If Keoni Koch has his way, the UFC will have its own version of the Koch Brothers.
No, not the controversial political figures. The 33-year old Koch meets unbeaten Brian Ortega for the latter's RFA featherweight title on Friday night at RFA 12 in Los Angeles. And he hopes to use the platform to join his younger brother Erik in the sport's biggest company.
"I think it would be a great story, two brothers both fighting in the featherweight division," Koch (5-0) told MMAFighting.com. "Think of some of the brother combinations who have made it to the big stage like the Millers, you usually end up finding more interesting stuff than when you've got an individual fighter stepping in."
And the fighter from Cedar Rapids, Iowa known as "Evil Genius" has a story that's nothing if not interesting. A self-taught martial artist, Koch is among the legions who discovered early UFC at a video store in his hometown and turned it into a passion.
"I was about 13 or 14, I was really inspired by Bruce Lee, and I watched all sorts of action movies," Koch said. "I walked into Blockbuster, saw this thing called the Ultimate Fighting Championship and assumed it was some sort of cheesy Jean Claude Van Damme thing, but I got it anyway. I saw Royce Gracie and I was hooked."
One thing led to another. Cedar Rapids not being a hotbed of traditional martial arts, Koch was largely self-taught, and Erik Koch, eight years Koch's junior, was among his earliest students at what turned into the Hard Drive MMA gym, a camp which has included current World Series of Fighting middleweight champ Steve Carl, UFC vet Jesse Lennox and former RFA champion Jared Downing.
But while Erik's career took off fast, Koch went in a different direction. A glance at the older brother's fight record shows long breaks between bouts: After fighting and winning three times in 2007, he competed next in 2010, then again last year.
"There was a time in my life where I really wasn't into the competition aspect of MMA," Koch said. "I had a wife and two kids and I wanted to focus on running my gym, working as a coach and staying home and raising my family. When I did fight, it was as much about doing it for my students, getting out there and actually demonstrating what we do, as it was anything else."
As Keoni Koch figured out his path, his younger brother's career took off. Erik Koch eventually hooked up with Milwaukee's Roufusport camp and got a foot in the door in the WEC when he was barely 21 years old.
"Hooking up with Duke Roufus was the best thing for Erik," Koch said. "We've got a great relationship with their camp. He got Erik into the big time at a young age and they made the most of it. That was the best move for him to make."
But the bigger brother has gained career clarity and is looking for his own shot at the big time. Now divorced, Koch, at 33, has a renewed focus on making the most of his MMA career while the window is still open.
"Things have changed in my life and now I'm fighting for different reasons than I used to," Koch. "You only have so much time to make something of yourself in this sport. I'm fighting for myself now, I'm ready to give this a real run and make the most of it."
You could excuse Koch, meanwhile, if he felt a little bit like he was a prey wandering into a lion's den: RFA, after all, is run by Black House founder Ed Soares, he's fighting a Black House fighter in Ortega, and the event is being held in their Southern California backyard.
But Koch doesn't look at it that way. "The RFA's a legit organization," Koch said. "If you win an RFA belt, that means something. So many RFA champions have gone on to the UFC. Regardless of who is running the show, once you lock the cage door, it's just two guys going at it for 25 minutes."
And if it brings him a step closer to a Koch Brothers featherweight tag team in the UFC, all the better.
"I know if I win and put that RFA belt over my shoulder, I'll be on [the UFC's] radar," Even if I have to defend the title again, that's fine. I want to get into the UFC, everyone knows this is one of the better avenues do it, and I'm grateful that I'm being given this opportunity."