fight is currently scheduled as one of the undercard bouts, getting the fight televised might not be that difficult.
With 31 fights between them, Swanson and Koch have only gone the distance 8 times, and Koch scored a picture-perfect head kick KO win over Francisco Rivera at WEC 52. And more people would probably still talk about that kick if not for his teammate, Anthony Pettis, landing a crazy, off-the-wall kick against Ben Henderson en route to winning the UFC lightweight title. Koch won’t do anything reckless, but don’t be surprised if he tries to one-up Pettis before the fight with Swanson ends.
“There’s always a little competition in there,” Koch said when asked if he and Pettis try to outdo each other on the highlight reel. “Whether it’s main card or not, that’s the fight style. That’s what we do. We are entertainers. But I’m going to go in there and I’m going to fight smart.”
The rise of Roufusport
With the March 3 bout against Swanson, Koch joins the growing list of Duke Roufus-trained fighters competing in the UFC, alongside Pettis, Alan Belcher, Pat Barry, and Danny Downes.
The rise of Pettis and Koch in particular has Roufusport getting mentioned as one of the best training camps in mixed martial arts.
“Duke Roufus is one of the best coaches,” Koch said. “The guy knows his stuff and knows his fighting. That’s why you’re seeing all these guys break through. The guy knows what he’s doing. He deserves all the credit he’s been getting.”
As you would expect from a fighter nicknamed New Breed, Koch works hard to be well-rounded in every aspect of MMA, and Roufus helps his students blend those different disciplines together.
“MMA is its own individual sport now,” he said. “Everything works together. And that’s the thing I like about Duke. He teaches everything to work together. He teaches us how to throw kicks and hurt legs, but without getting taken down. Just stuff like that that’s the difference.”
Pettis had been in line for a shot at the UFC title, but those plans were put on hold when current champion Frankie Edgar fought Gray Maynard to an exciting draw at UFC 125 on Jan. 1. Instead, Pettis has been slotted to face Clay Guida at The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale on June 4 in Las Vegas.
“Anthony took the fight with Guida because he wants to fight,” Koch said. “He’s a true fighter and he didn’t want to sit back and wait for a title shot. He wants to keep that ring rust off and do his job. He’s a warrior and he’ll fight whoever, and I’m confident he’ll keep his title shot after the Guida fight.”
Downes, another one of Koch’s teammates, also picked up a big win recently, taking a decision from highly-touted prospect Tie Quan Zhang. It was a much different set of circumstances than Downes’s WEC debut, which he took on only a few days notice, against Chris Horodecki. Downes lost that fight via third round submission, but against Zhang Downes had a full training camp and the chance to better showcase his talent.
“It was awesome,” Koch said of Downes’s win over Zhang. “I fought on the same card where he fought Horodecki. That weight cut was terrible. He literally cut like 30 pounds in a week. My weight cuts are pretty hard, but his was painful to watch.”
Of the fight with Zhang, Koch added, “He weathered the early storm and just dominated after that. He’s one of the toughest guys I know; he doesn’t back down from anybody.”
The UFC challenge
While Downes and Pettis try to make their mark in the UFC lightweight division, Koch is hoping to establish himself as one of the best in the newly-established featherweight division. In the WEC, Koch already faced a high level of competition, but sometimes the bright lights of the UFC can still wreak havoc on the nerves. But Koch isn’t nervous about the UFC spotlight.
Asked if putting on the UFC gloves will seem different, he replied, “Yes and no. When it comes to the fight, no. I’m fighting the same guys really, and Zuffa’s owned the WEC.
“The only difference is kind of that nostalgia, being a little kid and wanting to be in the UFC and wear those UFC gloves. Now I am and it doesn’t make me nervous, but it does make me more excited.”
Now that the UFC will oversee the 135 and 145 divisions, some of the smaller UFC lightweights are starting to make their way down. Tyson Griffin recently announced that he will begin campaigning at featherweight and former title challenger Kenny Florian will do the same.
Koch’s response to the new entrants to the featherweight class?
“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “It adds more depth.”
He continued, “If I won this fight, I’d love to fight Griffin or Florian just because people know them because they’ve been in the UFC. A win over one of those guys would give me a lot of recognition. I think it opens up more opportunities.”
Erik asked to thank everyone at Roufusport, his family back in Iowa — especially his Dad for all the support — and you can follow him on Twitter @NEWBREED04.