“Phoenix” Erik Koch says ring rust wasn’t a concern into successful UFC Fight Night 88 return

By Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief

Erik Koch returned on Sunday at UFC Fight Night 88 from more than a two-year layoff, and he put together a complete performance against Shane Campbell en route to a second round rear naked choke win. It was an excellent performance, with Koch showing little signs that he’d been out of action that long.

That wasn’t a surprise to the 27-year-old, who said afterward that he had zero concern about how he would look and feel in the cage.

“I’ve been fighting since I was 16 years old,” Koch said after the event (via MMAJunkie.com). “I’ve been doing combat sports since I was 4. I’m not gonna have ring rust. Either it’s two, three, four years off. This is my life. This is what I’ve always done. Ring rust was never an issue for me. It was just getting here.

“There was no doubt in my mind. A lot of people thought I was gonna have ring rust, because I was two years off and I was an underdog. Nah. I changed my nickname to ‘The Phoenix.’ I’m still Erik, but I’m a completely different person.”

While Koch was confident in what he could do once he got back in action, he expressed his relief in simply getting back to fight activities.

“I don’t think it’s so much physically, it’s mentally,” Koch said. “I put everything together. My mindset, it can’t be broken. I’ve changed my diet. When I used to fight at 145 lbs., I glorified getting really heavy in between fights. But it’s a lifestyle. Now I’m not dieting when I get a fight. I’m always ready to go. And you can see it in my body. Physically, I’m a lot stronger.

“It was a dream come true, even when I got to the office to sign posters. Usually people hate signing posters, while I’m like, ‘Yes, give me as many posters as you can, I’ll sign all of them!’ It’s been such a rough road. There’s been a lot of downs. But that’s why I love this game, because the ups are up. I’m on Cloud Nine right now.”

Penick’s Analysis: Koch was such a promising prospect until a few rough performances and injuries completely derailed him. He’s had a hard time staying healthy, but if he’s able to gain some momentum off this return, keep himself healthy, and continue winning fights he could still have plenty of years ahead of him. He may yet have it in him to be a contender, though that’s something that won’t come together immediately.

[Photo (c) Joshua Dahl via USA Today Sports]

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