The long road to UFC 137 is nearing its end.
This Saturday, Oct. 29, BJ Penn and Nick Diaz square off in the main event, a match surrounded by controversy and changes.
Originally, Nick Diaz was set to challenge Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight title. Then Diaz went and no-showed (Diaz-ed?) two press conferences in a row. He was replaced in the fight by Carlos Condit, who was set to face Penn in the co-main event.
Not long ago, St-Pierre was forced out of his fight due to a training injury. Rather than find Condit a quick replacement, he was pulled from the card as well, and Penn vs. Diaz was moved up into the main event slot.
So here we are, quickly approaching Saturday night, with but one question to ask...
Who wins the day?
Let's take it point by point:
While the easy answer is that Penn is the better boxer (he is), it isn't quite that straight forward in this match-up.
Penn is the more accurate, and powerful, puncher. For the most part, he uses crisp, straight shots to get through his opponent's guard and uses smart combinations to find openings. Relative to Diaz, he hits less often, and gets hit less often.
Diaz, on the other hand, utilizes a unique pitter-patter volume punching style that quickly accumulates damage, wearing down his opponent. Relative to Penn, he hits far more often, but gets hit significantly more as well.
Interestingly enough, each fighter's style matches up well against the other. Penn's tight, fundamental boxing should be able to find a home on Diaz's chin given the latter's penchant for dropping his hand, sticking his chin out, and generally keeping a more open guard.
On the flipside, Diaz could have success overwhelming Penn with flurries, especially if he can utilize body shots to soften Penn up. This is where Penn will need to be cautious. Getting into a firefight with Diaz isn't the best idea, as his hands never stop coming and he will throw caution completely to the wind.
So, who takes the striking battle? I think ultimately Penn's higher skill level and power give him the advantage on the feet. Though Diaz is fairly durable, he often benefits from being able to recover on the ground because very few fighters are willing to fully chase him.
Penn is not one of those people, but more on that below. If Penn catches Diaz and puts him on the ground, he will swarm for the finish.
In my mind, Penn walks away with this. He's both the better wrestler and jiu-jitsu grappler.
Listen, Diaz has very, very good jiu-jitsu. He's a black-belt under Cesar Gracie and is regarded as one of the better guard players in MMA today. I'm not forgetting the ridiculous gogoplata he pulled off against Gomi, and I'm not forgetting that he's never been submitted.
But Penn is called "The Prodigy" for a reason.
One of these fighters has taken home gold at the Mundials (World Jiu-Jitsu Championships). The other hasn't. It's that simple.
It's an understatement to say that it's unlikely that either man will be submitted in this fight, but Penn will have no reservations about going to the ground with Diaz, something Diaz is often able to use to his advantage.
More importantly, Penn is the stronger wrestler (both offensive and defensive), and should be able to take advantage of one of Diaz's most glaring weaknesses. Penn isn't exactly an All-American, but he was able to take Jon Fitch down and have success on the ground, so I see no reason that he won't be able to do the same to Diaz.
Diaz competes in triathlons for fun. Penn is often referred to as either "good" or "bad" BJ.
Who do you think will be in better shape on Saturday?
While Diaz's conditioning would be a bigger advantage if this were a five-round fight, don't underestimate the importance that his pace and gas tank play. His entire fighting style works because he can relentlessly come forward with punches, perpetually chipping away at his opponent.
As I mentioned above, Penn doesn't want to get caught up in too many prolonged exchanges with Diaz, because as he tires, Diaz will only continue to come forward, mouth running and fists flying. If Diaz can win this fight, it's by using his superior conditioning and wearing Penn down with body shots.
However, so long as he's able to manage the pace of the fight and dictate the exchanges, Penn's conditioning shouldn't be a major concern. It's unfortunate for Diaz that Cesar Gracie wasn't able to bait Penn into a five-rounder.
Though it won't be a cake walk, Penn should be able to get the better of Diaz on both the feet and the ground. I think we'll see Penn set up takedowns behind stiff two punch combinations, working to put Diaz either up against the cage or on the ground where his style will be nullified.
Though Diaz could soften Penn up early and turn this into a firefight, I think it's more likely that Penn will intelligently engage and work to his strengths.
Don't expect to see any one-shot knockouts or crazy submissions in this fight, but an eventual stoppage is probable.
Pick: BJ Penn by 3rd Round TKO