RFA 12's Keoni Koch, once content as a coach, explains why he tried fighting
Keoni Koch knows what it takes to be a top-level fighter. He’s watched his younger brother, Erik, blossom from a guy learning jiu-jitsu in his basement to a UFC standout.
Koch, however, admits he struggles with the commitment needed to make a run at greatness. He is married with children and values his time as a husband and father.
Look at his resume, and you can see three-year gaps between fights since he made his pro debut in 2007. During those times, he rejected the life of a fighter.
“I hated the experience,” Koch told MMAjunkie Radio. “The time it took away from my family and kids was excruciating.”
Koch (5-0), though, has made the choice to see what he can do in MMA. Once a guy with a full-time job, he now owns a gym and trains to fight.
Tonight, he gets a big opportunity to make his mark when he meets Brian Ortega (7-0) for the vacant featherweight title at RFA 12, which takes place at Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The event’s main card airs live on AXS TV.
Koch obviously has a successful role model in his brother, but he now competes to prove a point.
“I started asking myself if my legacy was going to be one of the people that could have been a great fighter, and I wasn’t satisfied with the answer,” he said. “So I just decided to give it my best run and see where it takes me.”
There still are moments when he wishes he weren’t on the mats for five hours a day, but he uses those as motivation.
“It fuels my fire and pisses me off,” Koch.
Koch primarily trains in his hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but occasionally travels to Milwaukee’s Roufusport, where his brother trains.
“It’s interesting because I was interested in the martial arts as a martial artist,” Koch said. “I had no desire whatsoever to compete. I wanted to get experience, but the idea of competition never really crossed my mind.
“I started training with five guys in my basement, and my brother was one of those guys,” he said. “These guys, after training, wanted to compete. I was coaching but had no desire to compete.
“Then, after a while, you’re coaching these guys to compete, and you’re like, am I credible? Do I know what I’m doing? Can I say I’m coach if I’ve never stepped up to the competition stage? So that’s what I did.”
Koch is undefeated as a pro with five wins, including four by submission, a stat he shares with Ortega, who is 7-0.
The winner of the bout could win notice from the UFC, which this past year signed several RFA standouts, including Sergio Pettis and Brandon Thatch.
“My first show with the RFA, I was kind of taken aback at how professional they were and how they conducted themselves for their first show,” Koch said. “The show itself ran really smooth, and not only that, I could tell the caliber of fighter was on a higher order than the regional shows. To be able watch it develop into what it is now, a springboard to the UFC, is a real pleasure. The RFA is sending a lot of people to the UFC, and they’re winning.”
Koch hopes he is one of those guys who gets asked to sign with industry-leader. If he is, he would join his brother’s former weight class; Erik Koch left the featherweight division after a pair of losses and is set to fight at lightweight in his next appearance.
“After watching my brother cut to 145, which I thought was a little bit light for him, the RFA graciously allowed me to go to 145, which is where my ideal weight is,” Keoni Koch said. “To finally (fight) after all these setbacks, let alone for a title, is a blessing. I’m getting a little bit tired of training, but I know it will all come to fruition.”
For more on RFA 12, stay tuned to the MMA Rumors section of the site.
MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at noon ET (9 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, MMAjunkie lead staff reporter John Morgan and producer Brian “Goze” Garcia. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.