Ryan Remiorz / AP
Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011 | 9 p.m.
DENVER — Josh Koscheck is receiving a sabbatical from his token role as a UFC card’s mouthy villain for once.
The 33-year old welterweight regularly instigates his opponents with pre-fight talk, but he’s stayed relatively quiet entering his UFC 135 co-main event against Matt Hughes. That’s partly because the ongoing war of words between main event participants Jon Jones and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson has hogged all the attention.
“I’m a little antsy up here because usually my fights have all the drama,” Koscheck said Wednesday at a press conference at the Pepsi Center. “This fight doesn’t have as much drama as these two guys over here, so it’s a little different scene for me.”
Koscheck (15-5 MMA, 13-5 UFC) and Hughes (45-8 MMA, 18-6 UFC) have more pressing concerns surrounding their bout. Koscheck is returning from a 10-month injury layoff after suffering a shattered orbital bone against Georges St. Pierre in their UFC 124 title fight.
The 37-year old Hughes, a UFC Hall of Famer and the promotion’s all-time wins leader, has reached the end of his current contract. He could opt to retire after Saturday’s bout.
“After this fight, win or lose doesn’t matter, I’ll talk to the UFC and we’ll see what we’re going to do,” Hughes said. “My wife says I’m done fighting.”
Hughes’ wife hoped he’d walk away from his storied career after B.J. Penn knocked him out in the first round of their UFC 123 meeting. But Hughes, who was on a three-fight win streak before facing Penn, felt he had enough fuel left to keep going.
He still had a thirst for the one-on-one nature of fighting that nothing else could satisfy.
“Competition is what drives you to be a top athlete in the UFC,” Hughes said. “I love getting in there against one other person and mixing it up. I don’t have to rely on four other basketball teammates to score or anything. I’ve just to rely on myself.”
UFC President Dana White said he didn’t believe Hughes’ assertion that the outcome of Saturday’s fight wouldn’t play a role in his retirement decision.
“There is no way in hell he will retire if he beats Koscheck,” White said.
And, despite Koscheck’s status as an overwhelming favorite, Hughes has some advantages. Koscheck is adamant he’s 100 percent after his surgery, but he’s also coming back two months earlier than expected.
Koscheck was going to appear on November’s UFC 139 card, which will take place miles from his home gym in San Jose, Calif. The UFC 135 pairing became available after Hughes’ scheduled opponent, Diego Sanchez, broke his hand less than three weeks ago.
Koscheck was quick to accept the replacement role, but mainly because it was against Hughes. Koscheck has asked to fight Hughes for years and even accused the former champion of ducking him.
“We get to settle the score and figure out where my place is going to be and where his place is going to be,” Koscheck said.
The severity of Koscheck’s injury can’t be overstated. He won’t even sugarcoat how much it hurt.
It was the worst pain of his life. That means something for Koscheck, who has endured a neck surgery and accidentally chopped off one of his toes with a hatchet as a child.
“The pain I experienced in both of those surgeries didn’t compare to the eye injury,” he said. “I had a lot of nerve damage done in the face. Faces are very sensitive and the nerve damage you have in the face magnifies the pain you have in your body.”
But Koscheck got through it. He said he had trained to move his head more for this fight so he doesn’t take as much punishment.
Hughes is more of a wrestler anyway, just like Koscheck. They have similar styles and backgrounds, which might be another explanation for Koscheck’s zipped lips this time around.
“I’m not trying to disrespect Matt Hughes,” Koscheck said. “He’s been a good representation of the UFC and this sport.”