This Saturday night one of the pound for pound best in the sport, BJ Penn, puts his lightweight championship on the line as he enters the Octagon to battle The Ultimate Fighter season one middleweight winner, Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez, at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.
This year got off to a rough start for Penn (14-5-1) as he jumped up to the welterweight division to avenge his 2006 split decision loss to Georges St. Pierre. That time he wound up seeing his corner throw in the towel after Pierre's size proved to be too much for the Hilo, HI native.
After a bit of controversy and much frustration, Penn decided a drop back down to the lightweight division would be in order. He would ended up successfully defending his belt against Kenny Florian in the main event of UFC 101: Declaration just over four months ago with a rear-naked chose late in the fourth round.
Sanchez's (21-2) year has gone a bit better as he most recently fought 15 grueling minutes and ultimately walked away with a split decision win over fan favorite Clay Guida at the Ultimate Fighter Season 9 Finale. That possible fight-of-the-year win was preceded by his unanimous decision win over Joe "Daddy" Stevenson at UFC 95.
A drop down to the lightweight division for his last two bouts has re-energized the "Nightmare" as he sees his confidence at an all time high. He has reeled off four consecutive victories since suffering back-to-back decision losses to Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck back in 2007.
Clearly the edge in opposition falls on the side of Penn, as he's shared The Octagon with Georges St. Pierre, Lyoto Machida, Matt Hughes, and Jens Pulver. He's faced the cream of the crop in several different divisions.
While Sanchez has never been in the cage with a world champion, the unparalleled intensity that he brings to the cage along with his unbelievable cardio is something that the champion has arguably never experienced in his impressive career.
The "Nightmare" brings the heat every minute of every round he fights. Whether he's throwing his hands or knees, shooting for a takedown, or scrambling on the ground he simply refuses to take a moment off.
Penn's cardio has been a question mark for a lot of his career, but since bringing in strength and conditioning coach Marv Marinovich to his team prior to the Florian fight it has improved.
To be honest, I'm just not sure it's going to be enough to keep the relentlessness of Sanchez at bay for a full five rounds.
Unlike Penn, Sanchez has never never been dealt a loss by way of stoppage, whether it be from strikes or submission. I can see this fight going the distance with a lot of great back and forth action, making it Sanchez's second consecutive fight of the year candidate.
The difference to me ultimately comes down to Sanchez's non-stop aggression over the course of the fight, including the championship rounds, which he has not yet seen before.
Both fighters have established that they have iron chins and a deep will to win that cannot be questioned.
They also share a common opponent in Kenny Florian where, as stated earlier, Penn won via submission in the fourth round. Sanchez was able to out-strike Florian and take him out in the first.
"It's my dream. Ever since I was a little kid." Penn would say about fighting after his bout with Florian.
He made the dream a reality with his storied career.
But now is the time for the "Nightmare".
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