UFC 107 is less than two weeks away, and it seems as if there is very little hype surrounding the lightweight title showdown between BJ Penn and Diego Sanchez.
Perhaps it is because MMA fans are beginning to realize what many of us already knew: Sanchez has little to no shot of defeating the Prodigy.
The simple fact of the matter is Sanchez does not offer any unique challenges to the champion. That is not to take anything away from the tough and tenacious fighter from Albuquerque; he just is not on the same level as Penn. Here’s why.
5. Takedown Defense
There is no arguing that Diego Sanchez is a solid wrestler. Sanchez sets an incredible pace in his fights and uses that relentless attack to wear down his opponents and secure his takedowns. It just takes a lot more than tenacity to take down BJ Penn.
Penn is renowned for his ability to stuff takedowns. By using his incredible flexibility and amazing balance, Penn is able to thwart the takedown attempts of even elite-caliber wrestlers.
While Sanchez is high energy, he lacks explosiveness. He doesn’t have the true knockout power or dynamic attack that is needed to take out an elite level fighter. Penn, on the other hand, is deceptively explosive and dynamic.
Penn does not look like a prototypical athlete; he has a slight build, chubby face, and a seemingly soft body. But the Prodigy can explode at the point of impact. Penn has power in both hands, and once he smells blood in the water, he does not hesitate to open up his arsenal of strikes, including his effective and devastating flying knee.
Add Penn’s natural explosiveness to his newfound dedication to a strength and conditioning regimen, and Sanchez will be in store for a nightmare.
Not only does Sanchez lack real power, but he also lacks technique. Sanchez has displayed poor footwork and wild striking in the past and his lack of technical striking could spell doom for his title hopes. His striking has been effective enough to lead him this far in his career, but it needs to improve if he ever intends to reach the pinnacle of MMA.
Being dynamic and powerful is only part of what makes Penn a dangerous striker. His biggest asset is his technical striking. Penn is one of the best boxers in all of MMA and is also one of the few fighters who actually utilizes an effective jab.
Penn uses his jab to perfection. He uses it offensively to keep his opponent off balance and to set up the rest of his attack, as well as a defensive tool to create space. With the jab alone Penn has the ability to dominate a fight, and if you have any feelings otherwise, just ask former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk.
2. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Sanchez may come from a strong wrestling and grappling background, but his skill set is minuscule compared to the grappling pedigree that Penn comes from.
Not only did Penn earn his black belt in just three short years, he won a gold medal at the Mundial World Championships as well, becoming the first non-Brazilian to do so. Penn personifies the very definition of world-class grappling.
Top or bottom, it doesn’t matter; Penn is dangerous from any position on the ground and can end the fight in the blink of an eye.
What makes Penn so dangerous in a grappling situation is his dexterity and flexibility. Penn can basically move and use his legs like another set of arms.
The other day I was reading an article that Bleacher Report’s very own Stoker had written about this fight, and in the comment thread Stoker mentioned the calmness that great fighters maintain during their fights. That comment got me to thinking, and it helped me realize that this is Penn’s biggest advantage going into this fight.
Sanchez is known for his toughness and tenacity, but also the anger that he seemingly fights with. Anger can be a helpful motivational tool during training, but inside the cage it causes a fighter to lose their cool and get sloppy. For a fighter who has a tendency to be sloppy anyway, it could be disastrous.
Penn, much like the other current giants of the sport, fights cool, calm, and calculating. His expression inside the cage does not change whether he is on his back or going in for the kill.
By maintaining an even keel, Penn keeps himself from making the stupid mistakes a frustrated fighter would make.
Come Dec. 12, BJ Penn will not only defend his UFC lightweight title; he will not let Diego Sanchez even see the championship rounds.