WAUWATOSA -- The growing popularity of mixed martial arts is bringing fighters with all sorts of interesting stories to the ring. Erik Koch has a story that could be made into a movie!
There is a scene in the movie "The Grey" that struck Koch like a shin to the chin. It was this quote: "Once more into the fray, into the last good fight I'll ever know. Live and die on this day, live and die on this day."
"It was just one of those things when the quote was recited - it just gave me goosebumps. It's how I feel going into every fight," Koch said.
The poem and scene made such an impact on the 23-year-old fighter, he got it tattooed on his arm - a constant reminder of his "seize the day" approach to the sport.
"Kinda like the end of days, when I get a fight, you're not thinking past that day. I just think all or nothing - leaving it all in the cage," Koch said.
Koch's MMA journey started when he was just 10 years old - training with his brother on a small 8 x 8 mat in his family's basement in Iowa.
"Honestly, when you break it down, he's the reason I'm here. I wouldn't have done MMA. I wouldn't have known about it if it wasn't for my brother," Koch said.
While Koch was improving and excelling in the local MMA circuit, he knew he needed to move on to achieve the greatness he desired. That brought him to Milwaukee, and Roufusport.
"I didn't know where Milwaukee was in Wisconsin, to be honest with you," Koch said.
Koch only knew of Duke Roufus' reputation.
"His style and his way of coaching isn't for everybody. He'll tell you that, but right away, I knew this is where I wanted to be," Koch said.
He also knew he wanted to be a champion.
"I had to grow up. I had to move pretty much by myself into unknown territory - pay my own bills, and it was just a growing up process, and in the end, it was better for me not just as a fighter, but as a person too," Koch said.
Leaving his family was difficult enough, but Koch and his brother had also started a gym, and a team in Cedar Rapids, so moving to Milwaukee meant leaving them as well. That led to a falling out with his brother and some friends.
"It was definitely a hard time in my life. Felt really alone and a little alienated," Koch said.
Koch immersed himself in his training, leaning on his new teammates and coaches.
"It takes a lot of dedication to leave your friends, your family, your comfort zone to come here. He has a special type of maturity I've never seen in an athlete," Roufus said.
Koch's sacrifice is paying off. He will be headlining UFC 149 this July in Calgary - one of the biggest fights of the year with a shot at the title.
"I was probably more excited for him than he was. I was screaming - happy for a friend," Michael Rhodes said.
"The only way right now I can achieve immortality is becoming a legend, and this is the first step," Koch said.
"Every one of these guys has a healthy sense of arrogance. They want to be what Brett Favre was. They want to be what Michael Jordan was, but to this sport. This sport is a sport where if you're not playing to be the best, don't play it," Roufus said.
Despite the success, Koch hasn't forgotten where he came from. He has a tattoo of his hometown gym "Hard Drive" on his bicep and he's mending his relationship with his brother by getting back to Cedar Rapids at least once a month.
He knows the tough times have prepared him for the best times, and while his life isn't yet a movie, he believes his story will have a triumphant ending.
"I want my name to be remembered through history, and the way I want to do that, is I want to win this fight and I want to hold that title for as long as I can, and I never want to lose it," Koch said.
Koch is one of the fighters either from the Milwaukee area or that have moved to the Milwaukee area to train with nationally-recognized coach and former fighter Duke Roufus.