Two of the most talented welterweights in the world will make battle tomorrow night (October 29, 2011) as former multi-divisional champion B.J. Penn takes on former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz in the main event of UFC 137.
B.J. Penn is stuck between a rock and a hard place at the moment. He's currently 0-2 against both the UFC lightweight champion (Frankie Edgar) and welterweight champion (Georges St. Pierre). As he waits for one of those champs to drop the title, he just needs to keep racking up wins against everyone else and that includes Nick Diaz.
Nick Diaz was supposed to be main eventing this pay-per-view already, although it was originally against Georges St. Pierre with the title on the line. A couple missed press conferences and flights and he was demoted to the co-main event against Penn. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for GSP, the champ went down with an injury and now Diaz is again in the main event. He's looking for a career-defining victory against Penn tomorrow night.
Will "The Prodigy" put away the Stockton bad boy? Can Diaz score a significant victory against a top level UFC opponent? What does each top shelf welterweight need to do to secure a victory tomorrow night in the UFC 137 main event?
Let's find out:
Record: 16-7-2 overall, 13-6-2 in the UFC
Key Losses: Frankie Edgar 2x (UFC 118, UFC 113), Georges St. Pierre 2x (UFC 94, UFC 58)
How he got here: B.J. Penn was a legend before he ever even entered the UFC, having been the first American Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to win the gold medal in the World Jiu-Jitsu championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Penn shocked the world when he blasted them top ranked lightweight Caol Uno in 11 seconds at UFC 34 but would come up short against champion Jens Pulver just two months later.
When Pulver relinquished the title to compete overseas, Penn fought Uno in a rematch to a draw that was so lukewarm that the UFC eliminated the entire lightweight division. One year later, upon his return to the UFC, he was awarded a welterweight title shot against then considered unbeatable champion Matt Hughes but "The Prodigy" took Hughes' back and choked him out in the first round to win the UFC title.
Instead of defending his belt, the Hawaiian left the UFC and his weight ballooned, even fighting future UFC champion Lyoto Machida at heavyweight. When he returned, he lost a hotly contested decision to Georges St. Pierre in a number one contender match but was granted the title shot when GSP couldn't make the date due to an injury.
This time around, Penn would get worn down by Hughes and an exhausted "Prodigy" would fade under Hughes' attack late in the third round. The Hawaiian took a year off, filmed season five of The Ultimate Fighter as a coach against Jens Pulver and then avenged his loss to "Little Evil" on the finale.
The newly motivated B.J. Penn would win the vacant UFC lightweight championship against Joe Stevenson and would defend it three times to soar up the pound-for-pound rankings. He would lose a welterweight title shot to Georges St. Pierre in the process and then would also lose consecutive decisions to current champion Frankie Edgar to surrender his lightweight title last year. Since then, Penn has moved to welterweight where he destroyed Hughes in a trilogy match and drew with consensus number two welterweight Jon Fitch earlier this year.
Penn is in limbo at the moment and a big showing against Nick Diaz could help him find his place.
How he gets it done: B.J. Penn is an incredible Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and his boxing is very crisp. That's not his path to victory, however. The biggest thing that separates Penn and Diaz is Penn's offensive wrestling. "The Prodigy" displayed terrific takedown skills against Jon Fitch earlier this year. Fitch is one of the best MMA wrestlers on the planet and Penn manhandled him in the first 1 1/2 rounds.
If he could do that to Fitch, he can definitely do it to Nick Diaz. Penn also has likely been working those muscles for longer periods of time so he won't get as exhausted this time around either.
When he's not working for takedowns and trying to advance position on the the ground or dish out ground and pound, Penn should be patient in his stand-up. Nick Diaz wants to lure him into a brawl, but instead, Penn should sit back and wait for openings. Nick Diaz does not have great defensive boxing and he gets caught or dropped in nearly all of his recent fights.
At some point, Diaz will likely leave himself open and Penn could hurt him badly if he can take advantage.
Record: 25-7 (1 No Contest) overall, 6-4 in the UFC
How he got here: Nick Diaz has been fighting tough challengers since he was 17 years old. He battled Chris Lytle to a unanimous decision victory in just his second professional bout. Diaz was the inaugural WEC welterweight champion and burst onto the scene in the UFC when he knocked out Robbie Lawler, a fighter the promotion had been grooming to be a potential future champion.
Diaz had a 6-4 run in the UFC, but could never quite get over the hump. He left the promotion in early 2007 and defeated Takanori Gomi via gogoplata in one of the most exciting bouts in MMA history although the result was overturned with a positive test for marijauna. Diaz would lose a match to K.J. Noons for the EliteXC lightweight title before heading to Strikeforce and winning the inaugural welterweight championship there.
Diaz is in the midst of a 10 fight winning streak that includes victories against the likes of Paul Daley, Evangelista Santos, Hatato Sakurai as well as avenging his loss to Noons. He's looking for validation with a victory against B.J. Penn on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Nick Diaz is longer than B.J. Penn and that could be the key to victory for him. He's got a crazy offensive attack in his striking that consists of pure volume strikes, mixing in so many blows that the opponent gets confused and doesn't see the heavy shots coming.
Diaz also likes to talk trash, leave his arms up, get his opponent flustered. If he can get Penn angry, perhaps draw him into a brawl, that's the type of fight he loves and that's the type of fight he can win. If Penn loses his composure in the fight, he could make a mistake that the Stockton native could capitalize on.
Lastly, if Diaz can push a crazy pace, he could tire Penn out. The key will be to get in Penn's face and get him to be really active. Penn gassed out late against Jon Fitch in his last fight and conditioning is never a problem for Diaz so perhaps that could be his path to victory as well.
Fight "X-Factor:" The X-Factor for this fight is, with how much respect Nick Diaz has for B.J. Penn, will he be willing to fight his normal style, which is, taunting, trash talking, motioning his opponent and forcing them to scrap with him instead of sticking with their gameplan.
If Diaz has too much respect for Penn to do that, he could wind up fighting Penn's fight, which could be really bad for him. Penn will likely either want to take Diaz to the ground or be patient standing and counter Diaz's volume strikes when he sees an opening so if Diaz doesn't get in his head, he could be in for a world of hurt.
Bottom Line: This is a battle of two very evenly-matched opponents. If B.J. Penn doesn't utilize his wrestling advantage, it could literally be either man's fight. Nick Diaz has more to prove and more to lose with this bout than Penn does as he was originally slated to fight for the UFC welterweight title and would likely be right in contention again if he were to win. Both of these fighters bring it every time and put on a "Fight of the Night" worthy performance or a knockout or submission of the night. Expect fireworks.
Who will come out on top at UFC 137? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!