By ANDRE JOHNSON
Bleacher Report Contributor
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Feeding off the energy of the announced sell-out crowd in FedExForum Saturday night, B.J. Penn began slapping his face and pounding his head, as if to say he knew he was well on his way to the birthday-celebrating victory he predicted in September when he agreed to defend his lightweight title against Diego Sanchez in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
In a number of ways, it seems those were about the only serious blows Penn took all night.
In the UFC 107 featured bout that was supposed to have been the toughest of Penn’s eight-year career, the world’s No. 1 lightweight fighter according to MMAWeekly, defended his title in relatively easy fashion, beating Sanchez, the top contender, in every way imaginable before referee Herb Dean stopped the fight 2 minutes, 37 seconds into the fifth round.
With a three-inch laceration a few inches above his left eye that bloodied virtually his entire face, the 27-year-old Sanchez bolted the arena and sought immediate medical attention, while Penn (15-5-1) hung around in the octagon momentarily, thanking the crowd and just about everyone he could think of for supporting him during what essentially began as a tumultuous year for the Kailua, Hawaii native.
On Jan. 31, Penn was beaten decisively by Canadian and current welterweight champion George St-Pierre in UFC 94: St-Pierre vs. Penn 2, a setback Penn admittedly left him experiencing weeks of depression and soul searching.
However, Saturday night was an entirely different outcome for the former UFC welterweight champion nicknamed “The Prodigy.” Penn gave Sanchez a seemingly intimidating stare throughout the fight and simply dominated the seven-year veteran from the outset.
“I was keeping my mouth shut,” Penn, sporting his title belt, said afterward. “But I’ve always wanted to fight Diego Sanchez. I knew he always wanted to fight me too.”
Sporting white trunks with his personal website address embroidered on the back, Penn forced Sanchez down twice in the opening round and wasted little time setting the pace against an obviously dazed Sanchez, who was dealt a cut to the right side of his face by way of Penn's fierce right jab less than two minutes in.
For Sanchez (21-3), who dropped his first fight since his spilt decision defeat to Jon Fitch in UFC 76: Knockout in September 2007, things only got worse from that point.
Sanchez, in fact, never could duplicate the spunk that propelled him to victories earlier this year over Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida. Wearing black and red “Bad Boy” trunks, Sanchez was forced near his corner time and again by Penn, who eventually landed an array of punches that opened up a cut in the center of his opponent’s nose.
By the third and fourth rounds, Penn seemed well in command against Sanchez who, by that time, was bleeding profusely from the mouth, portions of his blood starting to smear the front of Penn’s trunks.
With fans steadily chanting “B.J.” before the start of the fifth round, Penn immediately went after Sanchez, landing a combination of blows that resulted in a three-inch cut above his left eye. The bout was stopped suddenly as the referees checked the extent of Sanchez’s injury.
However, Dean called off the fight given Sanchez’s deep gash, thus awarding Penn his fifth technical knockout win of his career within 15 minutes of his 31st birthday.
“B. J. came in the champion,” a battered and bruised Sanchez said before exiting the Forum. “And he came in and was the best he’s been in a long time.”