As somebody who used to be on the Erik Koch bandwagon, it pains me to say this… but I think he’s overrated. I loved the idea of Erik Koch as a prospect. At one point he was 13-1 with only a loss to Chad Mendes, which was obviously nothing to be ashamed of. He was a skilled striker with knockout power, but also a skilled technician on the ground who has won seven fights by submission.
As Koch’s UFC career has progressed it’s become clear that his overall skills are merely “good,” not “great.” For one thing, Koch isn’t much of a volume striker. He’s never landed more than 40 significant strikes in a fight and has landed 2.41 significant strikes per minute overall. That would be fine if Koch was great at defending strikes, but he’s not. Koch has absorbed 2.14 significant strikes per minute (so his margin is just +0.27 per minute) and his overall strike defense is just 44 percent.
The overall picture of Koch now is a fighter who is an above-average striker with good power but a questionable chin (he’s been knocked down twice). Koch has very good submission skills but he isn’t much of a wrestler as he’s landed two total takedowns. Koch’s takedown defense is above average at 79 percent, but that number is skewed by Jonathan Brookins’ awful 1-for-20 performance.
In other words, Koch is a quality fighter but he lacks the exceptional talent in any one area to make him a genuine title contender, especially in the very deep lightweight division. Now, it’s possible that fighting at 155 pounds instead of 145 will help Koch. He certainly looked good in his lightweight debut against Rafaello Oliveira, but Oliveira represents more of a tune-up fight than a stiff test. Koch will get a stiffer test this time around as he’s set to face the hilariously nicknamed “Detroit Superstar,” Daron Cruickshank.
Like Koch, Cruickshank is a good but not great striker. He has an overall significant strike margin of +0.29 per minute with three knockdowns landed and none received (this doesn’t include Cruickshank’s KO loss to James Vick on The Ultimate Fighter). Cruickshank has easily gotten the better of inferior strikers like Mike Rio but got hit way too easily by John Makdessi.
When I look at this matchup, I can’t help but think it will probably be a very competitive striking match, with Koch having a significant edge if it happens to go to the ground. I see Koch as the favorite to win this one, but only a slight favorite… and then I look at the betting lines and I see Koch at -350.
Why? In what way is Koch so much better than Cruickshank that he should be a steep favorite to win? Yes, the ground game is a strength for Koch and a weakness for Cruickshank, but Koch rarely goes for takedowns. He’s much more likely to keep the fight standing, and from what I see, that type of fight is much closer to 50-50 than a definitive advantage for Koch.
I do think Koch is the better overall fighter, so he’s the fighter I’m picking to win. But this is a closer fight than the betting lines indicate, and my degenerate gambling action is definitely going on Cruickshank as the large underdog.
Pick: Erik Koch by decision