Many words have been written about Josh Koscheck since Saturday's loss to Erick Silva. Many more will be written in the coming days.
There is something about nostalgia that tugs at the heartstrings. Koscheck spent the better part of a decade being booed by UFC fans. From the moment he appeared on The Ultimate Fighter, Koscheck was The Bad Guy. There was something about him that rubbed us the wrong way, even if we couldn't figure out why, and even if we had no way of knowing if the Koscheck we saw on our television was the real thing.
But the thing about reality television is that it is not real at all.
Last year, I participated in the filming of a popular reality show here in Las Vegas. I was a massive fan of the show, and so I was ecstatic for the opportunity. But I was naive. There was almost no "reality" in the show, at all. It was scripted, with multiple takes and extras. The set wasn't even real. After a day of filming, I went home disappointed.
And that experience makes me think about The Ultimate Fighter, and about Koscheck, and about how he was painted with villainous strokes by the producers of the show. Every TV show needs drama. Every TV show needs a bad guy and a good guy and a storyline that viewers can get invested in.
And I think about how that first season of The Ultimate Fighter set the tone for Koscheck's career going forward. He was always the heel, always the bad guy.
It had to be discouraging. It probably isn't a whole lot of fun being hated by people who don't personally know you. But he embraced the role. He is a smart man, and he realized early on that he could probably make a boatload of money by pissing off the fans. They weren't going to cheer him anyway, so he would egg them on.
He acknowledged as much to Sherdog.com prior to challenging Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight championship at UFC 124.
“I'm a bad guy. What can I say? Apparently that's what everyone believes, so I might as well go with it,” he said. “I’m here to win fights and make money. This is a business, and I’m doing my job by hyping the fight. If I’ve got to piss off 23,000 people, I’m going to do it. I enjoy what I do.”
And so he never really stopped being the bad guy, at least publicly. His appearances at UFC events were always accompanied by a chorus of boos. He was cantankerous with the media, though that was hardly a trait he held the exclusive on.
And he was booed Saturday night as he walked to the Octagon, but it felt different. It was like a pro wrestling event where the fans boo the heel because it's what they're supposed to do.
In reality, we couldn't help but want the best for Koscheck, who was on the brink of five straight losses and heading into the final fight of his UFC contract. The fans booed, but they didn't mean it, if that makes sense. Koscheck is one of two men from that first season of The Ultimate Fighter who are still competing. The other is Diego Sanchez.
The rest of the cast members have mostly slipped into retirement. Koscheck and Sanchez are the last men standing. Time is a brutal thing. But there was Koscheck, making good on his promise to bring a fight to Silva. He swung wildly. He kept coming forward. He was older and slower, and he has clearly never quite recovered from the broken right orbital bone he suffered against St-Pierre.
But he stayed true to his word. He fought, and then he was submitted. It is perhaps an overused cliche, but he went out on his shield.
Afterward, the boos were gone. There was only sympathy. He wasn't given a chance for a post-fight interview, which seems like a shame. At the post-fight press conference, he was noncommittal about his future. White said he'd like for Koscheck to retire but that he has the same soft spot for those Season 1 veterans as the rest of us. It is hard to push them out the door, because pushing them out the door means putting an end to a special era of mixed martial arts.
It is hard to imagine Koscheck sticking around the UFC. Few fighters are afforded the opportunity to get to five consecutive losses, much less receive a new contract after doing so.
Koscheck might retire and run his gyms and fly his planes and drive his cars. Or—and this is a very real possibility—he could go to Bellator, where star power is valued much more than things like wins and losses and age.
But whatever Koscheck does, he'll do it with a sort of respect from mixed martial arts fans that did not exist until he began feeling the ravages of time. We love our heroes. We love booing our villains.
But there usually comes a time when we find it difficult to cheer against those who have been the target of our ire for the better part of their careers. It is a mixture of sympathy and respect, and Koscheck has earned it, no matter what comes next.