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UFC Fight Night 103 fight card: BJ Penn vs Yair Rodriguez full fight preview

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Rodriguez vs Caceres Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Featherweight veteran BJ Penn faces off with prospect Yair Rodriguez TONIGHT (Jan. 15, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 103 inside Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, Arizona.

It’s actually been a little over six years since BJ Penn has won a fight. He’s lost to a number of top contenders in multiple divisions in that time period, but Penn really needs to prove that he has something left in the tank in this match up.

On the other hand, Rodriguez is one of the fastest rising and most unique up-and-comers around. The Mexican athlete’s flashy style of jump and spinning kicks have already earned him plenty of fans, but there’s always a chance that this could turn out to be a far tougher test than expected for the Tae Kwon Doe fighter.

Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for both men.

BJ Penn

Record: 16-10-2

Key Wins: Matt Hughes (UFC 123, UFC 46), Kenny Florian (UFC 101), Sean Sherk (UFC 84), Diego Sanchez (UFC 107)

Key Losses: Frankie Edgar (UFC 112, 118, TUF 19 Finale), Rory MacDonald (UFC on FOX 5), Nick Diaz (UFC 137)

Keys to Victory: Even in most of his losses — aside from the final showdown with Edgar — Penn showed off his incredible skill before being defeated. The jiu-jitsu master developed a dangerous boxing attack, and his incredible takedown defense has been well-known for years.

Penn has never been known for his cardio, even in the best of days. In a five round battle against a non-stop combatant like Rodriguez, it’s pretty clear that Penn needs to get to work early on.

Luckily, the style match up does seem to favor Penn, as the question will largely be whether he still has the skills to take advantage.

Opposite “Pantera,” Penn is the sharper boxer and should look to pursue that range. By pressuring his opponent, Penn will make it more difficult for Rodriguez to unleash his kicks. Plus, Penn is the first really dangerous counter puncher that Rodriguez has faced, meaning he could capitalize on one of Rodriguez’s charges.

Additionally, Penn needs to hunt for the takedown or look to grab Rodriguez’s back after a spin. Even if all his other skills have diminished greatly, Penn’s jiu-jitsu is still going to be dangerous, and there are few better at finishing from the back than Penn.

Yair Rodriguez

Record: 8-1

Key Wins: Alex Caceres (UFC Fight Night 92), Andre Fili (UFC 197), Charles Rosa (UFC 188), Dan Hooker (UFC 192)

Key Losses: None

Keys to Victory: Rodriguez is an excellent kicker with a wild attack. He’s very difficult to predict, as Rodriguez will both set up strikes beautifully or spin into random offense. His ground game has also proven to be solid, as none of his recent opponents have found any success there.

In this match up, Rodriguez may want to be a bit more selective on when to take risks in the first round or two. That’s not exactly his style, but he also doesn’t want to give a fresh BJ Penn his back.

That’s the recipe for an upset.

Instead, Rodriguez needs to focus on his movement and long kicks. He’s the far rangier fighter, and Penn will quickly lose energy if he’s forced to chase Rodriguez around while absorbing kicks to the legs and body.

In short, Rodriguez should just be patient while his foe is most dangerous. If that means losing a round due to a takedown rather than risk giving up the back, that’s a great trade off. Penn has a pretty limited amount of time to win this fight, and Rodriguez simply needs to avoid any danger then before putting on a show.

Bottom Line: It probably shouldn’t be a main event, but a fight between exciting prospect and former champion is always worth watching.

It’s tough to say whether this is Penn’s last chance inside the Octagon if he loses. On one hand, it’s hard to give anyone another fight after six years without a victory. Still, it is “The Prodigy,” and there are definitely easier fights available at 145 lbs.

With a win, the consequences are interesting. At this point, it’s abundantly obvious that Penn is no longer a top fighter, but a ranked win is a ranked win. Most likely, it will lead to Penn facing off with another tough fighter, which will also most likely not end well.

As for Rodriguez, this is also a bit odd. In the likely event of his victory, what will Rodriguez gain? Penn is definitely a “name” opponent, but this card is generating very little interest. At worst, it’s another victory for his win streak, and “Pantera” can fight a top 10 foe next.

If Rodriguez is upset, it’s a pretty shocking setback for him. There’s plenty of time for the 24 year old to bounce back, but defeat definitely interrupts his immediate title plans.

At UFC Fight Night 103, BJ Penn and Yair Rodriguez will go to war in the main event. Which man will remain standing when the dust settles?

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