After a rare two week break for the UFC, this weekend brings us their first card of the new year. This Sunday marks the return of UFC action to Phoenix, in the form of Fight Night 103: Yair Rodriguez vs B.J. Penn. It also sees the return of UFC Hall of Famer, B.J. Penn. Expect the roof to come off the Talking Stick Centre when ‘The Prodigy’ makes his way to the Octagon to face Yair Rodriguez.
Yair Rodriguez is unbeaten in the UFC, with an 9-1 record overall. Rodriguez was victorious on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America. This will be his biggest fight to date. This fight is special, it's not every day that you fight one of only three men to have held UFC titles in two weight classes. The bout is set to take place in the featherweight division. It is a fight where the old school meets the new, as the highly touted prospect takes on a legend in Penn.
An MMA pioneer, B.J. made his debut UFC debut in May of 2001 with a TKO victory over Joey Gilbert. His career has seen him compete in the UFC and K-1 organisations over the years, but pre-dominantly in the UFC. Having won championships at lightweight and welterweight, Penn can be regarded as a true legend of the sport. He famously won the welterweight title by a rear-naked choke over fellow Hall of Famer Matt Hughes. He was subsequently stripped of the title after signing a contract to fight with the FEG owned K-1 organisation.
UFC President Dana White has accredited Penn with the growth of the lower weigh divisions. He truly was a fan favourite, this was reflected in his pay-per-view numbers as well as his accomplishments inside and outside of the Octagon. His victories over Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez and Joe Stevenson illustrated how much of a dominant force he was at 155lbs.
His relentless boxing style, coupled with his black-belt in jiu-jitsu made him an all-round fighter ahead of his time. However father time may have began to catch up on Penn. With just one win since losing the lightweight title to Frankie Edgar in 2010. Penn has attempted to resurrect his career first at welterweight and most recently at featherweight. His latest bout was in July of 2014 and was his first fight at featherweight. He suffered a one sided TKO loss at the hands of Frankie Edgar. Following the devastating loss, Penn announced his intentions to retire for the second time.
Opposite ‘The Prodigy’ stands Yair Rodriguez, the winner of the Latin America Ultimate Fighter reality television series. After winning the show, Rodriguez had a further two decision wins to start his rise towards the top of the division. Currently ranked at number 10 in the featherweight rankings, the young Mexican is looking to use Penn as a further stepping stone towards being a future contender for the division's belt.
In his fourth promotional outing, Rodriguez landed a spectacular jumping head-kick KO victory over Team Alpha Male prospect Andre Fili. This made Rodriguez a viral star as video of the knockout was shared repeatedly on social media. A headline spot vs Alex Caceres came next for the Mexican, and a split-decision win duly followed. I find this a weird form of matchmaking by the UFC. Penn looked almost out of his depth in his last few outings. Compare that to how much better the younger fighters look as the sport evolves. I can’t see this going any way other than a Rodriguez win. I fancy Penn to show enough experience and bite to be able to see out the rounds against the flashy striking, but ultimately his comeback will result in a decision loss.
In the Co-Main Event, Marcin Held faces veteran Joe Lauzon. Most of Held’s wns come from him implementing his takedown game and looking for a submission. However I don’t see this as an effective way of beating Lauzon who is more than capable on the floor. After a stoppage of Diego Sanchez and a controversial loss to Jim Miller, Lauzon seems to have regained some confidence in his MMA game. I’m taking Lauzon by a decision victory here.
Elsewhere look for the late notice John Moraga to put it up to the the ever improving Sergio Pettis at Flyweight. All of Moraga’s losses have been to the guys at the highest level of the division. If he can get Pettis down and stop the early onslaught then, it could be a troublesome night for Pettis.
Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger vs Nina Ansaroff in the Women’s Flyweight Division, is a good style matchup between two ladies on a poor run of form. With both suffering back-to-back losses in their last outings this is a must win for both ladies. I’m taking Ansaroff to handle the pressure better and claim the all important win.
Kieran’s Picks :
Yair Rodriguez vs B.J. Penn – Rodriguez slays the legend
Joe Lauzon vs Marcin Held – Lauzon decision
Court McGee vs Ben Saunders – McGee
John Moraga vs Sergio Pettis – Moraga
Frankie Saenz vs Augusto Mendes – Saenz
Oleksiy Oliynk vs Viktor Pesta – Oliynik
Alex White vs Tony Martin – Martin
Walt Harris vs Chase Sherman – Harris
Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger vs Nina Ansaroff – Ansaroff
Devin Powell vs Drakkar Klose – Klose
Joachim Christensen vs Bojan Mihajlovic – Christensen
Dmitri Smoliakov vs Cyril Asker – Smoliakov
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