On Jan. 31, the UFC will host what is likely its most anticipated fight ever.
George St. Pierre and B.J. Penn both hold belts in their respective weight classes, they're wildly considered in the top-five p4p of all MMA, and their last bout was incredibly controversial, leaving a ton of room for speculation as to who in fact is the better fighter.
Not to mention the stakes: If BJ wins he will be the first to hold two UFC belts simultaneously, while possibly ensuring a third fight between the two. If GSP wins, he could move up and fight Anderson "The Spider" Silva, a bout which is possibly even more intriguing then that which is rapidly approaching.
So onto the real question, who's going to win?
The most obvious place to look for answers is in their previous encounter. B.J. Penn had GSP battered and bruised at the end of the first round. He was bleeding, swollen, and it looked as though the fight was in danger of being stopped. Clearly the precision strikes of B.J. Penn should not be underestimated.
Then, at the beginning of the second round, one could immediately notice the change in GSP. It was as though he'd pushed a turbo button; he was quicker, sharper, and deadlier then fans had ever seen him up until that point. The sheer heart and determination of GSP are possibly his greatest assets as a young athlete.
GSP is no doubt the better athlete. Better conditioning, stronger, faster; he trains with some of the best and his workouts are grueling. It's pretty easy to see that the longer the fight goes on the more it will favour George.
Even though B.J. has been in some of his best shape, one can't forget how slow and exhausted he's been in previous bouts which necessitate leaving his niche weight class of 155Ibs.
On the other hand, while Penn can easily hold his own in standup, his ground game cannot be discounted. He is possibly the most flexible fighter out there, and in their last bout Penn had numerous submission attempts later in the fight; it would not be surprising if he were able to win via submission despite GSP's incredible wrestling.
Striking: This could go either way. Although BJ used GSP's face for a punching bag in the initial stages of their first fight, one could argue that the eye poke inhibited GSP.
Furthermore, GSP is known to lend devastating high risk strikes (superman punches, spinning back kicks, etc.) in later rounds, when his opponents tire (which will likely happen to BJ is the fight hits the later rounds.
Control: GSP dominates this easily. Even the incredible take down defence of BJ couldn't stop the man with the most successful take down attempts in their first bout. Plus, GSP is likely too strong for BJ to get let alone hold an advantageous position. When's the last time you saw GSP on his back? And how long did that last? Enough said.
Ground: Its tricky to decide who win the ground battle. George will likely have the advantageous position, but B.J.'s submission are incredible. It's a classic G'n'P vs. BJJ matchup, which could go either way in my opinion.
Outcome: I believe George St. Pierre will not only win but dominate this fight (a hefty statement I know). GSP is a machine; countless times he's been regarded as the symbol for the future of MMA, and his constant improvement has demonstrated that fact. Not only is he bigger, stronger, and faster than B.J., but his confidence has tripled since their last match.
When they fought before it was an upstart fighting one of the best in the world. Now, with wins over the legend Matt Hughes, and a war with the solid heart and chin of Jon Fitch, GSP won't be intimidated by the circumstances.
I expect GSP to put on a pace that BJ simply can't match. He'll be too quick on his feet for BJ to do serious damage while striking, and once he tires he'll get those take downs which have made him such a dominant fighter.
In the end, I either see a vicious high-risk maneuver, like a spinning back kick, or overwhelming ground and pound finishing of BJ Penn and sending him back to Lightweight with a bruised ego.
With that said, these are two of the best fighters in the world and it could easily go either way. Should be an incredible fight.