A two-time NCAA champion wrestler, Johny Hendricks took a big step toward realizing his potential in MMA by recently knocking out long-time welterweight contender Jon Fitch. Now considered one of the top contenders in the 170-pound division, Hendricks will face fellow NCAA champ Josh Koscheck in a fight that could propel him to a title shot.
Although Koscheck is coming off of a controversial decision win over Mike Pierce, he will still provide a very tough test for Hendricks, who also recently fought to a narrow victory against Pierce as many have quickly forgotten.
With these heavy-hitting wrestlers set to square off on network television at UFC on FOX 3, a championship bout could be on the line. Let's take a look at which fighter has a better chance at winning this fight and taking a big step toward tasting UFC gold for the first time.
Though Hendricks and Koscheck began their MMA careers as one-dimensional wrestlers, both fighters have quickly transformed into powerful strikers capable of holding their own on their feet against just about any welterweight in the world.
In his last fight, Hendricks recorded the seventh knockout win of his career and became the first fighter in nearly a decade to finish Fitch. In addition to his heavy left hand that he used to level Fitch, Hendricks has shown some solid clinch striking, as he has the wrestling skills to defend takedowns while unloading on opponents.
Koscheck also possesses knockout power, but he has become somewhat predictable and depends too much on his overhand right. As long as Hendricks is prepared to defend Koscheck's go-to punch, he shouldn't have to worry about being knocked out for the first time in his career.
While Koscheck has had more time to perfect his striking, Hendricks appears to have made greater strides in just 13 professional fights. Still, a knockout victory in this fight would almost be equally as impressive as Hendricks' finish of Fitch, as Koscheck has only been knocked out once in his MMA career.
When two high-level wrestlers like Hendricks and Koscheck meet, the fight often turns into a strategic stand-up bout. Considering both of these wrestlers like to throw leather, this matchup could very likely play out just like that.
That's not to say either fighter won't be looking to score a takedown or two, but both of these fighters have strong takedown defense and confidence in their striking.
Hendricks is a slightly more decorated amateur wrestler than Koscheck, but both fighters were four-time All-Americans and Koscheck has had more time to adapt his wrestling for MMA.
Regardless of who the slightly better MMA wrestler is, Hendricks and Koscheck will likely cancel the other's greatest asset out and remain standing.
Even before they began practicing jiu-jitsu, Hendricks and Koscheck would have been considered two of the best welterweight grapplers in MMA on their wrestling credentials alone.
Though both fighters are still a long way from the top of the heap when it comes to jiu-jitsu, Hendricks and Koscheck are equally capable of controlling an opponent when they are on top.
Since neither fighter is accustomed to fighting off of their back, a takedown could be huge on the scorecards in this fight, as the fighter on top would have an excellent chance to remain on top for the rest of the round.
Having spent more time in MMA and having trained with Dave Camarillo, Koscheck's submission game is a little further along than Hendricks' from what we have seen inside the Octagon.
Hendricks does have one submission win on his record and has never been submitted, but he has rarely relied on his ground game in the UFC.
That said, Koscheck only has one submission win in the past five years, so it would come as a surprise if he forces Hendricks to tap.
While Hendricks is coming off of a big fight against Fitch, he still doesn't have the same type of big fight experience that Koscheck does.
Koscheck competed against Georges St-Pierre on the champion's home turf and has practically been fighting in the UFC since his MMA career began.
While it might not be a big factor in this fight, since Hendricks has now fought inside the Octagon on eight occasions, Koscheck is still the more seasoned veteran in this matchup.
Both four-time All-Americans and national champion wrestlers are clearly among the elite athletic specimens in MMA.
Expect both fighters to push a grueling pace without fading in a fight that will likely last a full three rounds.
Despite their wrestling backgrounds, Hendricks and Koscheck will both be looking to stand early on in this fight. However, Koscheck will eventually look to take Hendricks to the ground once he realizes he is matched up against an equally powerful and dynamic striker.
However, Hendricks will display excellent takedown defense to keep the fight standing, where he will clinch and make Koscheck pay for attempting takedowns by landing knees to the body. It won't end in spectacular fashion like Hendricks' win over Fitch, but the bearded contender will walk away with his fourth straight win at UFC on FOX 3.
In the end, this fight will look a lot like Koscheck's most recent fight against Pierce. However, Hendricks will be slightly more effective at landing strikes and defending takedowns than Pierce was, giving him the edge over Koscheck on the scorecards.
Hendricks defeats Koscheck by unanimous decision.