UFC 137 Penn vs. Diaz: Are Fans Ready to See Penn vs. Georges St. Pierre III?

Bryan LevickContributor IOctober 29, 2011

Selling a rematch between former UFC Welterweight and Lightweight Champion BJ Penn and UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre wasn't a difficult task for the UFC back in January 2009 at UFC 94. After all, their first bout at UFC 58 was a fight legends are made of and ended with GSP taking home a highly controversial split decision victory.

The first time they fought was to determine who would face then-UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes, who had lost the title to Penn at UFC 46. Penn would leave the UFC over a contract dispute paving the way for Hughes to defeat St. Pierre at UFC 50 and begin his second tour as the organizations 170-pound champion.

When Penn decided to come back to the UFC after fighting in K-1 and a few other organizations, the UFC decided that matching him up against St. Pierre would not only determine a true No. 1 contender to Hughes' title, but would also allow newer UFC fans to get to know Penn and see what he could do inside the Octagon.

At UFC 58, Penn came out in the first round like a man possessed, owning St. Pierre on the feet and breaking his nose, leaving the Canadian bloodied and battered.

Things were not looking too good for GSP, but much like the champion he is, St. Pierre came out in the second and third rounds a completely different fighter. He was able to take advantage of his superior conditioning to outwork Penn and with the help of some well-timed takedowns; he was able to eke out the win.

As luck would have it, GSP was injured and unable to face Hughes for the second time. In stepped Penn looking to prove that his victory over Hughes wasn't a fluke as he attempted to regain the title he never truly lost. Unfortunately for Penn, he was stopped by Hughes in the third round and made the drop down to the lightweight division.

In the meantime, while Penn was beginning a nearly two-year domination of the lightweight division, GSP would go on to defeat Hughes at UFC 65 to win the 170-pound championship.

Although he would lose to Matt Serra in a shocking upset in his first attempt at defending the title, St. Pierre would recapture the interim title at UFC 79 in a rubber match against Hughes. GSP would gain a measure of revenge against Serra at UFC 83 in front of his hometown fans to win the undisputed welterweight title.

Penn would defend the lightweight title he won against Joe Stevenson at UFC 80 against former champion Sean Sherk at UFC 84. Penn began to set his sights on a rematch with St. Pierre to gain his revenge and become the first man to hold two titles in the UFC simultaneously.

After thrashing Jon Fitch at UFC 87, GSP was confronted inside the Octagon by Penn, who issued a formal challenge to meet up once again.

The two men would meet at UFC 94 in January 2009. Penn was thoroughly dominated by the bigger, stronger, better conditioned St. Pierre for four rounds before his corner called the fight off before the beginning of the fifth round because Penn was completely exhausted and the outcome had already been determined.

Without harping on the aftermath of what is now known as Grease Gate, Penn launched an all-out verbal and legal assault on GSP claiming he had Vaseline on his body causing him to be slippery and able to pass Penn's vaunted guard in a fashion never seen before.

Penn would go on to defend his lightweight title two more times before losing to Frankie Edgar at UFC 112 and then again at UFC 118. He made the decision to return to the welterweight division and has a draw against Fitch at UFC 127 and a 21-second knockout victory over Hughes in their rubber match at UFC 123.

That brings us to where we are today. Penn will face Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz tonight at UFC 137 in the main event.

The original plan was for Diaz to face GSP and Penn to face former WEC Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit in the co-main event. Diaz would lose his opportunity to face GSP because of two straight press conferences that he skipped, and Condit took his place opposite GSP in the main event.

That left Penn without an opponent, but that didn't last long as the UFC matched him up with Diaz in what has the potential to be a Fight of the Year candidate.

After St. Pierre suffered a knee injury while training for his fight with Condit, Penn vs. Diaz was given top billing and talk immediately began that the winner could possibly leapfrog Condit and earn the right to face GSP once he is cleared to fight.

UFC President Dana White remains adamant that Condit will be the first man to face St. Pierre when he returns, but to me that really isn't the question here.

The only problem anyone will have with Diaz facing St. Pierre should he defeat Penn is he is being rewarded too soon after creating such havoc for the organization and causing them to change the main event.

That is something fans will get over rather quickly once the UFC hype machine goes into full gear and everyone realizes that Diaz-St.Pierre is a fight worth waiting for.

The problem for the UFC here is what happens if Penn defeats Diaz? He would have a 2-0-1 record in his return to the welterweight division, but that isn't the issue. How will the UFC be able to sell a third fight between GSP and Penn after the way St. Pierre manhandled him back in 2009?

Penn also left a bad taste in people's mouths after telling anyone who would listen that GSP was a greaser, a steroid user and even going so far as having his mom testify on his behalf in front of the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

I for one do not see how a third fight would be any different than the first one. St. Pierre is still bigger; he is still stronger and if anything is a better wrestler than he was in their second fight.

Meanwhile, Penn seems to change his mind repeatedly about how much longer he wants to fight. It's not hard to imagine that he would have no problem getting himself up for another shot at GSP; we all know he can. It's everyone else who may have the problem seeing these two men locking horns once again.