B.J. Penn vs. Matt Hughes is officially a go for UFC 123. The match will complete a UFC trilogy that saw each man take a fight. The welterweight collision will co-headline light heavyweight main-event Rampage Jackson vs. Lyoto Machida on November 20.
I can’t say I am surprised about Penn vs. Hughes III. As a matter of a fact, I speculated on the fight in my post UFC 118 blog after B.J. Penn’s loss to Frankie Edgar.
“For BJ Penn it may be the end of an era. Penn’s era of dominance is obviously over and whether this is the case of a great opponent or declining skills will be answered in Penn’s next few fights. I would guess that BJ Penn vs. Kenny Florian will be up next for the former champion. Penn dominated Florian last year and I’d expect the same in another fight. Penn has been weighing the idea of going up to welterweight. Penn said after the fight that he hasn’t decided which way he was going to go. A Penn vs. Matt Hughes rematch would be very intriguing.”
A loss won’t really hurt Matt Hughes too much. Nobody has expected Matt Hughes to be a title contender in the division. At 36 the clock is ticking and Hughes hasn’t exactly rolled off three wins against three quality opponents. A loss would take any potential title match off the table, yet at the same time Hughes is playing with virtual house money anyway.
After losing two straight to Frankie Edgar, dominated in their last match, B.J. Penn would be at least three wins from a potential title rematch with Frankie Edgar. And quite frankly, I don’t think anyone is convinced that Penn can beat Edgar. Moving out of the division is a risky move, but probably the best decision as long as Frankie Edgar is still the UFC lightweight champion.
For B.J. Penn, it is an all-or nothing situation for the former UFC world champion. Moving up in weight and losing to Matt Hughes would set Penn back further than anyone would have expected coming into 2010. Going 0-3 and losing to a guy that most fans feel he should beat would have huge ramifications for Penn’s future in the UFC. The decision to move down is not one without risk. One could argue that this is the biggest fight in his career.
Not only does Penn need a win here, Penn needs a decisive win. Going the distance in a slow fight with Matt Hughes won’t do a whole lot for Penn’s future in the division. If Penn goes in there, and wins decisively against Hughes, Dana White can make the GSP vs. B.J. Penn rematch that Penn and his supporters have wanted since 2009. If GSP loses to Josh Koshcheck and Penn beats Hughes, I’d guess the rematch is almost surely a guarantee.
I am excited to see the rematch. B.J. Penn’s return to the welterweight division even if just for one show, gives the division a spark after the champion has run roughshod through everyone since 2007. There is a natural rivalry here between these two guys that will add to the already tense situation between the two of them. It is very cliché to say that a fight will be a “war” in the UFC, but I think that this fight will truly be the “war” that most fans hope it will be.
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