UFC welterweight Josh Koscheck
UFC 167 is like the Cadillac of fight cards. Loaded from top to bottom. Almost luxuriously so. Actually, there's no "almost" about it. Moonroof. Power windows. Spare tire. You name the luxury, this card has it.
And yet, coming into Las Vegas, there are a few fighters who are on, as we like to say, the hot seat. Here are the three combatants who, in my estimation, could be fighting for their Zuffa paychecks this Saturday.
The bantamweight is 2-3 in the UFC and has dropped two straight. That's not good, but it could be even worse. If not for the ref taking those groin-shot points away from Alex Caceres, Figueroa would probably be staring down the barrel of a 1-4 record and a three-fight losing streak.
Still, he probably needs to win at UFC 167, but it will be a tall order against a talented and motivated Erik Perez.
Dana White doesn't like oddballs. That's just the way it is. And Brian Ebersole fits that mold. Never mind that he's 50-15-1-1, including 4-1 in the UFC, with plenty left in the tank at age 32. Never mind also that he's about as popular as an MMA journeyman can possibly be, with the Hairrow, the cartwheel kicks, the fun interviews and what not. Doesn't matter.
If he loses to Rick Story at UFC 167, it'll be two defeats in a row. And that plus Dana's disapproval (assuming I'm right about it) is probably enough critical mass to justify a jettison.
Win or lose Saturday night, Koscheck is getting awfully close to the crossroads.
Let's run it all down. First, Koscheck turns 36 at the end of November. He's not young. Second, he's also not cheap: He pocketed $78,000 for showing up to UFC 157, only to get knocked out in the first round by Robbie Lawler. You can't retire on that, but as far as UFC show money goes, a lot of guys do a lot worse, and that's all there is to it.
Third, Koscheck is primarily a grinder, and though he has shown finishing power over the years, his base style tends toward the unexciting, a cardinal sin in today's UFC. Fourth, he's dropped his last two bouts. Fifth, that losing streak could have been three if the judges had been in a different mood after his 2012 bout with Mike Pierce, a close affair that ended in a split decision nod for Kos.
Sixth, because of various injuries, this will only be Koscheck's sixth fight in the past three years.
And as a seventh and final flourish, there's the small matter of fact that Koscheck is pretty unpopular with fans and colleagues alike. When you're in your prime, that's the sort of quality that will get you labeled as a "marketing genius" or some nonsense. But when you're in the twilight of your career, it's the kind of thing that hastens you off the stage like an invisible shepherd's crook.
This is probably why Koscheck is on the hottest seat of all Saturday night. If he leaves it in the hands of the judges—any judges—he may find a less-favorable verdict than he did when he was a contender.