At one point in this blog’s history, there were three featherweights I had identified as being “elite” in their division: Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes… and Erik Koch. At one time, Koch was 13-1 with only a loss to Mendes. His record was strong enough that the UFC was willing to give him a title shot against Aldo, but a series of injuries ended up forcing Koch out of that top contender spot. Subsequent losses to Ricardo Lamas and Dustin Poirier have knocked Koch out of title contention entirely.
Now Koch has decided to move up a weight class, from featherweight to lightweight. It’s a move I applaud as I generally believe MMA fighters should be cutting less weight, not more. If Koch’s manager Mike Roberts is correct when he says Koch is a lean 170 pounds, then he has no business fighting at 145.
It seems as if Koch should be a very good striker, as he trains under Duke Roufus and that’s his preferred fighting style. However, Koch’s numbers indicate that his overall striking is merely average. He’s landed 164 significant strikes and absorbed 161; he’s landed two knockdowns and absorbed two. In his last fight, Koch was badly hurt multiple times by Poirier. Poirier is no joke but it seems that Koch’s striking should be at a higher level than he’s shown.
Not once has Koch landed more than 40 significant strikes in a fight. In his knockout win over Raphael Assuncao, Koch was out-pointed 9-4 in strikes before the finish. In his last two fights Koch has been out-pointed 86-46 in significant strikes. I’d love to say that Koch is a better striker than the numbers indicate but I don’t see any real evidence of that. Another fairly troubling statistic: Koch only defends significant strikes at a 44% rate.
With all of that said, Koch matches up extremely well against his upcoming opponent Rafaello Oliveira. Koch’s overall striking numbers may be mediocre but they’re far better than Oliveira’s. Oliveira has landed 2.22 significant strikes per minute while absorbing 3.21 for a deficit of 0.99 per minute. He’s absorbed more strikes than he’s landed in five out of seven UFC fights. He’s also been knocked down three times and has yet to land a knockdown himself.
I would say that Oliveira needs to land takedowns to win this fight… but that’s probably true of any lightweight opponent Oliveira could face, with the possible exception of Joe Lauzon. That brings us to another problem for Oliveira, which is that Koch is not an easy opponent to take down. Overall Koch has defended takedowns at a 79% rate while Oliveira has only landed 37% of his attempts. It’s possible that Koch’s takedown defense will be compromised against bigger opponents at lightweight, but it’s hard to see Oliveira taking him down routinely.
And if Oliveira is able to complete takedowns, what then? Koch is up 8-2 on his opponents in submission attempts despite landing only two takedowns. He has a very dangerous guard game and attempted five submissions against Poirier in particular, one of which was very close to finishing the fight. Meanwhile Oliveira has had ten submissions attempted against him in his seven UFC fights.
It’s quite possible that even if Oliveira succeeds in establishing top position, Koch will have the advantage from the guard. If that’s the case, then there’s no position that favors Oliveira – and therefore no obvious path to victory. I could see Oliveira grinding out a decision if he lands takedowns and stays disciplined on the ground, but Koch really deserves to be a very strong favorite to win here.
Pick: Erik Koch by decision
DEGENERATE GAMBLER’S CORNER
There are no odds out for this fight yet but I am interested in putting a bet down on Koch if I can get the right price. If Koch is -250 or better then I’ll definitely make a play, and even if Koch is in the -250 to -300 range I’ll be tempted. If Koch is more expensive than -300 then I’ll probably have to pass.