In this day and age, it’s pretty amazing if a professional fighter can compete in over 20 bouts without ever setting foot on foreign soil. With the explosion of mixed martial arts on an international level, most United States-based fighters have at least fought in Canada by the time they reach that many fights. However, there are still guys out there who have strictly fought in their home region, not even leaving a two-state radius.
In Nov. 2009, Dakota Cochrane, a native of Fairbury, Neb., burst onto the pro MMA scene with a decision win at Victory Fighting Championships 29 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. In the following four and a half years, and 21 fights, he racked up a 16-5 record, finished 11 opponents by knockout or submission, won and defended a title in The Cage Inc. promotion, and made an appearance on Season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter reality show.
By March of this year, Cochrane had earned notable wins over UFC vets Jamie Varner, Efrain Escudero, and Marcus LeVesseur, and four of his five losses were by first-round submission. Why the four quick submissions? Live by the sword, die by the sword.
Cochrane is an exciting fighter who brings the heat to every fight. He has only been to decision seven times. However, even with his long record and impressive pedigree, the guy had never fought outside of a 500-mile radius of his hometown. The two exceptions were his one-fight, one-round TUF appearance, and another Las Vegas fight for Resurrection Fighting Alliance. So, it was a big step in a foreign direction when Fight Night Finland reached out to him on Facebook, offering a fight in Helsinki against hometown favorite and UFC vet Anton Kuivanen.
After about eight weeks of preparation, Cochrane and a couple cornermen flew out to Helsinki with only a couple days to acclimate before taking on a very similar opponent with 14 stoppage wins in 20 victories. Well, the Nebraskan was well outside of his 500-mile radius, but the crowd wasn’t quite as hostile as he expected, even after he knocked the hometown favorite out cold.
“It was a really good learning experience – going overseas,” said Cochrane in an interview with Examiner’s Dan Kuhl. “The crowd was pretty educated. They knew when a fighter was in a dominant position – they’d clap. It was actually pretty surprising how educated they were. It was very quiet after I won.”
With all the build-up to a main event that the locals expected their guy to run away with, Cochrane deflated the air in the Pasila Sports Hall with a flying knee heard throughout Scandinavia. At 48 seconds of the first round, Cochrane’s passport was stamped, as was Kuivanen’s face.
“I figured he was going to be a good striker, so that’s what I prepared for,” Cochrane explained. “I was kind of wanting to take him down. I figured he thought I was going to shoot, so I set it up by taking some big shots, and it helped me get into the fight a little bit. Then, I jumped up and hit him with the knee.”
Ever since his appearance on TUF, Cochrane has been looking to put together a string of successful wins over notable opponents to get his shot in the UFC’s coveted Octagon. While 2013 was a tough year for him, 2014 is on the up and up, with wins over UFC vets Kuivanen and Escudero. Before he even made the trip to Finland, his third fight of the year was already scheduled for Resurrection Fighting Alliance 17, this Friday night at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D. This will be the first-ever legally sanctioned MMA fight in the Mount Rushmore State, and it falls right in line with his plans for 2014.
Cochrane has been a busy man, but that’s what it takes to get to the top. However, even the most dedicated fighters need to take occasional breaks to avoid burnout. He’s no exception.
The Nebraska native elaborated, “That’s why I took a week off after the fight in Finland – just so I can kind of clear the mind, clear the soul. I like to take a week after every fight, no matter how it ends up. I set a goal for myself this year, and I want to hit five in a row. I set that goal for myself this year. I’m at two now, and, hopefully, three after this.”
After his Helsinki fight, Cochrane spent some time camping with family in Arkansas, and a couple weekends ago, he took his wife and kids to Johnson’s Lake in central Nebraska for some additional rest & relaxation. But, make no mistake, this guy is gunning for the inaugural RFA lightweight title as he steps into the cage against Christos Giagos on Friday night. With RFA champs almost instantly getting UFC contracts in recent years, this is a huge step toward achieving his dream.
Giagos fights out of Systems Training Center and Team Victory in Hawthorne, Calif. He was a standout wrestler in high school, is a CrossFit trainer, and has earned five knockouts and two submissions in his MMA career. In addition, he holds a blue belt in BJJ, has won a few medals in grappling tournaments, and is coming off a June victory in Tachi Palace Fights, where he won that promotion’s lightweight strap. This will be a big test for Cochrane, but he’s coming in to take on anything Giagos has to offer.
“He’s going to be a tough dude, so I’m just preparing for the baddest dude,” said Cochrane, who doesn’t know much about his opponent. “I’m not really doing anything different. I’m just making sure I’m training hard. I’ve gotten in lots of sparring. A lot of the guys fought in Victory [on Aug. 2], so I’ve had some good sparring partners. I’m trying to get better every day. We’ll have a bunch of guys fighting in the next Victory show, and [Darrick] Minner’s fighting on the same RFA card, so that’s nice.”
Cochrane’s home camp, Premier Combat Center in Omaha, Neb., is chock full of tough-as-nails fighters and coaches. With UFC, Bellator, and Strikeforce vets like Ryan Jensen, Jason Brilz, Anthony Smith and Houston Alexander, UFC newcomer Joe Ellenberger, and Muay Thai coach Kurt Podany, Cochrane is surrounded by some of the best in the business, but Premier never ceases to add new talent.
“We got Danny White, who came down from South Dakota to train,” Cochrane stated. “He’s fighting in RFA. There are also some guys from Kearney and other guys who are traveling through, so we’ve been getting a lot of different looks.”
With training camp at an all-time premium, international experience, and a two-fight winning streak over UFC vets, Dakota Cochrane is poised to win the RFA title and put himself right in line for a spot in the UFC. It’s just crazy that after finally fighting thousands of miles away, he’s right back in the Midwest, fighting less than 200 miles from his home camp. As for the fight itself, Giagos is a tough competitor, but, as usual, Cochrane is cool as a cucumber.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a good fight, and I’d like to walk out of there with the belt, you know? That’s my goal.”
Cochrane would like to thank his wife for supporting him and keeping him in line during his weight cuts. Without her, none of his success would be possible. As always, he would like to thank his coaches and training partners at Premier Combat Center. He would also like to thank his sponsors: Nubreed Nutrition, Virus, Schmidt’s Inc., Schilke Erectors, Nissan of Omaha, Old Chicago, Monarch Tires and Wheels, CageTix.com, Stay Rx Fit, Dynamic Fastener, Prism Signs, Agoge Martial Arts, Animal Instinct, Big Brain, and Vankirk Bros. Contractors. Follow Dakota on Twitter: @DakotaCochrane