As a cast member on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, Josh Koscheck will always be a part of the genesis of mixed martial arts. Ten years later, he believes now is the time for the sport to evolve.
It seems like most of the headlines related to MMA lately have to do with a performance-enhancing drug problem, the perception of unfair fighter pay, a weight-cutting issue, or the fear of brain injury. Koscheck doesn't read MMA news websites -- but he lives this life every day. And he believes this is a pivotal moment in MMA.
"I think this sport in general, it needs to evolve just like any sport," Koscheck told MMAFighting.com in a recent interview. "It's either going to be sink or swim at this point. I think that people will always want to see fights. People get it. They love to see fights.
"Hopefully they can do the right thing and get this sport to go to the next level with everything, from drug testing to taking better care of the fighters as far as better pay and after they're done, retirements. Just everything in general."
Koscheck (17-8) has always had the reputation of being kind of a knucklehead, but he's also one of the most candid fighters in the UFC. The former NCAA Division I wrestling champion isn't dumb, either. One of his goals has been to set himself up for life after his MMA career is over and he has succeeded thus far, opening up gyms and kickstarting other businesses. Koscheck also made an appearance as an analyst on FOX Sports 1 last year and hopes they bring him back.
Not all of his peers think the same way as "Kos," which is one of the reasons he is a proponent of a fighters union.
"I think so," he said. "Why not? It gives it a fair playing field. I think it could be beneficial for all the fighters and all the parties involved. Every professional sport out there -- hockey, NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA -- they all have it. The UFC is compared to those organizations quite often, so I think potentially mixed martial arts should have a union, absolutely."
More than anything, Koscheck understands the worth of a fighter. Without fighters, there is no UFC. It's that simple, in his mind. Koscheck said he doesn't know much about the antitrust lawsuit recently filed against the UFC, but he has his own views.
"If the NFL doesn't have any football players, there's no NFL," Koscheck said. "If the NBA doesn't have basketball players, there is no NBA. The commodity and value is in the fighters and in the players. So I think that there should be certain guidelines, absolutely. I think it's better when it comes time to negotiate. We'll see. The sport is still early."
He's right about that. Koscheck, 37, was on the first TUF and he's still competing. The former welterweight No. 1 contender meets Jake Ellenberger at UFC 184 on Feb. 28 in Los Angeles.
Of course, he wants to win, but he's also thinking about the future. And the possibility of a head injury has certainly dawned on him. Koscheck was one of the best successful 170-pounders in the world for years, but he's lost three in a row, the last two by knockout.
"You see it a lot in the military with brain injuries and I'm sure that you're gonna start seeing them in the UFC as well," Koscheck said. "Some of these guys out there are taking some big lumps and I've taken a couple. It's just part of the sport and it's part of every day life of being a fighter."
The UFC, along with a number of other combat sports promotions including Bellator, is helping to fund research being done by the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and the Cleveland Clinic. Koscheck thinks more work still needs to be done in that regard.
"I think at some point they're going to be forced to have to do something," Koscheck said of the UFC. "Just because of the fact that it does occur and if it continues to occur and people have issues, they're gonna have to step up and they will. I think they do a good job when it comes to adapting to situations they're presented. I think they'll do the right thing when it comes to that time."
The UFC is attempting to do the right thing with regards to PED use, having announced recently that it will put into effect a new system of year-round, random out-of-competition drug testing for all of its nearly 600 fighters beginning July 1. The UFC is also encouraging state athletic commissions to up the ante in punishment, suspending fighters anywhere from two to four years.
Koscheck hopes progress like that continues in MMA.
"I think the UFC will do what's right -- and Bellator will do what's right -- to evolve the sport," he said.