If there have been two diametric opposite fighters to ever square off in a ring I would be hard-pressed to find two as dissimilar as BJ Penn and Jon Fitch. When both Penn and Fitch step into the Octagon this Saturday night in the headlining bout of UFC 127; a battle will be waged with the stakes on the line being extremely high for the winner. Not only will the victor of the fight be immediately thrust into the number one contender slot for the UFC welterweight title, but, arguably more important, the winner of the fight will reestablish the relevancy in the 170-pound weight class.
Even the most casual of MMA fan can tell you who BJ Penn is. Never before have we witnessed a fighter who has the freak athletic ability and uncanny fighting acumen of Penn. Dubbed “The Prodigy” for his awe-inspiring retention of Jiu-Jitsu along with his natural ability to fight, Penn has long held a celebrity status is the world of MMA. The former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion has lost a bit of his luster following two consecutive lightweight title fight losses to Frankie Edgar.
On the other hand you have Jon Fitch. Unlike the aforementioned Penn, Fitch has had to take a blue collar approach to professional prizefighting. The former collegiate wrestler has had to scrap and claw for every victory and his tenacity and unrelenting style have often carried him in tough fights. Unfortunately, Fitch’s grinding style does not do him any favors in winning style points as fans have come to expect a Fitch fight to go the distance in uninspiring fashion. While Fitch has garnered respect for his record and ability to win, culminating in a title shot against Georges St-Pierre at UFC 87 (he lost to GSP) the fact that it has taken him this long to be back in the title mix seems to speak about his lack of entertainment value.
None the less, Fitch is a legitimate threat to any fighter and his Saturday showdown with Penn will not only put the winner in line for a shot at the title, but it could also go a long way in winning new fans, or reaffirming the fandom of old ones.
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Keenly aware of Fitch’s wrestling acumen and grinding takedown style Penn has enlisted the help of former rival Matt Hughes to aid in the training leading to this fight. Hughes is a fantastic wrestler but he is not in his prime these days, where Fitch clearly is. Still, in light of this I foresee a decision victory for Penn.
While many have written of Penn as a result of his two recent losses, the fact is that Frankie Edgar’s style and constant movement is kryptonite for Penn. Against a fighter not as fleet of foot as Edgar would seem to play into the hands of Penn. Fitch will make it close, but in the end, I feel that Penn’s a more well-rounded fighter and his stand up game and ability to nullify takedowns will carry him to victory.