UFC combatants hope inside knowledge helps

Josh Koscheck trained with Anthony Johnson for about a week two years ago.

It wasn’t that long, but Koscheck feels he saw all he needed then to devise a game plan to beat one of the rising welterweight stars in their UFC 106 bout tonight at Mandalay Bay.

“I sparred with him. I grappled with him. I know a lot about him. My roommate, Josh Thomson, trained him,” Koscheck said. “I’m not really concerned too much about this fight.”

The 31-year-old veteran of Season 1 of “The Ultimate Fighter” stopped short of disclosing what strategic edge he thinks he picked up during those sessions.

“We’ll keep that personal right now,” he said. “It’s been awhile, but he hasn’t changed as a fighter. He’s still the same fighter, I can guarantee that.”

Johnson preferred to take more of a high road while discussing his brief stint training at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif.

“To actually be there in the gym with the caliber of guys they have was an honor. They have a great team. Training with Josh was tremendous,” he said. “It was two years ago, but I still remember it. He’s improved. I’ve improved. What more can you ask for (than) two guys that want to be the best?”

Koscheck says the bout has the potential to be the one of the best fights of the year.

“This is a good fight because there’s a lot of knockout power coming from both sides, so it should be exciting for the fans,” he said.

Johnson said he would be somewhat surprised if Koscheck, a wrestler with an improving standup game, tried to stand with him.

“Yeah, I would be surprised. But Josh has been getting some good knockouts lately. When you get knockouts like he’s been getting, you want to stay that way because the fans love it and that’s how you get paid,” he said. “You get paid by knocking people out. You don’t get paid by laying on top of each other. That don’t get the bills paid.”

Koscheck used to be known as more of a “lay-and-pray” fighter, outpositioning his opponents with his superior wrestling skills and hoping to win a decision.

As Johnson alluded to, that has changed.

Koscheck’s last three fights have ended with first-round knockouts, two in victory. He said with the rash of questionable decisions in recent UFC fights, he plans to avoid going to decisions in the future.

“(Fans) have got to know that this fight isn’t going to the judge’s scorecards like the last couple of fights have been,” he said. “This fight isn’t going to the cards, I can guarantee you that.”

Still, Koscheck said he won’t simply stand in the middle of the cage and exchange punches with Johnson, who has four first-round knockouts in seven UFC appearances.

“There’s always a disadvantage of standing in front of somebody and trading punches. This is mixed martial arts. We’re wearing four-ounce gloves,” he said. “With boxing gloves on, yeah, I could stand in front of him all day long and take punches. With MMA, you can only afford to take one or two and that’s about it. For me, I have to use my head movement and be a smart fighter.”

While both welterweights are trying to work their way up to title contention, the main event features two light heavyweight champions hoping to recapture the belt down the road. Tito Ortiz returns from back surgery and free agency that kept him out of action for 18 months to face Forrest Griffin, who is coming off back-to-back losses.

“When I step in the cage, people are going to realize that Tito Ortiz is back,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything for me to prove besides winning another light heavyweight title, and that’s my goal right now.”

The card also features the UFC debut of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, a light heavyweight who will take on Luiz Cane. Nogueira is the twin brother of former interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.

Two welterweight bouts also are on the main card. Amir Sadollah will take on Phil Baroni in a battle of Las Vegas-based fighters, and Paulo Thiago meets Jacob Volkmann. At least two undercard bouts, a welterweight fight between Ben Saunders and Marcus Davis and a middleweight matchup of Kendall Grove and Jake Rosholt, will be shown live on Spike (Cable 29) at 6 p.m.

The 10-fight card begins at 4:30 p.m., with the pay-per-view broadcast airing live at 7.

FIGHT NIGHT

UFC 106

WHEN: Card begins at 4:30 p.m.

WHERE: Mandalay Bay Events Center

TV: Spike (29), 6 p.m.; pay per view, 7 p.m.

MAIN EVENT: Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin, light heavyweights

LINE: Griffin -135; Ortiz +105

Contact reporter Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5509.

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