The fight is tomorrow. I'm sure that by Monday I'll have some after fight report. But the only fight I'm really invested in, on the whole card, is GSP vs. Koscheck. Well, actually, I'm also pretty interested in Struve vs. McCorkle. But first GSP and Kos.
I've seen most of the pro fights by both fighters. They've also fought before and it was an interesting match to watch a second time. GSP, on two cards, lost the first round -- it was a reasonably close first round with Koscheck seeming to have a very slight upper hand in standing striking and Koscheck ended the round taking down GSP, but the middle of the round was GSP. On my scorecard, I gave the round to GSP but I can see how someone else would give it to Koscheck. The next two rounds were all GSP, the second round almost frighteningly so. The fight, as a whole, was dominated by GSP.
The first with Koscheck in their first fight was the last time GSP lost a round. I'm sure the UFC commentators will go on at considerable length about how Koscheck has grown as a fighter and that's certainly true. They will probably focus less on how much GSP has grown during the same time, which is at least as much and quite possibly even more, it's just that we have trouble wrapping our heads around how good GSP has improved because he's always been so good.
Subsequently, both fighters have fought about the same number of fights. GSP, in his fights since Koscheck is 6-0. Koscheck, since losing to GSP, is 6-2. GSP has been generally fighting better fighters because, well, he's the champ, including dominating Thaigo Alves in Alves' title shot . . . a fighter who dominated Koscheck in their fight, almost knocking him out pretty much every round. Then Koscheck was knocked out by Paulo Thiago. Paulo Thiago hasn't gotten a title shot and might never. He's on the line of deserving one -- which is to say, quite possibly not a worthwhile opponent for GSP. And he clobbered Koscheck.
Four of Koscheck's last six victories have been stoppages, whereas GSP has only managed to stop three of his six. The difference is, again, in the quality of the fighters. Koscheck stopped Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Dustin Hazelett and Frank Trigg by KO or TKO. Yoshida and Hazelett will never be confused for championship material and Frank Trigg was in his late thirties when he fought Koscheck. Koscheck submitted Anthony Johnson who, again, will not be terribly confused with a top contender. Meanwhile, in his last six fights, GSP stopped UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes (generally thought to be the greatest UFC welterweight of all time with the possible exception of GSP) with an armbar, former welterweight champion Matt Serra with brutal knees to the body and BJ Penn, former lightweight and welterweight champion, with a corner submission because, y'know, they had to get Penn to the hospital after the savage ground and pound GSP gave to him. GSP has been stopping Hall of Famers and former champions, Koscheck guys who are too old to be in title contention and, well, no-bodies.
So, "who's going to win" isn't a particularly hard analysis. GSP has fought better guys and dominated them. Koscheck has lost to, granted, world-class Thiago Alves and the not-quite-world-class Paulo Thiago, and the general quality of his fights have been less than GSP. Not to mention that GSP has beaten Koscheck before. So we shouldn't be talking about if GSP is going to win but how GSP is going to win, because Koscheck's chances appear to be slim. For him to win would require a lucky punch or an unexpected injury on GSP's part. But, realistically, we should be talking about how GSP is going to win.
The safe money is that GSP will win like he won last time -- by dominating Koscheck on the ground. Even Koscheck has said that GSP will "probably take me down". Then, of course, he said he has some "tricks", but the truth is that Koscheck isn't a tricky fighter. He wins in two ways -- taking the guy to the mat and dominating them with his superior wrestling skills (an option he doesn't realistically have with GSP) or using his left to set up a right overhand hook haymaker while throwing caution to the wind. But . . . tricks? No. Every fight Koscheck has won he has won either by wrestling dominance (often, as most recently with Semtex Daley, with the old lay and pray technique or using his wrestling to achieve a good ground and pound or get a rear naked choke) or throwing a couple of bombs and hope the other guy walks into them. He's not a complex fighter nor a particularly intelligent one.
