The fighting game is tricky business. Every fighter knows that there are ups and downs, and, frankly, there’s not a top fighter in the world that doesn’t have a ding or two on his record. Even past and current champions with last names like Jones, Silva, St-Pierre, Penn, Couture, Liddell and Aldo had their runs of bad luck.

Setbacks are almost a guarantee, but it’s a huge bummer when a fighter thinks he’s back on track only to suffer another setback. For Omaha’s Dakota Cochrane, 2013 was an up-and-down year, but in 2014, it’s all about getting back on track.

Cochrane, who trains out of one of the Midwest’s top gyms at Premier Combat Center, is a professional fighter in every sense of the word. Like many pro fighters, he still holds a job outside of the gym, but he entered 2013 with a 13-3 record, an appearance on The Ultimate Fighter, and notable wins over veterans Joe Stevenson and Jamie Varner under his belt. The TUF appearance may not have yielded a UFC contract, but at least he was on the radar.

Cochrane (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Cochrane (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

2013 started off right with a third-round TKO of Deivison Ribeiro in January. Cochrane looked strong and ready to rock the year, until his next fight against Marcus Edwards. Edwards is a young up-and-comer who came into Cochrane’s home turf to hand him a shocking submission loss at 1:46 of round one.

And so goes the year. Cochrane’s third fight of 2013 was a killer first-round knockout victory in July. That win was followed by a first-round submission loss in October in a welterweight title fight, even though Cochrane’s home is at lightweight. 2013 marked the first time in his first four years as a pro that he lost twice in the same calendar year.

Cochrane’s October fight was against a much stockier welterweight, Chris Heatherly, who was 6-1 going into the battle. Cochrane may have tapped out, but he didn’t walk away without picking up a few ideas of where to improve.

“I thought I was going to be able to strike with him, and all he wanted to do is wrestle,” said Cochrane in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “My strategy was a little off, and he was a pretty good grappler. I made one mistake. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pull off a move, but I thought I was going to be able to pull off a quick scramble, which I did, but it turned out not to be in my favor.”

Heatherly was essentially using his size advantage to hold Cochrane down, but the fight wasn’t really going anywhere. It appeared to be a point-focused strategy by his opponent.

“I would rather lose the round than lose the fight, but all he was doing was laying on me while I was on my back,” explained Cochrane. “I got impatient and tried to do a move, but I knew it wouldn’t work. I did a kimura, but I didn’t have my leg out. I was trying to scramble, but he got me in the armbar.”

Cochrane acknowledges that he put himself in a precarious position. What doesn’t kill a man makes him stronger, and although nobody wants that loss on the record, he recognized what he did wrong. He will do everything in his power to make sure it won’t happen again.

While 2013 didn’t go as planned, 2014 is a new year, and Cochrane could not have been handed a better fight to kick the year off. In January, he found out he will face former UFC competitor and TUF winner Efrain Escudero at Resurrection Fighting Alliance 13 in Lincoln, Neb. this Friday night.

Escudero, who trains out of The MMA Lab in Arizona, had two runs in the UFC. He was 3-2, including his TUF 8 win, in his first stint inside the Octagon, but his return to the promotion was pretty rough. He suffered two losses before being released a second time and losing his next two fights on the regional circuit. However, as of late, Escudero is on a bit of a career resurgence.

In his last three fights, Escudero has been able to string together three wins. Now, at 21-7, he’s looking to continue his winning streak. Meanwhile, Cochrane is looking to get back in the win column. This is definitely a statement fight for both men. Escudero is a well-rounded fighter, but so is Cochrane, and the Midwesterner knows what to expect from his opponent.

“He’s a not a super tall guy,” Cochrane stated. “I feel that he’s very technical, but I might have the athletic edge on him. So, I need to be technical, but use my athleticism.

“I feel like we’ll trade punches a little bit, but once I hit him, he’ll probably want to take me down. I think that’s where he feels the hole is in my game, and that’s where he’ll go.”

Cochrane (top) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Cochrane (top) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Cochrane is confident, but he’s not taking Escudero lightly. Both men train with UFC-caliber talent, and both are facing their toughest opponent in the last couple years. With a lot at stake, Cochrane definitely will not forget the biggest takeaways from his two losses in 2013.

“Sometimes, I get impatient and I try to create stuff that isn’t there,” Cochrane admitted. “I just need to stay technical and be patient.”

Escudero is by no means a stepping stone, but he is the first stop in what Cochrane plans to be a busy 2014. After three fights each in 2011 and 2012, Cochrane stepped it up and fought four times in 2013. In 2014, he wants to make even more noise.

“I just want to win,” expressed the Nebraska native. “I really don’t care if I make the UFC or not. I just want to get on a winning streak, and that’s my goal for this year.”

The way the MMA scene has been shaping up, there are plenty of big promotions that serve as attractive destinations for a fighter. Beyond the UFC, Bellator and the World Series of Fighting are still battling for the No. 2 spot, but a few others are making a run for top talent. Maximum Fighting Championship has been bringing on some top guys to join its growing roster, and Titan Fighting Championships has gone from defunct to amazing overnight. Cochrane’s next fight is his only one under contract with RFA, so Cochrane’s fair game for those promotions and others after the Escudero fight.

RFA comes to the Pershing Center in Lincoln for the first time in the promotion’s history on Friday night for RFA 13. Cochrane is looking for a big win in the night’s main event. No matter what his plans are for 2014, nothing else matters until he picks up that win over a very game opponent. Fans are in for the best Cochrane they’ve seen in a long time, but this fighter will always remain true to himself.

“I’m the same old person. I train hard. I work hard for my family. I try to make my career and my life successful. I want the best for my kids. I want the best for myself.”

Cochrane would like to thank Schmidt’s Inc., Nissan of Omaha, Old Chicago, Schilke Erectors, Monarch Tire and Wheels, Premier Combat Center,, Stay Rx Fit, Dynamic Fastener, Revgear, Done Right Home Improvements, Prism Signs, Vankirk Bros., Images of Time Photography, Agoge Martial Arts, MMA Futures and Gamma Labs. He would also like to thank his coaches, Ryan Jensen, Kurt Podany, Jason Brilz, Joe Ellenberger and all of the other guys at Premier Combat Center that help him get ready. Follow Dakota on Twitter: @DakotaCochrane