What should have been the most exciting year in the fighting life of featherweight contender Erik Koch is anything but. By all measures, it has been his worst.
Koch entered 2012 riding a four-fight win streak and primed to reach his goal of becoming a UFC champion. But injuries to himself or an opponent have placed his title hopes on hold.
"It's a tough situation, but these things happen," Koch's trainer Duke Roufus told ESPN.com. "You just have to stay as positive as possible and don't let it get you down. We just have to regroup.
"Erik's shown that he's ready to fight for the world title. He just has to work his way back to that opportunity to do it."
That's exactly the attitude Koch has maintained since a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee forced him to withdraw recently from an Oct. 13 title fight against featherweight champion Jose Aldo at UFC 153 in Rio de Janeiro.
"It's frustrating because I'd done so much PR for this guy [Aldo], I trained my butt off for this guy, and to get right there and then to have it all change that fast, it's a lot to deal with," Koch said. "But I'm just trying to keep my head up; I'm happy I don't need surgery. I know my body and I knew that whatever [the injury] was it wasn't good.
"And if I can't train, obviously it was something serious. But it's not as bad as it could have been, and we'll get past it and I will get my shot eventually."
With Koch unable to compete, Aldo will now put his title on the line against former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar -– who will be making his 145-pound debut.
Koch is disappointed that he won't be inside the Octagon with Aldo next month, but he doesn't begrudge the opportunity that has fallen upon Edgar. He isn't sitting around feeling sorry for himself, either.
Despite suffering a still-undisclosed injury that forced him out of a high-profile fight in February against fellow featherweight contender Dustin Poirier, you won't catch Koch singing the blues. He also refuses to fret over the leg injury Aldo suffered in June that postponed their July 21 showdown in Calgary.
This has been a long, disappointing year for Koch -- who has been out of action since Sept. 17, 2011 -- but he refuses to let the physical setbacks break him emotionally or mentally.
"I'm not concerned about long layoff," said Koch, who has an impressive 13-1 professional record. "I train like a madman and I've been in this sport since I was 10. And I've been fighting since I was 16, so I'm not worried about the layoff. I've had long layoffs before.
“More than anything, it's the situations that are frustrating -- getting injured or having other people get injured. It just seems like I can't get anything going this year.”
But rather than throw his own pity party, Koch is using this year as a learning experience. And he is a rapid learner. There is no definitive timetable set for his return, but he hopes to be in action before year's end. And when he gets back in the cage, expect to see a much better all-around fighter -- one who is stronger mentally, physically and technically.
"My fire is lit," Koch said. "I'm just as motivated today as I was going into this fight with Aldo. I just want to get back in [the Octagon]. I've been dealing mentally with the things that have happened this year, dealing with the long layoff, the injuries. I'm just trying to have a clear, leveled head.
"It makes you grow up. I'm looking at it as there being nowhere else to go but up. You can only be down for so long. You've got to pick yourself back up. I'm just trying to stay positive.
"All this situation is doing is lighting the fire, it's just building that fire until I fight again."
That fire Koch speaks of directs him toward securing the UFC featherweight title. The setbacks of 2012 have not decreased his determination. And the sooner he can fight for the belt, the better.
But one thing Koch won't do is follow the developing trend of not accepting an opponent the UFC has selected for him.
"I want the [Aldo-Edgar] winner totally, definitely," Koch said. "But that's up to the UFC. The biggest thing is I just want to fight. This has been a rough year for me, so I just want to get in there and fight. But if they offer me [the Aldo-Edgar winner], that's definitely the fight I want.”