Koch will remind fans why he's a contender

Erik Koch may not have fought at all in 2012, but he did train for one against one of the best fighters in the world.

Ring rust is not a concern for Koch as he prepares to return from a 16-month layoff this weekend against Ricardo Lamas at a UFC on Fox event in Chicago.

For one, Koch and members of his camp say he’s too strong mentally to allow a long layoff to affect his confidence. More importantly, however, is that Koch spent significant time in 2012 preparing for UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo.

That type of training might not be quite as beneficial to his development as time spent in the Octagon -- but it’s not far behind.

“Twice I was training for Aldo, for a championship fight,” Koch told ESPN.com. “Those were some of the greatest camps I’ve ever had.”

Koch (13-1) says his focus is now entirely on Lamas despite last year’s heartbreak, when injuries derailed planned title fights against Aldo in April and October.

The Milwaukee-basked Koch describes it as “the hardest year of my life.” There were the financial hardships that come when you don’t cash a single fight purse and, of course, the emotional letdown of an opportunity missed.

Former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar replaced Koch at UFC 153 when a knee injury forced him to withdraw. When Aldo then pulled off the card following a motorcycle accident, Koch knew it would be the higher-profile Edgar who would keep the title shot.

“That was the worst part for me, was I knew in the bottom of my heart and soul he was going to match up well with Jose Aldo,” said Duke Roufus, Koch’s trainer.

“In order to beat a great champion you have to be able to beat his aura first. Erik’s not intimidated by Aldo or anyone else. A lot of guys are beat by Aldo before they even fight him. That’s not the case with Erik.”

A win over Lamas might get Koch back into title contention, but he’d prefer not to speculate after the disappointment of last year plus the experience of his 155-pound teammate Anthony Pettis, who was recently passed over for a lightweight title shot.

“You hear things,” Koch said about whether or not it’s a No. 1 contender fight. “I think it is, but you never know. I’m not getting my hopes up.

“I’m looking at this as my coming out party. I need to have people remember why I was a title contender in the first place. Coming into this fight, I have bad intentions.”