Erik Koch delivers a headkick to Francisco Rivera at WEC 52, earning him the Knockout of the Night bonus. (Photo courtesy of WEC.tv/Zuffa LLC)

Even though he was facing a late replacement, featherweight contender Erik Koch’s (11-1) stock jumped up quite a bit on Nov. 11 at WEC 52 with his highlight reel TKO win over newcomer Francisco Rivera (5-1) at The Palms in Las Vegas.

After some brief exchanges and a feeling out process, Koch dropped Rivera with a beautifully timed head kick and delivered a few hammer punches for good measure before the referee stopped the fight at the 1:36 mark.

“The little tape I did see on him, I just knew he was very wild and I’m very comfortable with people like that,” Koch told ProMMAnow.com. “I’m more of a technical striker and can take those types of guys apart pretty easy.”

There were two more fights left on the card, but it certainly looked like Koch did more than enough to earn the Knockout of the Night bonus. Koch said that his coach, Duke Roufus, lobbied WEC matchmaker Sean Shelby to make sure his pupil received the honors.

“Duke was making sure to talk to Sean Shelby after the fight,” Koch said. “He was saying, ‘Sean, you know head kicks take the cake.'”

Nevertheless, Shelby had a little fun with Erik and joked that he might give the award to Anthony Njokuani, who picked up a second round TKO win over Edward Faaloloto courtesy of an elbow.

“Actually, Sean messed with me a bit and he said, ‘You know, Njokuani’s elbow was pretty nasty!’ I was thinking, come on, don’t take it away from me,” Koch joked.

With the WEC’s roster set to join the UFC beginning in 2011, the timing couldn’t have been better for Koch to appear on national television and score a scintillating knockout.

“It was the perfect thing to happen, especially going into the UFC merger,” he said. “Putting on a show like that, they might want to put me on some more main cards.”

So where does the win put Koch in the 145-pound division? He’s hoping near the top. Although his fight with current number one contender Josh Grispi fell through at the last second — Grispi was moved to the UFC 125 card to face current champion Jose Aldo — two of Koch’s three WEC wins came in the first round. And in his only setback, a decision loss to the undefeated Chad Mendes, Koch feels he’s given Mendes his toughest fight to date.

“I didn’t get tested at all [in my last two fights] and I feel like I gave Mendes his toughest fight,” Koch said. “I felt like I lost the wrestling match, but I was the one that did the damage.”

He added, “I definitely think it puts me in title contention.”

Koch said he’ll fight whoever gets put in front of him but hopes he’ll face a top five opponent next so he can prove he belongs at the top of the division.

“I’ve been hearing talks of maybe Manny Gamburyan or Mike Brown next,” Koch said. “We’ll see. But I wanted the Grispi fight because I think that was the hardest fight for me. That’s why I wanted it.”

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Erik asked to thank the following: Everyone at Roufusport, Duke Roufus, the Hard Drive team in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Form Athletics

By John Buhl

John Buhl is a professional journalist who has covered MMA since 2005. He has done freelance work for a number of Web sites, including InsideFighting.com, where several of his stories were published on FoxSports.com.

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