When the UFC announced that Josh Koscheck would be returning to the Octagon this past March to face Erick Silva, it seemed a little strange to MMA fans. Koscheck had just lost to Jake Ellenberger in February, and he was returning to the Octagon less than three weeks later.
That's an insanely short turnaround time for anyone, much less a veteran on a four-fight losing streak. Wouldn't it be better for Koscheck to go home and rest up, to get his bearings and put in a good training camp before getting back in the cage?
Maybe. But Koscheck had a reason for wanting to get back in the Octagon so quickly: The fight against Silva would be the final fight on his UFC contract, and he wanted out as quickly as possible.
"I was in shape. I was like, OK, I’m out," Koscheck told Bleacher Report. "This is my last fight. Let’s just go out there and see what happens."
From the moment he signed his final UFC contract a few years earlier, this was always the plan. Koscheck knew that longtime friend Scott Coker would be back in the business of promotion eventually; at the time, Coker was under an exclusive agreement with the UFC after selling Strikeforce to Zuffa in 2011. But Coker is a promoter, and those closest to him knew that he wouldn't be able to sit on the sidelines forever. He would eventually get back to promoting fights, and Koscheck knew he wanted to be there with him.
"I knew that Coker was going to get back in the game at some point, and he was going to make it right for every fighter. I knew that was my plan for quite some time: to get rid of my UFC contract," he says. "Even if I never fought again, I wanted out of my UFC contract. Even if I never stepped in the cage again, I wanted to fight out my contract and be done with them."
His words may come as a surprise to those who used to believe Koscheck was a Zuffa company man for life, like fellow original The Ultimate Fighter veteran Forrest Griffin. But the truth is that Koscheck has always been his own man, even if the public rarely saw him push back against the company that helped make him famous.
But now, freed from his affiliation with the UFC and happily ensconced in a new deal with Bellator, Koscheck is free to say whatever he chooses without fear of raising the ire of UFC President Dana White.
Koscheck and White had a contentious relationship for much of his tenure in the UFC, mostly because Koscheck isn't the kind of guy who allows himself to be pushed around. They played nice in public, but privately, Koscheck was subjected to the same angry phone calls others receive whenever they do or say something White considers out of line.
"If I were to say anything bad about Reebok, the first thing that would happen is I would get a phone call. 'You f-----g piece of s--t, what the f--k are you doing? You’re talking s--t about Reebok. We’re gonna fire you.' OK, fire me then," Koscheck said. "I don’t have to worry about those things now. I’m not employed by them. I have no affiliation with them. I can say what the hell I want and have no repercussions."
White, never a passive figure in anything, has been under fire from the mixed martial arts fan community as of late. First, there was the firing of beloved cutman Jacob "Stitch" Duran, who was coldly terminated after he discussed how the UFC's new Reebok deal would cost him money in sponsorships. And then White went on an epic Twitter tirade against his own fans, answering anyone who had the temerity to ask him about Duran or Reebok by making fun of their looks.
"How can you respect a guy that runs a company and goes on Twitter rants, who calls people all the names that he calls people? I think it’s childish," he says. "He’s supposed to be the president of a major company, a billion dollar company, and that’s how he acts? You don’t see Roger Goodell doing things like that.
"And you won’t see Scott Coker going on Twitter and telling people they look goofy or fat. Or, ‘we got that many years out of you, thanks for your money.’ Come on. It’s embarrassing. I don’t want to work for a guy like that."
And then there was the weird interview on Fox Sports 1 last Saturday following the UFC's event on Fox, where White answered a question about Duran by saying that he and Duran were never friends and that maybe Duran needed to learn the meaning of the word "friend."
White receives the most heat from fans and media, and rightly so, because he is the most visible member of Zuffa's management team. It long ago structured itself so that White would be the only one speaking for the company, with CEO Lorenzo Fertitta chiming in on rare occasions.
Koscheck believes White is even more of a front man than fans believe.
"This is just my opinion, but I think Dana is just the front boy for the Fertittas. He’s their little errand b---h. They’re losing fans every day because of the things he does," he said. "The UFC has done a great job. They built this sport. They put a lot of dollars in, and they took a lot of risk. I can respect the fact that he works his ass off. But there are other things that I can’t respect."
Koscheck is thrilled with his new home. He sounds reinvigorated, ready to return to the cable channel that made him a star back during the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. He's ready to help put together his walkout package for his first big fight on Spike TV and spends time imagining what music he'll use, what will be displayed on the big PRIDE-style video wall at the top of the entrance ramp.
To Koscheck, Bellator is all of the good parts of World Wrestling Entertainment, albeit with real fights at the end. And since he considers himself an entertainer and a fighter, well, it's a perfect fit. But he does have one goal he's reaching for above all others: a rematch with Paul Daley.
Koscheck owns a win over Daley from back in 2010, when he wrestled the great striker to take a unanimous decision. But it's what happened after the bell that still motivates Koscheck to this day: Daley, frustrated, walking over to Koscheck after the bell and then punched him. It was the final nail in the coffin of Daley's UFC career; he has not been welcomed back to the promotion.
Koscheck says he watches the video of that fight every day, and he smiles, because he knows he's in Daley's head. And since he's an entertainer and a businessman, Koscheck also smiles because he knows the rematch will bring eyeballs and line his pocket with cash.
"That’s what I’m striving for. It’s what I wake up every day and go to the gym for: to get that opportunity to put another beatdown on Paul Daley," he said.
There is a clear lift in Koscheck's voice. He has historically been a difficult and surly interview, but today he is bright and upbeat. He laughs, which comes as a surprise because Koscheck never laughs in interviews. His departure from the UFC has clearly been a good thing for him personally.
And he has a message for the other fighters still on the UFC's roster.
"At some points, hopefully they all become free agents and they negotiate with Bellator. In my opinion, I think every fighter needs to step up, fight their fights out and negotiate," he says. "Because they’re never going to know their market value until they put themselves on the market."
Jeremy Botter covers mixed martial arts for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.