by FIGHT! contributor Larry Pepe
Diego Sanchez said it was “his time” and screamed “YES!” every chance he got leading up to his main event title fight at UFC 107. But UFC Lightweight Champion B.J. Penn had one answer on all accounts.
In a virtuoso performance, Penn showed the world why he is the best lightweight in the history of mixed martial arts. Penn answered any lingering questions about his cardio during the dominant, picture-perfect five round destruction of Sanchez and became a true “Nightmare” for anyone in the world who fights at 155. He was never taken down despite upwards of fifteen attempts by Diego. He may have been hit a total of ten times in almost 23 minutes of battle and left the cage with no evidence that he had been in a fight. And for those who still questioned his cardio, he never sat on the stool between rounds and had every bit as much energy, strength and aggression in the fifth round as he went for the finish as he did in the opening minute of the fight. One last time folks…B.J. Penn does not have a cardio problem at 155. At 170, yes. 155, no.
World class boxing trainer Freddie Roach once called B.J. Penn the best striker in all of MMA and his performance last night supports Roach’s claim. In the opening seconds of the first round, B.J. dropped Diego with a right hand that almost resulted in a quick ending to the fight. Diego survived the onslaught that followed, only to be picked apart for the next 22 minutes. B.J. was masterful in his counter punching, making Diego pay dearly almost every time he tried to engage the champ. Somewhere near the middle of the second round, I couldn’t help but feel that I was watching a master sparring with an eager student.
Realizing that he had nothing for B.J. on the feet, Diego repeatedly tried to take the fight to the ground. Using what Clay Guida called a “black belt in takedown defense,” B.J. stuffed attempt after attempt, hopping around on one leg as if two are a luxury he’s fine without.
B.J. has said that he wants to be known as the best fighter in history and that he is fighting for his legacy in the sport he loves. Nowhere was that more evident than in the fifth round. Knowing that he was pitching a shutout, Penn could have been content to play it safe, keep countering and win a unanimous 50-45 decision. But decisions don’t always look good when legacies are analyzed. BJ put his foot on the gas, looking more like the fighter who was down four rounds to none than the guy with a comfortable lead. He continued to dominate on the feet, landing a rare leg kick to the head that opened an already bruised, bloody and battered Diego. It looked like B.J. took an axe out of his shorts when no one was looking and hit Diego in the head with it. Mercifully, the doctor stopped it, but the end really came seconds into the first round with that first right hand that put the challenger on the canvas.
This was one of the most dominant performances I’ve ever seen. There wasn’t one second of the 22:47 where B.J. seemed at risk. Even Jon Fitch had a few moments while being destroyed by GSP. The damage on Diego’s face told the story of a mismatch, but make no mistake about it – he was a deserving number one challenger with a huge heart and a great chin. But this fight showed that at 155 pounds, there’s B.J. Penn and then there’s everybody else. He is the best striker in the division, the best submission artist in the division, he’s never been knocked down and he hasn’t lost at this weight in eight years. Good luck to whoever’s next. They’ll need it.
When I saw that Frank Mir weighed in at 264 ½ pounds for his fight with Cheick Kongo, up 19 ½ pounds from his loss to Brock Lesnar at UFC 100, I have to admit that I was concerned. Would he be too slow with the extra weight or perhaps gas if the fight went past the first round? Was he so focused on a Lesnar rematch that he trained for him and not Kongo? We’ll never know thanks to Frank using that new muscle to knock Kongo to the ground with a big overhand left and then choking him unconscious at 1:12 of the very first round. I’m suddenly interested in seeing Lesnar/Mir III.
Kenny Florian looks to have significantly improved on his standup game since moving over to train with Firas Zahabi and spending more time with boxing coach Peter Welch. He looked very comfortable in the pocket with wildman Clay Guida, using a right hand to drop “The Carpenter” en route to a fight-ending rear naked choke seconds later. Anybody else smell a TUF Season One Finale rematch between Florian and Sanchez at their true fighting weight of 155 instead of a blown up 185?
Jon Fitch scored a unanimous decision over relative unknown Mike Pierce, losing a third round that left him looking much worse than his opponent. A self-described “grinder,” Fitch has now gone to six straight decisions in the Octagon with wins over Pierce, Gono, Paulo Thiago, Chris Wilson and Diego Sanchez and a loss to GSP. Yushin Okami got relegated to undercards with a 6-1 UFC record and only four decisions on his record at that time. Don’t be surprised to see Fitch suffer the same fate unless UFC matchmaker calls for a Thiago Alves rematch.
Alan Belcher was right. His fight with Wilson “I Just Can’t Make 185” Gouveia should have been on the televised card. A much better choice than Fitch/Pierce. Don’t be surprised to read a headline soon that reads “Wilson Gouveia Released by UFC”. The talented Brazilian has lost two of his last three fights and failed to make weight twice. Yes, he and Belcher got the “Fight of the Night,” but just ask Jorge Gurgel how much job security that gives you in the UFC.
Larry Pepe is the host of Pro MMA Radio.
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