The swing bout on the UFC 143 broadcast sees perennial contender Josh Koscheck taking on Mike Pierce, a fighter who has often knocked on the door to elite status but has not yet been granted access. Koscheck will be extra motivated by the prospect of the interim belt made in champion Georges St. Pierre's absence, as a shot at GSP's belt is much less likely than a crack at the interim strap.
One of the most divisive fighters in the UFC, Koscheck is a firm believer in "love me or hate me, as long as you watch me." Due to a stint on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter in which Koscheck was one of the prime villains, most notably setting off Chris Leben's melt down by soaking Leben with a hose when the latter had elected to sleep outside to avoid confrontation that night, most fans fall on the "hate me" side of the spectrum.
Koscheck sits at 4-1 in his last five fights, rebounding from a 1-2 run, unfortunately for Koscheck that one loss came to the champion and not in a way that has the afro'ed one overly close to a title shot for Georges St. Pierre's belt when the champion is healthy and unites with the interim champion. Koscheck won three straight bouts to earn his title shot, knocking out Frank Trigg, submitting Anthony Johnson and decisioning Paul Daley. After a season as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter, Kos and GSP fought before a partisan Canadian crowd, and Koscheck became intimately familiar with GSP's lead jab. After a long injury layoff to allow his broken orbital to heal, Kos returned against former champion Matt Hughes, earning the TKO win late in the first round.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Like his AKA teammate Jon Fitch, Koscheck's primary weapon is his wrestling, and he debuted on the big stage as a one-dimensional fighter looking to take every fight to the canvas as soon as possible. In recent years Kos has worked hard on his striking, occasionally to his detriment as his last three losses have all come about with Koscheck being beaten on the feet, including a crushing KO loss to Paulo Thiago. When Koscheck is looking to get the fight to the ground, there remain few fighters in the division better at getting in on an opponent and forcing the issue. Kos has not shown an overly dynamic submission grappling game, with his only wins by submission holds coming with rear naked chokes against ground-challenged or generally overmatched opposition.
Make no mistake about it, this fight is much closer than the fantasy odds would have you believe. At -600 in fantasy betting, Koscheck is simply unplayable in any form. Don't waste your money on it. For fantasy picking, Koscheck is however still a rightful favorite. If Koscheck's striking is more on point than Pierce's on Saturday, he has proven he has the ability to hit hard and finish a fight, so take Koscheck to win by a second round TKO.
Mike Pierce analysis after the jump.
One of the few remaining holdovers from the WEC's welterweight division, albeit with only one fight in the division, Pierce is a fighter who has been on the cusp of cracking the top tier of the division on two occasions, only to come out on the wrong side of a decision both times. After being granted the fight he wanted against Koscheck, Pierce hopes the third time is the charm and that, come Sunday, his name will be in the top ten rankings.
Since transferring over following a stint in the UFC, Pierce has been one of the most-successful WEC-veterans in the welterweight division, amassing a 5-2 record in the big show. Like Koscheck, Pierce has won four of five, comprised of three wins, a loss and bounce back in his last outing. After racking up a decision over Julio Paulino, a submission of Amilcar Alves and knock out of Kenny Robertson, Pierce has been on either side of a split decision. After losing to Johnny Hendrix by way of mixed opinions, Pierce was paired off with Paul Bradley this time getting the better of things according to two of three judges.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Like his opponent across the cage, Pierce is a wrestler who does his best work when he is pushing his opponents around and using his years of experience on the mat to control how and at what pace the fight develops. Despite a slick straight armbar win over Amilcar Alves, Pierce is not known for his submission skills on the mat, preferring instead to use his top positions to land elbows and punches from on top. Ultimately the fight may come down to the striking game, with whichever fighter proves more capable of outstriking the other seeing his hand raised. While Pierce lacks the KO stoppages at the UFC level of Kos, having only one in his UFC career, the fight should be close on the feet and Pierce is capable of beating Koscheck on a good night.
As a general rule, I preach against ever taking the sucker bet that is a +2 bonus in fantasy picking. In the event of this fight, it becomes slightly appealing, as the massive picking disparity that leads to such a bonus simply isn't in line with the actual odds on the fight, where Pierce is a very game fighter. If you take Pierce, he's less likely to get the finish than Kos is, so go with the unanimous decision. As with Clifford Starks in the opening bout, Pierce is rightly an underdog in his fight, but certainly not to the level of +560, as is being offered. Make a play on Pierce straight up, and if your bankroll is low through the first four events consider including him with two fighters from the seven close fights, or Starks and one of those close fighters for a really huge risk/reward too leave you in position to contend for top bankroll by season's end.