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WEC Featherweight Erik Koch: 'I'm a Title Contender Right Now'

Perhaps you have not yet heard of Erik Koch of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Here's a quick bio blast: the WEC featherweight is 21, undefeated, and confident.

For more, allow him to introduce himself.

"I think I'm a title contender right now to be honest with you," said Koch, who is 9-0 in his pro career. "I think I'm that good right now. Give me a couple more fights and it'll make me even better. If they offered me a title shot right now, I'd take it. Whoever they give me, I'll fight whoever."

Because of his age, one could easily chalk up his confidence to simple, youthful exuberance. But truth be told, Koch doesn't say these words with any sort of swagger or bravado. Instead, they come out matter-of-factly, like he knows a truth that nobody else can yet see.

Nicknamed "New Breed," Koch is part of the next wave of mixed martial artists that has been expected for the last few years. He didn't learn MMA piecemeal, starting with jiu-jitsu or wrestling or building off a specific base. He started learning MMA right from the beginning.

The result is a dynamic, complete fighter who is proficient in the all-around game. At Saturday's WEC 47, Koch will face highly touted WEC newcomer Chad Mendes, a member of Urijah Faber's Team Alpha Male stable.

Despite Koch's longer history in MMA, many are earmarking Mendes as a favorite in the bout, a fact which barely rankles the young Iowan.

"I don't really care," Koch said. "My dad does, he's a fan and he's online reading stuff all the time. But it's not a big deal to me. If I could benefit off the other person's hype, I'll use it to my advantage. I'm not focused on the pre-fight talk, I just focus on what I do, which is eat, sleep, train, fight."

Not much appears to rankle Koch, who counts among his biggest influences his brother Keoni, who has also fought professionally -- he's 3-0 in his career -- but has spent most of the last two years helping Erik achieve his goals.

It was due to his brother that Koch found the sport to begin with. Keoni, eight years the elder, had long been a big fan of the UFC, and Erik couldn't help but be interested in what his brother was watching. And when Keoni started training in the sport with friends, Erik couldn't help but tag along. At only 12 years old, he was training with males that could legally be considered adults.

"Oh yeah, I was definitely the younger brother that got beat up," he said with a laugh. "But I have to thank him because he made me who I am today. No one can push you like your brother. We're blood, so when he looks at my career, he looks at it like he's in there with me. It's just as important to him as it is to me."

Because he's always trained with older fighters, Koch has long ago dealt with any feelings of nervousness or anxiety. He says he rarely gets nervous before fights, and he won't turn down an opponent.

For evidence, consider that for his WEC debut, Koch accepted a bout with Wagnney Fabiano. At the time, Koch had just turned 21 years old and was making his major organization debut while Fabiano was ranked among the top three featherweights in the world.

"The way I look at it, if you're in a major promotion, you can't turn down a fight," he said. "I'm not afraid of anybody. I have no fear. A win against a top name is more important than a win over a no-name. There was no hesitation, because although it was a tough fight, it would have been worth the payoff."

While that fight never materialized, Koch instead met veteran Jameel Massouh last December. In his typical style, Koch was more than loose for the fight.

"I had in my corner Keoni, Duke Roufus and [UFC heavyweight] Pat Barry," he said. "Pat had me cracking up in my corner. He was saying ridiulous stuff in between rounds. I had a good corner and I was having a lot of fun out there."

Koch won by unanimous decision. While Mendes is actually less experienced than Koch's last opponent Massouh, he comes with a decorated background as a two-time collegiate wrestling All-American while at Cal Poly.

That wrestling, though, could lead to difficult situations for Mendes. Six of Koch's nine wins are by submission, including a first-round triangle over WEC and PRIDE veteran Joe Pearson.

"He's a good enough wrestler that I'm sure he's confident in it, but I think it's a place for him to worry," Koch said. "I'm no slouch off my back, and he'll have to deal with my flexibility. I think he'll want to take it down after standing on our feet a couple minutes."

Asked for his prediction, he thinks a moment.

"I'm going to say TKO stoppage in the second round," he said.

No, he's not short on confidence, and with an undefeated record, you can't blame him. The only thing you can do is watch and see if the "New Breed" in MMA is all it's cracked up to be. This is the generation of fighters that is supposed to bring the next wave of evolution to the sport, and Erik Koch is one of the kids leading the way.

From little brother to bigtime prospect, he hopes it's only a matter of time before he can add a title to his resume. Asked his thoughts on current 145-pound kingpin, the wondrous Jose Aldo, Koch responds amiably, his answer highlighting both an appreciation of a fellow athlete and a confidence in reaching his own aspirations.

"He's a beast," he said. "I'll definitely give my props to him because he's very good. But I'm not afraid to fight anybody. I'm only 21 years old. If I'm going to be a champion, I might as well do it while I'm young."

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