This Saturday (Dec. 8, 2012), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will serve up its fifth mixed martial arts (MMA) effort on FOX from the KeyArena in Seattle, Washington.
UFC on FOX 5: "Henderson vs. Diaz" is undoubtedly the strongest card on paper to be broadcast on network television in the United States. One pillar of that strength is a terrific match up between an up-and-down veteran and a young phenom, as B.J. Penn takes on Rory MacDonald in the main card's featured Welterweight bout.
Penn has many questions to answer, but in the lead up to the fight, he seems ready to answer them. He has long been a big name in the UFC, and it is up to him now to prove he that he deserves to stay one now and in the future. Penn was never given the nickname "The Prodigy" for nothing.
That's because even before his storied MMA career, Penn was turning heads as the first non-Brazilian to win the jiu-jitsu world championship at the black belt level. He was a great talent who was destined for greatness at an early age.
Along the way, Penn may have faced some serious trouble, but he has never been anything but a fighter at heart. Throughout his career, Penn has faced the same problems as many other great talents: the motivation to work hard to achieve even more.
Even without hard training, Penn was still a good, if not great, fighter; however, the natural talent he possessed was also what held him back. When it came to fighting the best of the best, Penn would typically lose because of a poor work ethic, not because his opponent was truly better than him.
As his career went on, this problem faced him more and more. Though he shined as the UFC lightweight champion, his motivation dwindled as he went into his last fight as a champion. Against Frankie Edgar, Penn showed none of the killer side he had shown against fighters like Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian and Joe Stevenson, dropping back-to-back losses to "The Answer."
He just wasn't the killer he had once been.
Though Penn is getting on in fight years, he still has all the same talent he did as a young fighter. He may not have the athletic gifts, but his technique is terrific in all areas, and he still possesses revered boxing and jiu-jitsu. As he showed in his quick victory over Matt Hughes, his competitive draw with Jon Fitch, and his first round performance against Nick Diaz, Penn does have some serious skill left in him.
What was lacking in the latter two examples was the ability to follow up his great early offense in the later parts of the fight, ultimately showing a lack of endurance.
Against MacDonald, I expect nothing less than the first round Penn showed against Diaz. MacDonald's deficient striking defense and unproven wrestling ability come to mind as holes that Penn can -- and likely will -- exploit early. In fact, he should be able to beat MacDonald to the punch at every turn, and he should have no trouble stopping takedowns.
At least in the first round.
To be honest, the second and third rounds are the only reason Penn is the "Fighter to Watch." In the first round, I have no reason to believe "Ares" will look better than Penn. The only variable here is Penn's ability to continue to push in the rounds afterward. From what I've seen of his training and current physique, he looks like he's really taking this fight seriously.
With terrific training partners and the motivation to put forward a great performance, things are looking good for Penn so far. Will those factors be enough to provide Penn with the physical ability to push Rory in ways he hasn't been pushed before? Only time will tell.
But, Penn certainly has it in him to show that an old dog can learn new tricks, and that a veteran can defeat a rising phenom.
Of course, if Penn isn't in top condition, the stronger, younger more athletic fighter will have his way with an out-of-shape Penn, who will be hard pressed to find any success against such a promising prospect. However, if he is physically prepared, I'd expect nothing less than an emphatic Penn victory.
Penn can truly go either way in this fight, which is the reason he is the UFC on FOX 5 "Fighter to Watch."