Roaming the landscape of mixed martial arts are many variations of mixed martial artists. The spectrum of talent, legend and star power is broad to say the least. Many fighters leave an impression but there are only a few who can claim status as MMA elite.
Being that the elite of MMA are not as abundant as those still making their name and their way in this sport; it is rare that two of the sports greatest fighters touch gloves for anything less than a title strap on the line.
Looking back, Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva was the type of non title fight that showcased two of the sports greatest light heavyweights in a match that was just for “funsies” with no tangible reward on the line.
The true reward was not UFC gold or contender status, it was in the war that the fans had been begging for on their hands and knees for what seemed like an eternity. They got what they asked for and then some in the form of one of the greatest fights in the sport’s history, UFC Gold be damned.
Now the UFC has brought together another match up for the ages between two of the sport’s most elite competitors. Two men who are synonymous with the top of the food chain, and perennial game changers for any man they fight.
This match up is the headliner for UFC 127, B.J. Penn vs. Jon Fitch. It is a clash of styles and elite pedigrees that leaves fight fans salivating for an outcome and all that comes with it. A dangerous boxer with killer instincts in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and striking vs. an unflappable, accomplished, grinding wrestler who can not be stopped or slowed.
The classic clash of styles takes fight fans back to the glory days of the sport as they look forward to a wrestling vs. striking match up between two of the sports best at their respective disciplines. That is not to say they don't have more in their arsenals only that they are both so good that only their sharpest tools will vault one of them towards the success they so desperately seek.
So while Fitch may fancy his hands, they really are no match for Penn’s striking. And while Penn may be extremely proud of his BJJ pedigree the last place he wants to be with Jon Fitch is on his back.
So what fight fans can expect is a bread and butter match up between two guys with a Texas toast sized helping of striking vs. grappling, finishing skills vs. grinding, good vs. evil, well maybe not the last part so much but the point remains. A clash of styles is what is on tap.
What Jon Fitch has going for him is more than enough to sleep well at night leading up to his bout with the man known as “The Prodigy”. To give a generic run down, Jon Fitch is an American Kickboxing Academy trained fighter with an accomplished wrestling pedigree.
The only reason Jon Fitch is not a UFC champion, and never has been, is the same reason many fighters might say they are not or have not been UFC champions, Georges St. Pierre.
Fitch has steamrolled through every challenge Dana White and Joe Silva could throw at him, other than one title fight that saw GSP play patty cake with Fitch’s face for twenty five minutes. Unable to stop Fitch, GSP was forced to punish the number one contender relentlessly to become the only man to ever beat him over his UFC career.
While many focus on GSP's win against Fitch, what many overlook is that Fitch is the only man since a flash in the pan by Matt Serra, and really St. Pierre’s first fight with B.J. Penn, to pressure the man known as “Rush”.
Fitch may have taken a world class beating, but he clearly stung the champ on more than one occasion and is one of the few fighters in the world who can say he has made GSP move backward in a fight. Fitch may forever hold a L on his record with GSP but much more went on in that fight than wins and losses, even if it is long forgotten that Fitch held his own.
Other than that one blemish in the UFC, the man has had his hand raised a stunning 13 times with scalps on his belt bearing the names Alves twice, Lytle, Thiago, Saunders, and Sanchez. That is the short list.
Fitch wants nothing more than to add the name Penn to that list and earn that which he has waited for like patience on a monument, another shot at that UFC WW gold.
Baby J Penn probably has other plans for Mr. Fitch and is hatching some devilish plan down in Hilo Hawaii to become the first man to ever stop him in the UFC. And that is what Penn has going for him leading into this bout.
The man is a finisher, something Fitch knows little about. Four of fourteen (29%) UFC fights for Fitch have ended early, the rest were grinding decision wins. Penn on the other hand has finished eleven of nineteen (58%). “The Prodigy” likes to put his opponents away there are no two ways about it.
Matt Hughes can tell you all about it having been stopped twice by Penn once by KO and once by submission. Not too many people can say they stopped Hughes twice.
When Penn takes his corner across from Fitch he will not only have a world of confidence both as a former LW champion mixed martial artist, but also as an elite WW going for him. He has been more than successful at this weight once holding a world title there as well.
His only losses at WW came at the hands of Matt Hughes which he avenged with a fury, and against GSP a man who has become Penn’s holy grail. The record at first glance looks pretty unimpressive at WW even with the brief title reign, but it his strength of schedule that should be considered as the litmus test.
He fought the best WW had to offer and held his own with legends, even earning that strap as mentioned before.
Now he faces the strongest competition in the division not named GSP. The jaw tweaking bearded menace that sucks the life out of opponents with a relentless pace and gritty performances displaying nothing but superior technique and ability.
Can Penn force his fight, can he bring the type of pain that only he can inflict, can he endure the pace, the technique, the pressure, and become the only man since GSP to send Jon Fitch back to the drawing board as a UFC competitor?
He has already been banished from a division that once, and perhaps still does, call him the greatest ever at lightweight. Now he has laid his sights on an old friend, the WW division.
He is coming off a stunning and equally devastating KO win over a legend who had a world of momentum before meeting Penn, Matt Hughes. Now comes the next test.
The pressure here lies on Penn as Fitch has been battle tested and carries a long standing tradition of imposing his will on tough opponents. Penn will be challenged with cracking the code and imposing his own style of fight on Fitch, the kind of style that makes fights get ugly.
Fitch hasn't been in an ugly fight since his bout with GSP and Penn has just the pedigree to bring the man back down to China town for a rough night of mixed martial arts.
The interesting thing is that along with a clash of styles there is a compelling clash of talents. Jon Fitch can’t be finished, B.J. Penn is a finisher. Fitch likes to Grind, Penn likes to go to the after party.
On both sides of this equation there are lots of answers as to what each man should do. The questions now lie in what each man will do. Fitch can push the pace, Penn can end it, Fitch can go the distance, Penn can work quickly, Fitch likes to grapple, Penn likes to bang, oh how sweet it is.
Add to those aspects the truly elite pedigrees that each man brings to the table and this could be one for the ages. It may not be a title fight, or one of the superfights that many fight fans are calling for but it carries with it all the ingredients to burn the barn to the ground and maybe even catch the neighbors place on fire too.
Rest assured not only are fight fans eagerly awaiting the outcome of this fight, the entire WW division will be reshaped when it comes to a close. When these two wrecking balls are done swinging their destruction, things will be very different in MMA.
Either Penn will have emerged once again as a top WW contender or Fitch will become the man to possibly retire B.J. Penn. The implications and possible outcomes are many but it is not the destination that compels us, it is the road to where we are going that we will remember.
There are fifteen possible minutes on the horizon that should grip the MMA world like the deathclutch of Brock Lesnar. This is one none of us want to miss. Don’t be the one reading headlines Sunday morning about an incredible fight you should have been watching Saturday night fight fan.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad.com.