GSP is . . . a complex fighter. After Penn's corner threw in the towel, GSP talked about his strategy was to get Penn to the ground and . . . I dunno, do some crazy wrestling pressure points thing to force blood up into Penn's shoulders to stifle the effectiveness of his punches. It was crazy that this was part of his plan, but it makes sense considering Penn's knockout power. And every time he fights, he's got a plan. So in his first fight with Koscheck, the first thing GSP did was a takedown to "take him out of his comfort zone", because GSP had noticed that Koscheck had never fought from the bottom. It worked. Koscheck, afterward, was pretty surprised that GSP went after his wrestling and attributes the loss to the fact that he had been so focused on stand-up fighting and the presumption of his superior wrestling that he didn't imagine GSP might attack him in that way. Which is why I can't just say the Penn "plan" is bullshit -- GSP does things other people don't even imagine doing. He's the kind of fighter that makes you realize what a kung fu master is, that there's this thing he does that transcends the physical into some crazy realm of combat psychology and physiology that's just universes above "throwing a good overhand right hook". So, I wouldn't actually bet that Koscheck has too many tricks but I would bet GSP has some pretty good ones.
Taken together, I think that GSP will notice something I noticed when watching Koscheck's fights. The thing I noticed is . . . Koscheck has never seriously been kneed by anyone. I heard rumors on the Internet -- ha, I know! -- that GSP has been practicing a lot of muay Thai. And on Countdown to UFC 124, they spent a lot of time focusing on GSP's muay Thai coach.
GSP already has good knees. He's stopped fights by kneeing downed opponents in the body, including the tough Matt Serra. He has thrown standing knees, too, but he isn't an artist with them like an Anderson Silva or Wanderlei Silva (no relation; Silva is the Brazilian "Smith", apparently, and it's coincidence they both like knees) -- but GSP's got all the traits. He's got great balance, he's got great grappling, and he's great at transitioning from striking to grappling. His legs are already like pneumatic pistons. So, I'm hoping for the plum clinch and down goes Koscheck's head and up comes GSP's knee in a highlight reel facial obliteration that leaves Koscheck soaked in blood and asking where he is in the ambulance.
If not that, I hope GSP just ground and pounds the guy, like he did to Jon Fitch and that is the safe bet -- Fitch is a better MMA wrestler than Koscheck and it stands to reason if GSP did it to Fitch he can do it to Koscheck. I want it drawn out and painful. I want Koscheck to understand the totality of his domination. I want him to realize that he will always be the inferior fighter. Failing that, a good Cro-kick that puts Koscheck's head in orbit would be nice.
And then I want to forget about Josh Koscheck. He'll have gotten his shot, which I admit he deserves, and afterward he can go back to being a respectable but not particularly noteworthy fighter in the autumn years of his career. I even hope he has the brains to stop before he becomes a circus sideshow act like Ken Shamrock and Chuck Liddell (and where Tito Ortiz is on the cusp of being).
Okay, now about Stephan Struve and Sean McCorkle. I don't particularly know either fighter very well, though I've seen both of them fight. They're pretty good. I'm not sure either of them is in top contender status, yet, but they both could be in the not too distant future . . . and, quite frankly, the UFC's heavyweight ranks are pretty thin right now and they need to find guys to fight Frank Mir, Brock Lesnar, Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez. You can't really have a league with those four guys fighting each other, even assuming that Lesnar wants to fight (which I have heard is in question), so it's more like three and a half guys, and Mir and Lesnar have already fought twice and Lesnar and Velasquez once. So, sure, the UFC needs to get their heavyweights up to speed and Struve and McCorkle are prospects for contender status (tho' neither of them will, I think, make it). But they're not marquee fighters right now and neither one of them has caught my particular attention so while I'm interested in the fight, it's a little abstract, as in the sense that I hope it's a good, tough fight.
But, apparently, McCorkle is a trolling asshole trash talking master of disturbing proportions. In particular, he's the first MMA fighter to really take the trash talking to social networking sites. On TV and in front of people, well, you've at least kinna sorta gotta behave. You start spewing obscenities, they'll just focus the camera away from you. Not to mention, that kind of verbal assault is cause in some states for the other guy to kick your ass and claim fighting words.
As anyone who has spent any time on the Internet knows, none of that is true there. McCorkle is the first MMA fighter who is also a reasonably diligent and skillful Internet troll. Yikes. I figure most of the people reading this have an idea what's coming next, where I'm going to quote McCorkle talking about Struve. Such as:
The only thing Stefan Struve has ever finished in his whole life is "another guy off".
Or: Stefan Struve was once arrested for impersonating a cocksucker.
Or: Stefan Struve pees sitting down.
So, yeah, really respectful. Needless to say, I'm on Struve's side and, to be fair, he's slightly favored to win, so it won't be a shock if he does.