With a face that even some who’s illiterate could read, it’s not hard to tell that Erik Koch enjoys his job. What does he do you may ask? Well, in addition to watching the Food Channel non-stop, Tweeting about the Food Channel, and wanting to eat the food he sees while he’s watching the Food Channel, the guy is a UFC fighter. And a pretty damn good one to boot.
Currently Koch is a top contender in the featherweight division (145 lbs), and in between all the food watching, has compiled a solid 13-1 mark, including a KO of the Night in his UFC debut. I sat down with Erik recently to discuss training, his roots, the journey he’s on, and where he’s going.
MZ: When you fought Raphael Assuncao, you got thrust into the spotlight pretty quick. You were supposed to fight Cub Swanson, Raphael was also supposed to fight someone else, and you ended up facing him. What have you taken away from that fight?
EK: I couldn’t ask for a better performance to open my UFC career. After I found out I wasn’t fighting Swanson, I had a cheat day on my diet, so I had to start cutting again, but it wasn’t that bad. But for wanting to fight in the UFC for years and years, for that to have happen the way it did, I couldn’t ask for anything better for the circumstances happen that way, and to finish the way it did, it was a perfect scenario for me.
MZ: You’ve come from pretty humble backgrounds. Starting training in small rooms, to getting a little bigger, to Hard Drive in Cedar Rapids, now you train at RoufuSport in Milwaukee. Do you ever take a step back and say “Wow, look at where I’m at right now?”
EK: I do it all the time actually, it’s pretty amazing. (Knowing where you come from) is something you have to do to keep yourself in check. In this sport, you’re only as good as your last fight. Going from an 8×8 mat, to the where the point I’m at now where this is everything, it’s all built up to this. It’s kind of like destiny. It’s crazy. That’s why I come back to Cedar Rapids all the time. Not only to see family, but this is where my roots are. It all started from me seeing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and my Mom putting me in Tae Kwon Do at age 4. I did that until about 10 years old. Then it was just Keoni (his older brother) and me beating the crap out of each other to have fun. We did that for years until we joined in with Hard Drive. I always remind yourself “this is where Erik Koch” today comes from—Cedar Rapids.
The move to RoufuSport was just kind of one of those journey things. It’s not even so much that “oh, Duke’s is a way better camp” and that’s where I had to be. I had to move to better myself. I was a young kid, I was making a lot of stupid mistakes. It was that thing in life where I had to mature and find myself as a person, not a fighter. That sounds cheesy, but that’s how it was. Sometimes you have to take that plunge.
MMZ: I think from all the fights that I’ve seen you in, your best attribute is taking the fight wherever you want it to go. It seems as though you’re comfortable anywhere in the Octagon. Do you attribute that to game planning, or attributing that to being the “New Breed” fighter that starting to pop up in MMA, where you’re well-rounded in every facet?
EK: I think it’s been a little bit of both. When Keoni and I started training, it wasn’t like “”I want to be good at one thing. I look at MMA as its own individual sport. You have some aspects of boxing, muay thai, jiu-jitsu and I’ve always felt that way even when MMA was still considered, and still is, considered “style vs. style”. I’ve always thought that whoever was a true MMA fighter had the better chance to win. And now you’re seeing it more often with guys like Bones Jones, those guys are scary because they win fight anywhere. That’s always been my approach.
MMZ: That wouldn’t have anything to do with your fight nickname would it?
EK: (laughs audibly) Yeah. That’s exactly where it came from. It was after my first fight I remember it as clear as day. I fought a Miletich protégé. I get in the cage, look across from me, and I see Pat Miletich, Jens Pulver, Spencer Fisher, and Robbie Lawler. Pretty intense. I was like, “okay, wow I’m fighting this guy I guess.” I controlled the fight everywhere, broke his ribs, submitted him in the third round. After that, it was then Keoni turned to me and said “you know you’re the new breed of fighter”. It’s pretty much stuck with me. But, the nickname’s really just a product of being the best complete fighter you can be, not just one aspect.
MMZ: You’re obviously going into the biggest fight of your life at UFC 143 against Dustin Poirier. What’s a typical day like for you when you get to camp?
