UFC closes out 2009 this weekend with its first title match since UFC 104. BJ Penn becomes the last champion to defend a title in 2009 in the main-event against Diego Sanchez.
BJ Penn is doing something that no other champion has done in awhile, defend his title twice in a few months. Penn fights the winner of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter Diego Sanchez in a much anticipated main-event. Penn and Sanchez are two of the most explosive fighters in all of MMA. Both men have 11 knockouts between them, and are two of the best strikers in the UFC. This is one of the first UFC main-events in a long time that has the potential to live up to expectations.
Penn is looking to erase memories of his first match in 2009 against Georges St. Pierre with two strong finishes to close the year. Penn is 3-0 as champion, winning two fights with a rear naked choke and won on a TKO due to strikes. Penn was once labeled as a lazy fighter who didn’t take his training seriously. That has changed, and BJ Penn has turned into a conditioning machine as proven by outlasting Kenny Florian in his last fight with a submission in the fourth round. On top of that, Penn’s desire to jump right back into a title fight says a lot about his newfound dedication to MMA.
Most UFC stars who have been asked have picked BJ Penn easily in the fight. While I do think he wins, I don’t think it is so easy. Sanchez has never been submitted or knocked out. Sanchez’s two losses have come via decision. His last 8 of 13 fights have gone the full three rounds, so conditioning shouldn’t be a big concern. While Sanchez has never fought five rounds, he is well known for his superior conditioning. Unlike a few of Penn’s previous opponents, Sanchez can also take a punch. Guida hit him hard in their last fight and was unable to put the Nightmare away. I just can’t believe that this is going to be a cake walk for BJ Penn.
In terms of skills, Penn has the advantage on the ground. His BJJ is far superior to Sanchez’s ground skills. Sanchez may be the better wrestler on the ground between the two. On their feet, I think it is fairly even. That said, Sanchez needs to turn this into a standup war in order to win this fight. Sanchez can get frustrated when neutralized on the ground like he did against Josh Koshcheck. Penn can dominate Sanchez on the ground if that is where the fight goes. Sanchez could catch Penn with a lucky shot if he keeps this on their feet, which is the only way he wins this fight. No way is Diego Sanchez grounding and pounding BJ Penn for five rounds.
Penn is a -200 favorite on sportsbetting.com as of this writing, with Sanchez getting +160 odds. I bet those odds separate even more by fight time. The funny thing is that if you listen to Penn in lengthy interviews, he is more obsessed with Georges St. Pierre than anyone in his division. Penn is much more interested in avenging his embarrassing loss in January than he is defending his title. Penn is eyeing a 2010 rematch with St. Pierre which will likely happen at some point next year. He could look past Diego and get caught in an upset. I just don’t see it. I think this one is an exciting fight, but in the end Sanchez just becomes another victim to BJ Penn.
In addition to the exciting main-event, UFC 107 probably has the most stacked lineup since UFC 102. Frank Mir returns to action for the first time since his loss to Brock Lesnar at UFC 107. Mir will face Cheick Kongo in a heavyweight fight. Mir has described Kongo’s ground game as the “worst ground game in the heavyweight division.” As a BJJ expert, Mir should submit him easily on the ground. At the same time, Kongo has the standup to upset Frank Mir on their feet. Mir has bulked up since the Lesnar fight and put on a ton of muscle. He says he is quicker and in better shape, but that is something that could really come back to haunt him if this one goes to a third round. In the end, I think Mir pulls off a win here and starts barking for another match with Brock Lesnar.
Finally, Kenny Florian also returns to action for the first time since his loss to BJ Penn at UFC 101. Florian takes on one of the most popular stars in the UFC, Clay Guida. Taking into account some of the unappealing main-events that the UFC has put on lately, this one could easily be a headliner by today’s UFC standards. Dana White is dying to make Guida-Penn and Sanchez-Florian. The only way that happens is with a Guida win in this one. White would probably have the biggest smile on his face in years if both Guida and Sanchez win and he can rematch them in a title fight next year. Unfortunately, as exciting of a fighter as Guida is he has never beaten anyone as good as Florian. I see Florian taking a decision here and grinding this one out in a disappointing fight.
B.J. Penn vs. Diego Sanchez
Frank Mir vs. Cheick Kongo
Jon Fitch vs. Mike Pierce
Kenny Florian vs. Clay Guida
Paul Buentello vs. Stefan Struve
Alan Belcher vs. Wilson Gouveia
Matt Wiman vs. Shane Nelson
Johny Hendricks vs. Ricardo Funch
Rousimar Palhares vs. Lucio Linhares
DaMarques Johnson vs. Edgar Garcia
Kevin Burns vs. TJ Grant
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