"I think I can stuff what Brookins is bringing to the table and that's exactly what I'm going to do.” - Erik Koch
Fight fans need to get to know their finishers. The knockout artists and the submission specialists. The fighters who get the job done with time still on the clock and the ref pulling them off their opponent. In the UFC’s burgeoning featherweight division, one such 145er has been earning that Anderson Silva-like cage cred with first round stoppages in his last 3 fights: Erik “New Breed” Koch.
“It's a rush,” says Koch. “That's what we work for. I don't do pads everyday, spar everyday and wrestle everyday to get decisions. I'm not looking from a standpoint when I'm doing pads, ‘OK, just do this and then get away so you can win the round.’ When I'm doing pads, I'm lighting them up and I'm looking at angles because I'm looking for the ‘killshot’, the knockout blow. I want the finishes. That's where the bonuses come from.”
The 22 year old Iowa native knows a thing or two about bonuses, securing back-to-back “Knockout of the Night” awards. At WEC 52, in Koch’s final fight before the merge with the UFC, “New Breed” caught Francisco Rivera with a head kick only 90 seconds into the first that led to the TKO ending moments later. Most recently, in March at UFC 128 in Newark, Koch made his presence known in his organizational debut by stalking Raphael Assuncao for two and a half minutes before dropping the hammer on Assuncao with a knockout punch.
“During the feel out process, I felt like [Assuncao] was panicking standing and was looking for a way out and I capitalized on it,” Koch continues, noting that both award-winning finishes were a part of his fight strategy and not random occurrences. “The crazy thing is that those two knockouts are exactly what we planned for and it worked. I believe in my coaches and I believe in my team and it works. You have to listen and then execute, and when you do it pays off and you get bonuses.”
Koch is a young, rising star in a camp full of them at Roufusport, overseen by kickboxing legend Duke Roufus. Tucked away in the continental United States’ tropical oasis known as Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Roufusport is busting at the seams with talent like Anthony Pettis, Alan Belcher, Danny Downes, Ben Rothwell, and many more being added regularly. Everyone at Roufusport has a fight scheduled, making it a true working gym where each fighter is preparing to be their best as well as helping to prepare their teammates to be their best.
“We have a killer squad here now,” asserts Koch. “We have Ben Askren up here full time. We have Joao ‘Jo Z’ Zeferino, a black belt jiu-jitsu coach from Brazil who is a stud on the ground. I get to put a bunch of different things together and tighten everything up. It's gotten to the point that I've trained so hard for so long and I've beaten myself down so much that I'm ready to get into the cage. I'm ready to get it done. I'm excited for fight day. It's the same feeling I had for Assuncao, so I hope that translates over well again.”
“New Breed” will put that wrestling and BJJ training to good use against his UFC Fight Night opponent, Jonathan Brookins. On September 17th in New Orleans, Louisiana, Koch will tangle with The Ultimate Fighter season 12 winner. Brookins is primarily known for his relentless takedowns and his slick ground game. The 26 year old Floridian has a 13-3 professional record with eight of those wins by submission. As action packed as the fight should be, don’t expect much in terms of “trash talk” from Koch, as he’s simply excited for the challenge and the competition.
“He's a real nice dude,” states Koch. “He's intelligent, he's a good wrestler, he's a hard worker and most of all he's a tough guy. He can take some punishment. He's one of those guys that will bring a tough fight and you have to bring your A game against him. I look at him that he's a prime example of that. He's going to go in there and he's going to hit it hard. But I know what he's planning on doing and that's what I'm training to prevent and then put a highlight on it. I want to give the fans what they want to see and that's a knockout.”
On paper, Brookins’ gameplan will be to take this fight to the ground, and that’s where Koch’s training with Askren and “Jo Z” come to play. “I feel like if I can do anything with Askren, if I can stuff a couple of his takedowns or if I can give him problems on the ground then I'm confident going into the fight,” explains Koch. Askren is simply one of the most highly decorated collegiate wrestlers ever, an Olympic wrestler as well as an undefeated 8-0 MMA fighter. “Working with Jo Z at jiu-jitsu is the same thing. These guys fight at a heavier weight class than me, so if I can handle my own with them then I'm very comfortable. I think I can stuff what Brookins is bringing to the table and that's exactly what I'm going to do.”
In theory, this is a classic matchup of “striker vs. grappler”, but looks can be deceiving. If one does a little digging into Koch’s past, one would see a 12-1 professional record with seven of those wins coming by submission. The plot thickens, as he previously trained at a grappler’s based gym known as Team Hard Drive in his hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Plus, Koch’s recent admission that he’s training with top notch ground talent at Roufusport, which is supposed to house just a bunch of crazy amazing kickboxers. It’s almost as if this “striker” is just as dangerous a finisher on the ground, which seems a bit unfair.
“I'm always confident striking,” says Koch. “I don't care if it is against Jose Aldo, I'm not going to go in there and not be confident about striking. But I'm confident everywhere I go and that's where my nickname, ‘New Breed’, comes from. A lot of people think I'm just a kickboxer, but that is not true. Most of my fights end by submission. Just because my last two fights that everyone has seen have been knockouts, doesn't mean I don't know what I'm doing on the ground. I love the ground. Team Hard Drive, most of those guys were ground oriented and coming from Iowa with a wrestling base and rolling with the guys we have here - honestly, I think my ground is just as good as my striking. If Brookins does get me down, I'm not going to panic because I'm comfortable on the ground. I'm confident where ever the fight goes.”
On September 17th, live on SpikeTV, “New Breed” will be looking to finish the TUF winner, Brookins, to propel himself into the top five of the UFC featherweight division. “My mentality is that wherever I go, if I do get on top I'm going to make you pay for it - I want to finish,” affirms Koch who wants to put a stamp on this victory the same way he did in his UFC debut. “September 17th, I'm predicting another first round knockout. I want to be an exciting fighter and I want to stand out. With the competition in the UFC, you have to stand out and the best way to do that is give the people what they want to see.”
And that’s a finish.