Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
The cards are stacked against B.J. Penn tonight. Not only has the Hawaiian been on the shelf for over a year, he’s returning from a planned retirement. “The Prodigy” didn’t intend on competing professionally again following his loss to Nick Diaz at UFC 137, and we have no idea what he’s spent the majority of his away time doing.
Rory MacDonald managed to lure B.J. out of the realm of inactivity with his mouth and premature claims of greatness. Penn’s decision to return to MMA indicates that he’s obviously been affected by the chatter. Tonight we’ll see just how far Rory MacDonald was able to burrow himself under Penn’s skin.
However, in addition to the time away from competition and the fielding of constant trash talk, Penn finds himself in quite a bind, for a number of different reasons. He’s smaller than “Ares,” doesn’t boast the wrestling pedigree possessed by the youngster and doesn’t typically do well with men aggressive enough to plant him on his back and hurl leather at his face.
MacDonald will indeed force this fight to the canvas at some point, and even B.J. Penn will have some issues dealing with the Canadian’s devastating ground-and-pound.
If the former two-division champ hopes to derail the surging train known as Rory MacDonald, he’s got to keep this fight upright as long as possible. Penn has one of the best chins in the business, and it’s very conceivable that he can absorb MacDonald’s punches all night long if this fight turns into a kickboxing match for three rounds. He also has enough power in his fists to put the youngster away. If Condit was able to rattle Rory’s brain with his fists, B.J. Penn can manage the same.
There’s always the chance of a wild scramble on the mat, which could enable B.J. to find himself affixed to the back of MacDonald, but I wouldn’t bet the house on it. Penn’s fists will probably be his greatest weapon.
In the end, it may not be the fistic fury of Penn or his ability to sink rear-naked chokes like childhood paper boats that matters most. Conditioning may be the most significant X-factor in this fight.
If Penn is in the shape in which he claims to be, he shouldn’t have issues going to war with Rory for three rounds. If he stuffs the takedown attempts of “Ares” early and often, he’ll throw Rory off of his game. And while MacDonald has a significant size advantage, he’s not quite as gritty as Penn, and that powerful jab the Hawaiian owns will become a constant threat.
Penn sets up one-hitter-quitters with that jab, and if Rory begins to doubt himself for a moment and fails to take this fight to the canvas, a B.J. Penn knockout is very plausible. You just don’t toss fists at a brick wall that hits back.
B.J. Penn has a solid chance of returning to the spotlight tonight. If he’s going to make that happen, however, he’d better prevent Rory MacDonald from securing the takedown and turning his face into raw hamburger. “The Prodigy” is going to need to follow the old Chuck Liddell game plan to upset the rising star: sprawl and brawl B.J., sprawl and brawl brah!
Follow Matt Molgaard on Twitter.