For UFC 127 Penn vs. Fitch fans will get to see what the future of the UFC welterweight division might look like. With Georges St. Pierre set to defend his welterweight title against Jake Shields in Toronto at UFC 129 and possibly jumping to the middleweight division and a super-mega-fight against Anderson Silva, the B.J. Penn/Jon Fitch match-up sets up the winner as the number one contender for the presumably vacant middleweight title. The bigger question is will anyone care? Georges St. Pierre domination of the welterweight division has made all other 170 competitors obsolete. Georges St. Pierre makes everyone look bad and normal regardless of their skill level. What’s worse is if Jon Fitch defeats B.J. Penn, he is even more dominant (i.e. boring) fighter than St. Pierre. The last time one of Jon Fitch’s fights did not go to decision was almost four years ago on June 2007. As for B.J. Penn he’s already lost two straight to Georges St. Pierre and looked wholly outclassed in their last outing. Fans have seen nothing to indicate a different outcome a third time.
As for the fight itself, it is a bit interesting. B.J. Penn is undoubtedly one of the top five most talented athletes in MMA. He can do things in the Octagon that normal fighters don’t even dream of. He has outstanding speed and punching power, excellent balance, flexibility and agility. He is a world class BJJ practitioner. He is probably the most difficult fighter to achieve a takedown against. He has challenged himself throughout his career. He fought Lyoto Machida, a light-heavyweight UFC champion, and lost a decision. There is nothing B.J. Penn can not do in a MMA battle. Except maybe go a full three rounds, much less five. That is where a fighter like Jon Fitch comes in. The only thing that Jon Fitch does really well is keep going and break his opponent’s spirit and will.
Jon Fitch is not the best wrestler, striker, or grappler. He has average stand up and fairly slow hands. He throws decent kicks. What he can do is push, push and push. He has a granite chin. Just take another look at his bout with St. Pierre if you doubt that. So far in his career, Jon Fitch has not faced the man that wants the victory more than him. Although B.J. Penn is a warrior and takes a bout in the Octagon with the mentality of a samurai, I do not think he is the man to break Jon Fitch.
Yes, B.J. Penn has the ability to end the bout in the fraction of a second with a punch or submission. But he has rarely showed those dynamics against the top talent he’s faced. He has a tendency to gas or fold or fade or whatever anyone wants to call it, against the top competition. He did it against Jens Pulver, against Matt Hughes, and twice against Georges St. Pierre and Frankie Edgar respectively. I hope this is a competitive fight and really, I’m pulling for B.J. Penn to come out from under the shadow that has haunted him against top tier competition. Unfortunately, history does not favor him.
In the co-main event at UFC 127, Michael Bisping meets the surging Jorge Rivera. Rivera is making the most of his second shot in the UFC and used his mouth to put himself in the co-main event against the UK poster boy for the UFC. Bisping is not my favorite fighter. He has good, average skills and excellent footwork but he has benefited most from a huge push by the UFC and being placed against the right competion. Anytime he has faced anything above C level competion he has either failed miserably (Dan Henderson) or barely survived a boring decision (Matt Hamill, Chris Leben). Unfortunately, I don’t see Jorge Rivera being one of the ones to topple Bisping. Rivera is a brawler with lots of heart but rarely imposes himself on an opponent. I see this fight going much like Bisping’s fights against Hamill and Leben. Bisping will use his footwork to avoid punishment and pepper Rivera with the occasional jab or straight right. Just doing enough to escape another highlight KO and earn a decision. As much as I may want Rivera to flatten Bisping, I don’t see him overcoming Bisping’s footwork.