As great as watching Rampage and Rashad settle their differences Saturday night would have been, the headlining act for UFC 107 is actually a better fight, as Lightweight champion BJ Penn defends his belt against Diego Sanchez.
While people often talk about the "fairness" of different fighters' escalation to a title shot, little has been said of Sanchez' two fight foray into the lightweight division culminating in this bout. Diego Sanchez has won all of two fights as a lightweight heading into this bout. Just remember that the next time someone is bashing Brock Lesnar's path to the heavyweight title.
Merited or not, this stands to be a great fight, as Sanchez will undoubtedly bring the fight to Penn. Over the last eight years, everyone who has done so in the 155 pound division has been defeated.
We've waded through the introductory bouts and the build-up to the big dance, but now it's time to tackle the main event in classic Fight Week Preview style.
"The Prodigy" BJ Penn (14-5-1) versus Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez (23-2-0)
Our usual point of origin in the FWP segments is training camps, where Sanchez earns the edge, but with an asterisk.
As a member of The Arena, Sanchez trains under Saulo Ribeiro and works alongside veteran MMA competitors Rani Yahya, KJ Noons, Fabricio Camoes, and Xande Ribeiro. Prior to making the move to San Diego, Sanchez worked for a number of years with his hometown team at Jackson's Submission Fighting.
The asterisk comes courtesy of Penn being a bit of a lone wolf when it comes to training and the results that have accompanied that routine.
While there are other fighters who prepare for their bouts alongside Penn in Hilo, Hawaii (like Shane Nelson for example), Penn isn't surrounded by a stable of fighters or big name coaches with lists of prized pupils. It's him, brother Jay Dee, and The Marinovichs, his new strength and conditioning team.
Normally, solo training and being the clear Alpha male makes me shy away, but it's been that way forever with Penn and the results at 155 show that it works for him.
Strength of schedule is next up and a clear victory for "The Prodigy," having held belts in two weight classes and faced the likes of GSP, Matt Hughes, Lyoto Machida, and countless other upper echelon opponents.
Conversely, the five biggest names Sanchez has ever gone up against are Kenny Florian, Nick Diaz, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, and Joe Stevenson. These five fights have ended in a 3-2 record for Sanchez. While every fight could be your biggest win to date, having a proven track record certainly helps convince people of your ability to win the big one.
These two share two common opponents, though one is a bit of a stretch.
The Kenny Florian that Diego Sanchez defeated to become "The Other Original Ultimate Fighter" is a vastly different fighter than the man Penn submitted this past August in Philadelphia.
A win Saturday for "KenFlo" and a Sanchez loss could setup a much welcomed rematch to help illustrate that point.
However, both also defeated Joe Stevenson—Diego in his lightweight debut and Penn to claim the lightweight title. Comparatively speaking, the two fights aren't even close.
Sanchez outboxed Stevenson in a fight that spent very little time on the mat, earning a unanimous decision. Thirteen months earlier, Penn battered Stevenson for just over nine minutes, earning a submission win and the Lightweight title while leaving the former Ultimate Fighter winner a bloody mess.
Tactically, Sanchez has the cardio and energy to push the pace against Penn. While Penn's endurance at 155 has never been a problem, Sanchez is on a different level than most fighters when it comes to the speed at which he fights. That said, he's never been beyond three rounds and never faced a champion before.
In terms of style, Sanchez holds the edge in the wrestling department, though he is facing one of the best in the business at maintaining balance and defending the take-down. And no, getting taken down repeatedly by GSP at 170 doesn't work as evidence to the contrary.
Penn is equal or better everywhere else. His boxing is among the best in the sport, his jiu jitsu is what earned him the name "The Prodigy" in the first place, and his flexibility and balance are off the charts.
While the UFC could certainly be giving Diego Sanchez a serious media push heading into this fight because of his TUF ties and with an eye to the future, the other very real possibility is that they've learned something I've only recently come to accept—BJ Penn is the best to ever fight at 155 pound in the history of the sport.
Try selling the opponent with that as your opening...
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