Josh Koscheck Ready to Prove He's Still a Top Welterweight at UFC 157

Duane FinleyContributor IFebruary 13, 2013

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty ImagesTasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Hard work and determination made Josh Koscheck one of the elite 170-pound fighters on the planet, and he has every intention of reclaiming that status Saturday, Feb. 23 at UFC 157.

When "Kos" steps back into the Octagon to face Robbie Lawler in Anaheim, Calif., it will be the beginning of a new chapter for the former NCAA Division I national champion wrestler—one he is very much looking forward to getting under way.

After a hectic 2012 that saw the former No. 1 contender drop a razor-thin decision to Johny Hendricks and suffer a back injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the year, the 35-year-old is ready to return to his winning ways. In the process of doing so, Koscheck also intends to send a reminder to the MMA world that he's still a force to be reckoned with in the welterweight division.

"I have to come out and prove I'm still here and I'm still a fighter," Koscheck told Bleacher Report. "I definitely have to come out and make a statement against Robbie Lawler, that's for sure. That's what I plan on doing. It's been awhile since I've had a fight where I can look back and say I had a real fight and that I came out and performed at my best. I need to step up and do that."

"It seems like I've always done well under the pressure of coming off a loss and after my last fight with Hendricks, I have a lot to prove. I feel like, and a lot of people still feel like Hendricks didn't beat me, but there were three judges who felt he did. That's just the way it works. I have a lot to prove and I have to come out and perform."

Another big factor in the changes Koscheck made in 2012 was his relocation from his longtime home at AKA in San Jose to starting up his new gym, the Dethrone Base Camp in Fresno.

The process of transferring training facilities came with an adjustment period, but now, the Season 1 TUF alum believes he has everything in place to make the next great run of his career.

"I feel good and I've put together a nice little training camp," Koscheck said. "I actually had some time to focus on getting some good guys in to train with me. Before my last fight we kind of just put together something really quick and did some training. But for this fight I've had plenty of time to get training partners, coaches, get a schedule going and to put good people around me to better myself. I have a good structure and atmosphere to do all my training. It's been good."

While Koscheck is looking to get back to handling business inside the Octagon, Lawler is making a return of his own. It has been more than eight years since the veteran slugger competed on the sport's biggest stage, and while Lawler was once one of the UFC's top welterweight fighters, his career outside the Octagon has experienced varying degrees of success.

Coming into the bout with Koscheck, the former Elite XC champion has hit a rough patch, dropping three of his last four outings. That being said, Koscheck realizes his opponent has a lot on the line and a proven track record of put-away power.

"I think it's a good fight for him," Koscheck said. "[Lawler] gets to come in and fight against a guy who has been in the UFC his entire career. He has something to prove and is trying to get his career back on track. He comes in with a lot of power and a lot of knockouts.

"I can tell you this: Hopefully Robbie Lawler worked on his cardio and he's ready to go because I'm going to push the pace and be in his face for 15 minutes if I have to. My plan is to break him, and I'm coming ready for 15 minutes."

After nearly a decade in the sport and 21 fights inside the Octagon, Koscheck has learned how to take the rigors of being a dedicated mixed martial artist in stride. Where other fighters have fallen victim to the trappings of success or become overwhelmed by physical demand of the fight business, Koscheck has remained above the fray.

The Pennsylvania native attributes his ability to stay on the grind to his blue-collar roots and recognizing the need to separate fighting and life outside the cage.

"I'm sure it is for some guys," Koscheck responded when asked about the difficulties balancing life and career in the fight business. "It's definitely hard because you put so much into this game, or at least I do...I know that. I put so much into it and it can take over your life. It can over things in your life outside fighting.

"I've been doing it for a long enough time where I can step away from it for a couple of weeks to do some vacationing. It is still on my mind and I'm still thinking about it, but I can separate it enough where I can relax and have a life outside of the cage."

"I love to fly and have a couple of hobbies like that. Getting up there and flying is definitely a big part of getting away and it is one of the things that's important for a guy who trains as hard as I do to have something like that. My days off are training sessions for my mind. I'm trying let my body and mind recover and step away from the every day monotony of training. Flying is definitely one of those things."

Coming into UFC 157, Koscheck finds himself at an interesting point in his career. The former No. 1 contender to the welterweight crown has plenty of success behind him and the potential for great things on the horizon, but with the 170-pound weight class becoming increasingly competitive, now is the time for the four-time All-American to re-introduce himself to the heated divisional picture.

That being said, whatever steps Koscheck takes in the future will be approached with the same mentality he's always carried.

Koscheck believes hard work will get the job done and isn't concerned with how much you like or dislike him. It is all fine by Koscheck because love him or hate him, the only thing that changes for the perennial contender is the opponent standing across the cage.

Ultimately, it falls on his shoulders to accomplish the task at hand. Whether people get behind him or rally for the opposition simply doesn't matter.

"I've always been the type where either you like me or you don't," Koscheck said. "That is the attitude I've always had and I'm not going to change just because people don't like me or change if they do. I am who I am and I've done what I've done in the sport because of the person I am and the work ethic I've put into it. I'm not going to change for anybody. I'm going to continue being me and you either like it or you don't. That's how it is; plain and simple."

Duane Finley is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.