What’s it like to be right on the brink of a career dream, only to have it ripped apart by one person’s opinion? Better yet, what does it take to get back in the saddle and prove to the world that the dream is more that just that?

Two years ago, professional fighter Dakota Cochrane was on the brink of achieving his biggest career dream—a shot in the UFC’s patented Octagon and a chance to compete against the best in the world. The Nebraska native was one fight away from a coveted spot in The Ultimate Fighter house, but, in a strange turn of events, he found out that he only had one round to secure his spot.

Cochrane (Jade Kimmel/The MMA Corner)

Cochrane (Jade Kimmel/The MMA Corner)

In an experiment gone awry, the UFC brass thought that it would be a good idea to try to air a live season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show. The first night of fights, when the fighters get their chance to earn that spot in the house, was set out to be a long, torturous event for viewers, and the UFC brass attempted to improvise by giving the fighters only one round to compete. For the guys who finished, this was a non-issue, but for several fighters, one five-minute round was hardly enough of a chance to show the organization what they were really made of, giving the controversial judges more power than ever.

Cochrane was involved in one of the eight fights out of 16 that went “the distance,” but he was the only one that lost by a split decision. He was the closest guy to getting on the show who didn’t actually make it.

Fighters come in many different shapes and sizes, both emotionally and physically. Although Cochrane could have curled up in a corner and acted like a baby about the whole thing, he did quite the opposite. He pulled up his bootstraps, got right back to training and competed on the Resurrection Fighting Alliance 2 card exactly three weeks later. He may have been stopped in that fight, but it takes brass eggs to get back in the ring so quickly after such a huge disappointment on TUF.

Cochrane’s goal, since getting a taste of the big show, has been to get back in the mix and prove that’s where he belongs. After RFA 2, he has gone 5-2 in pro action and has finished four of his opponents, proving he has no desire to leave it to the judges ever again.

The biggest fight of the Nebraskan’s career took place at RFA 13, just three months ago, against former TUF winner and UFC vet Efrain Escudero. After three rounds of non-stop action, Cochrane took the fight on all three scorecards, making a statement to the MMA world that he is coming back, and coming back strong. While he didn’t want it to go to decision, he was happy with the results.

“He’s a really good guy,” Cochrane told The MMA Corner. “I kind of underestimated his ground game—he’s pretty slick on the ground. I don’t know if I just wanted it more than he did, or it was just my day, I guess. Anybody can win at any time.”

That statement is more true in MMA than any other sport. With so many different fighting modalities involved and so many variables at play, fighters who are undefeated never stay that way for the entirety of their career, unless they opt to quit early. Cochrane, at only 28 years old, has big goals and a ton of time to achieve them. His next fight is going to be a huge step in the right direction, and possibly his biggest challenge ever.

A couple months ago, an organization called Fight Night Finland reached out to Cochrane on Facebook regarding an opportunity to fight former UFC fighter Anton Kuivanen in a Helsinki Fight Night event this Saturday night at Pasila Sports Hall in the capital city. Not one to turn down an opportunity to make his next big statement, Cochrane gladly accepted. So, what does he know about Fight Night Finland?

“Not much, really,” admitted Cochrane. “Not much at all, actually.”

Kuivanen, who was born in Estonia but is basically a native of Finland, was a highly touted prospect entering the UFC in February 2012. Kuivanen fought a short-notice replacement in Justin Salas, and it turned out to be a rude awakening for the European fighter. Salas beat him handily in a three-round battle that, coincidentally, took place in Cochrane’s home base of Omaha, Neb. After winning his second UFC outing and dropping his third, the Finn was released by UFC, sending him back to Scandinavia to begin his own rebuilding process.

Cochrane knows enough about his opponent to be confident in his chances.

“I’ve seen him fight in the UFC. He’s like 20-7, and he’s going to be a good striker,” said Cochrane. “He’s about the same height as me. We have the same build, and it’s a pretty evenly matched fight.”

Both fighters are extremely well rounded, taking a combined nine wins by knockout, 15 wins by submission and seven losses by submission. Kuivanen may have a striking-heavy background, but he also has two losses by knockout. Meanwhile, opponents have been unable to accomplish a knockout finish against Cochrane. Both guys are 5-foot-8 with a 72-inch reach, so this will definitely be a war of attrition.

However, there is one major disadvantage for the American. When the UFC or other big promotions bring fighters across many different time zones, the promotion gives the fighters around a week or so to get acclimated to the change of time and shake off any jet lag. In Cochrane’s case, the FNF organization isn’t being quite as understanding. Not only is it his first time fighting overseas, but the organization is flying him out only three days before the fight, giving him about two days to get acclimated.

However, not one to ever complain, Cochrane is taking it in stride. Accompanied by his striking coach, Kurt Podany, Cochrane will be ready to go to war in Helsinki on Saturday night. Does he expect a hostile crowd on Kuivanen’s home turf?

Cochrane (Jade Kimmel/The MMA Corner)

Cochrane (Jade Kimmel/The MMA Corner)

“Oh yeah,” said Cochrane “That’s the way I kind of see it, but I’ve been in that position, so that’s nothing new.”

The Nebraskan knows that this fight has big implications for both fighters. With Kuivanen currently on a two-fight winning streak and sitting at 3-1 since his last UFC appearance, the Finnish fighter could use a win over Cochrane to throw his name right back into the mix for a big promotion. But that door swings both ways.

“It’s going to be a big step for the winner,” Cochrane explains. “Whoever wins will probably be given a big opportunity.”

Having been through the ups and downs of a professional fighting career, Cochrane is staying focused on the task at hand, which is getting a big win and making a statement this weekend. His plans for the future are really dependent on what happens in this fight.

“I’m trying to take it one fight at a time,” Cochrane confessed. “I’m sure the result of this fight will change the outcome of my next fight, you know? If I win, I’m sure good things are coming. If I lose, I’m going to have to rebuild it again. Every fight, there’s a risk, and every fight, there’s a big reward.”

Cochrane faces a huge challenge this weekend. He is facing a guy who has been where he dreams of going. With so much on the line, he was willing to leave the country with little time to acclimate and go to war for the sake of his future in the sport. It will be one of the toughest fights of his career, but come Saturday night, the kid from a small Nebraska town will be ready to show the world why he belongs on the biggest stage in the sport. For Cochrane, there is no bigger reward.

Cochrane would like to thank his family, friends, training partners and coaches at Premier Combat Center, including Ryan Jensen, Jason Brilz, Joe Ellenberger, and especially Kurt Podany, for making the trip to Finland. He would also like to thank his sponsors: Nissan of Omaha, Schilke Erectors, Brothers Bar & Grill, Schmidt’s, Inc., Vankirk Bros. Contractors, Revgear, Agoge Martial Arts, Prism Signs, Old Chicago, Stay Rx Fit, CageTix.com, Animal Instinct, Images of Time Photography and Big Brain. Follow Dakota on Twitter: @DakotaCochrane