In what is being regarded as the latest example of "Olde School" vs. "New Skool," we have two hotly anticipated bouts on UFC on Fox 5 on Saturday night between former champions who have fallen on hard times and top prospects in their divisions. BJ Penn faces Rory MacDonald, followed by Mauricio "Shogun" Rua squaring off against Alexander Gustafsson.
The thing is, the old favorites are huge underdogs for very little reason and are in perfect position to remind folks why they are the ones who have touched UFC gold.
Their opponents are still just kids.
The biggest reason for their underdog status, let's be honest, is the questions about cardio. Penn has a very, very long history of fizzling while fighting at 170 pounds. At lightweight, he is a monster with no equal. At welterweight, though, essentially all of his fights boil down to strong starts that limp to a decision. This, after all, is precisely what happened when he fought both Nick Diaz and Jon Fitch.
Shogun's struggles are far more recent. In his latest fight, a headline affair with Brandon Vera, Shogun gassed and struggled against his supposed-to-be-entirely-undeserving opponent. He would score a fourth-round knockout against Vera, but this was clearly not the Shogun of old.
And Brandon Vera is clearly no Alexander Gustafsson.
Obviously, saying it is entirely about the cardio of the older fighters is a disservice to Rory MacDonald and Alexander Gustafsson. Both fighters have been as good as can be reasonably expected, with MacDonald sitting on a 4-1 UFC record and Gustafsson sitting at 6-1. They both have big wins over serious competition, and their lone losses have been to top 10 fighters (Carlos Condit and Phil Davis, respectively).
That said, there is no getting around the fact that the younger fighters have terrible matchups against these older guys. Rory MacDonald has gotten by to this point by outmuscling and grounding-and-pounding opponents. Penn's speed, unquestionably superior striking and legendary takedown defense are likely insurmountable for MacDonald.
Meanwhile, there is not a fan who has seen Shogun fight who does not know how amazing his striking is. He knocked out Lyoto Machida, one of the best pure strikers in MMA today, and has other knockouts over Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Alistair Overeem and Cyrille Diabate.
Gustafsson has strong stand-up but is simply not in Rua's league. He has been working on his wrestling for this fight, but as we saw in Matt Mitrione vs. Cheick Kongo, it takes far longer than six months to develop wrestling skills to overcome veteran mixed martial artists.
While the questions about cardio are undeniably there, both Penn and Rua have been actively showing off how in-shape they are for Saturday's event. Just looking at their musculature in comparison to their recent fights, you can see abs and traps you haven't seen in a long while.
At the very least, it shows that they are completely in-shape for these fights, which we have not seen from either of these fighters in a long while.
To top it all off, something that fans often need to be reminded of is that even though Rua and Penn have been around the sport for a long time, they are not really that old. BJ Penn is 33 years old, while Shogun is just 31. They are much younger than fighters like Anderson Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Dan Henderson.
Mixed martial arts is still a sport where anything can happen, but as we have seen time and time again, experience is a major factor in the cage.
It isn't everything, but we know how great Penn and Rua are capable of being. When it comes to betting, in this case, I'm putting my money down on what we know over what we expect.