EK: You know, camp for me has never wavered too much. I do it a little smarter, because over the years I’ve learned how to do it right. I wake up around 9am, go to practice 10am-noon, I take an hour break, usually I’ll go hit a three mile run, take another break in, then come into a hard practice from 7pm-8pm, take a quick break, then hit strength and conditioning. It’s definitely a full time job. It sucks when you’re cutting weight, but it is what it is. I don’t know if it’s just the Iowa blue-collar work ethic I have. I know a lot of it’s from the old 2 ½ hour workouts where we used to beat each other into the ground at Hard Drive, but the mentality has carried with me in every camp, in every fight.
MMZ: You’ve heard the old adage “every fighter has a puncher’s chance”. Losing is something that you have to learn from in any sport. Every title holder in the UFC has experienced loss at some point. Tell me what you learned from your loss to Chad Mendes?
EK: Honestly, everyone you bump into is that first loss is for the good, as crazy as it may sound to some. You don’t know what type of fighter you are until you lose. To be the best, at one point you’ve had to be at the lowest of the low. That’s what happened with Chad. When you hurt a guy, and damage a guy, and he lays on you for a couple minutes and wins a round, it’s frustrating. I’d go back to the drawing board and reevaluate the whole situation. I remember Keoni said after that “is this what you want do do?” I said “Yeah, what do you mean?” It was his way of saying, you’ve lost, you’re still here, let’s move on. All that did was light a huge fire under my butt. I’ve been working harder, I got more aggressive, and don’t want to leave it in the judges hands.
I can honestly watch that fight and see what I did wrong, and I can honestly say that I’m not even the same fighter. Not even close. And that was less than 2 years ago. That’s definitely a fight I want back is with Chad.
MMZ: You’ll take a title shot first though right?
EK: (belly laughs) Don’t get me wrong. Of course, but who knows, he might have the belt at the time. The perfect scenario is that Chad beats Jose Aldo and I fight him for the title. That’d be the best.
MMZ: It seems like your opponent coming up Dustin Poirier, are similar in a lot of aspects?
EK: It’s funny actually, not only do we have the similar fighting tendencies, I also heard he likes to watch the Food Network when he’s cutting weight. People say we look the same even, in which I can see that. But all jokes aside, we’re both young, we’re both hungry, it’s a fight both of us want. We asked for each other, so we might as well get it on. I think we both know it’ll be a good fight. It’ll be a good one for the fans. I’m really excited.
MMZ: So what do you do to unwind before a fight? Any superstitions you have?
EK: My biggest thing is I keep something Randy Couture said in that “people put too much pressure on winning and losing. The don’t see the fun in it. If you’re not having fun doing this, then you’ve got the wrong job.” I know that win or lose, I’m still going to have my family, my friends, people that are close to me, everyone will be there. Other than that, Keoni and I always watch funny movies. We’ll stay up at night, he’ll eat the food, until I can after the weigh-ins. Honestly, I’m so sick of cutting weight leading up to the weigh-in that I don’t even worry about it until after I step off the scale. Then I’m thinking “I want that sandwich, I want this cupcake,” he laughs. I guess that’s what I get for watching the Food Channel all the time.
MMZ: In what area of MMA do you feel your best progression as a fighter has been?
EK: I’d say striking. A lot of that has to with being in the RoufuSport camp. He’s like another dad to me. He always makes time. We’ll hit pads, and then go watch film for another hour. But striking is such a chaotic art. In striking anything can happen even if you’re textbook. Bones (Jon Jones) said, “my opponent’s job is to hit me. My job is to make that as hard as possible for them.” I liken it to that.
MMZ: Anything else you want to say?
EK: Just shoutouts to Hard Drive MMA, the beginning of where I started, and I’ll keep coming back until my career is over. I love these guys, they’re family. RoufuSport, where I train now, all my teammates there. And of course, my Dad, I wouldn’t where I am today without him, that’s for sure.
Catch Eric “New Breed” Koch at UFC 143 on February 4th versus Dustin Poirier.
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