Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to the hurt business this Sunday night (Jan. 15, 2017) inside Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. The FOX Sports 1 telecast will be headlined by the return of BJ Penn, who looks to recapture some of that former glory against striking dynamo Yair Rodriguez.
UFC Fight Night 103 marks “The Prodigy’s” debut at featherweight.
Elsewhere on the card, lightweight veteran Joe Lauzon looks to quell the uprising of Bellator import Marcin Held, while well-traveled welterweights Court McGee and Ben Saunders collide for 170-pound bragging rights.
Curtain jerking this weekend’s offering is the flyweight showdown pitting John Moraga opposite Sergio Pettis. They’ll follow preliminary card action on both FOX Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass, which the esteemed Patty Stumberg dissected here and here.
For a look at all the UFC Fight Night 103 odds and betting lines click here.
Let’s take a look at the four-fight main card.
145 lbs.: Yair “Pantera” Rodriguez (9-1) vs. BJ “The Prodigy” Penn (16-10-2)
Nostradumbass predicts: The fact that BJ Penn, despite all his accomplishments, is fighting on FOX Sports 1 on a Sunday night in Phoenix, Arizona, should give you a pretty good idea where “The Prodigy” is at in his combat sports career.
Penn is now 38 years old and has not competed since summer 2014 — when he said he should not have come back. In addition, he’s making his debut in the featherweight division after a dreadful 1-5-1 run dating back to late 2009.
Think about that for a second ... one measly victory over a geriatric Matt Hughes in the last seven-plus years. That’s probably a direct result of never leaving his home base of Hilo, Hawaii, never getting uncomfortable in training camp, and never being challenged by the best fighters in the world.
The iron-chinned Penn has since aligned himself with Greg Jackson and Co., but is it too little, too late?
Probably. Rodriguez has yet to establish himself against the upper echelon of the division, so we don’t know just how good “Pantera” can be. I certainly like what I’ve seen thus far, as the Mexican-born striker can unload a dizzying array of punches and kicks.
He’s quick, with high volume and even higher intensity.
That’s something that has typically stymied Penn, even during his heyday. Rodriguez is much younger and more importantly, busy as a beaver, racking up six fights in the time Penn has been on the bench.
Grappling is always a factor when Penn competes, but he would need to get on the inside of Rodriguez, who controls distance fairly well and can kick without the fear of the double-leg takedown.
I would expect a spirited first round, but it’s only a matter of time before “Pantera” runs away with this thing.
Final prediction: Rodriguez def. Penn by unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Joe “J-Lau” Lauzon (26-12) vs. Marcin Held (22-5)
Nostradumbass predicts: Marcin Held entered UFC with a pretty impressive resume in the Bellator promotion. Then came a disappointing loss to Diego Sanchez in his Octagon debut, the same Sanchez who previously dropped five of eight.
After that, Will Brooks went and got whopped, making Held’s loss to “Ill” in Bellator look even worse.
Working in Held’s favor is his youth, as well as his unpredictability. He’s an aggressive fighter with a dangerous submission game, but he doesn’t have Joe Lauzon’s punching power, which for my money, is the difference maker in this fight.
I also have to consider the caliber of competition “J-Lau” has been facing over his decade-long run with UFC. We may as well go ahead and state the obvious: Held was outworked by “The Nightmare,” while Lauzon put him to sleep.
Lauzon is not a perfect fighter and he’s not getting any younger. But it’s hard to pick a “Bellator guy” over a UFC mainstay, especially one like Lauzon, who owns a staggering 25 finishes in 26 wins.
Final prediction: Lauzon def. Held by submission
170 lbs.: Court “Crusher” McGee (18-5) vs. Ben “Killa B” Saunders (20-7-2)
Nostradumbass predicts: This is an interesting fight in that it pits two Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veterans who are not ranked in the top 15. Basically, they are just here to put on a show and hope for a post-fight bonus.
McGee has been up and down for most of his UFC career and is wholly unspectacular. Just three knockouts in 23 professional fights is telling, as is his inability to secure a finish in over seven years.
He’s good, but not great in most areas.
Saunders, on the other hand, is a talented grappler who made the highlight reel hall of fame with his Omoplata in late 2014. He’s not the most durable fighter, but his Muay Thai is ferocious and he moves quickly for a man of his stature.
What should fans expect?
This could be one of those knock-down, drag-out brawls that sets the arena on fire. Or it could be three rounds of wall and stall. I have a hard time imagining a fighter as rugged as McGee -- coupled with a grappler as slick as Saunders — can’t find a way to deliver.
Final prediction: Saunders def. McGee by split decision
125 lbs.: John Moraga (16-5) vs. Sergio “The Phenom” Pettis (14-2)
Note: The following prediction courtesy of Patrick Stumberg after UFC reshuffled the UFC Fight Night 103 “Prelims” line up.
Prediction: Following his submission loss to Demetrious Johnson in his 2013 title shot, Moraga went 3-1 with wins over Dustin Ortiz and Justin Scoggins before running afoul of Joseph Benavidez. Nearly 14 months later, he returned to the cage and lost a split decision to The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Brazil 4” competitor Matheus Nicolau in July. He replaces the injured Jussier "Formiga" on less than three weeks’ notice.
"The Phenom’s" return to flyweight didn’t go as planned, as he suffered a massive upset knockout loss to Ryan Benoit at UFC 185. He’s since won two straight over Chris Cariaso and Chris Kelades, although injury has kept him out of the cage since April. He has three wins apiece by knockout and submission.
Moraga’s raw power and scrambling ability, combined with Pettis’s iffy chin, make this a fairly competitive and interesting fight. Skill-to-skill, however, "The Phenom" comes out on top.
Despite his background, Moraga’s wrestling has always been substandard; when his opponents want him down, he generally goes down. That’s seriously bad news against Pettis, who has an underrated takedown game he can fall back on when the going gets tough.
So long as he can keep his jaw out of harm’s way, expect Pettis to outstrike Moraga from the outside and mix in regular takedowns for the decision victory.
Final prediction: Pettis def. Moraga by unanimous decision
There you have it.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 103 fight card on Sunday night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET, also on FOX Sports 1.
For much more on this weekend’s big shebang on FOX Sports 1 click here.