(And his tailor’s better, too. Photo courtesy of GSPFightClub.com.)
Hello, and welcome to another installment of "Ben vs. Ben." With the OMFG GREATEST FIGHT IN HISTORY just two days away, we decided to sling some bullshit about the deciding factors in St. Pierre vs. Penn, the likely bonus-earners at UFC 94, and the legitimacy of Machida vs. Silva as a #1 contender match. And now we offer our humble thoughts…to you. Enjoy, and holla back in the comments section, ‘kay?
How and when will the B.J. Penn-Georges St. Pierre fight end?
BF: Whether you think Penn has been slacking during his training or not, the fact is that he doesn’t have the kind of talent around him that GSP does. Guys like Nate Marquardt, Donald Cerrone, Keith Jardine, etc. Name one training partner Penn has who is as good as any one of those guys. Like his brother said, Penn is the president of his own camp. That’s not a good place for a fighter in training, especially if the fighter in question has had some conditioning and motivation issues. He ought to be more like a Congressional aide, getting bossed around and possibly sexually harassed every single day.
This being a welterweight fight only hurts Penn more. Not because of the strength and size he’ll be giving up – he’s talented enough to compensate for that – but because it doesn’t absolutely force him to be in excellent shape like he was against Sean Sherk, and so he won’t be. He may be in very good shape, but that’s not enough to go five rounds with GSP.
Penn will start off winning this fight with his striking and takedown defense. But by the third round he’ll begin to slow down. St. Pierre will stay right on top of him, wearing him down mentally and physically, and by the fifth round he’ll be looking for a way out. GSP will grant it to him by holding him down and punching him in the face until the ref stops it at around the three-minute mark. Penn has never gone five rounds in a winning effort. He won’t start against St. Pierre.
BG: In a perfect world, BJ Penn would have a tune-up fight at welterweight before taking on Georges St. Pierre. After all, Penn hasn’t won a match as a 170-pounder since May 2004, and it would be helpful to test out the new weight at least once before putting his legacy on the line. I think your observation that the welterweight division doesn’t force BJ to show up in optimal shape is a good one. I also think GSP is two days away from the greatest performance of his life.
St. Pierre’s game-plan is a closely guarded secret, but you have to assume that he knows Penn is great with his hands, and he’ll be looking to avoid them early. I don’t think Penn wins the first round, or the next two. The fight will end late in the fourth — around the 4:24 mark, let’s say — with Penn fading and GSP turning on his reserve boosters. Yes, it’ll be a TKO due to strikes. St. Pierre has done the work in the gym and the hype hasn’t affected his emotions. There’s only one way this can end.
How worthy of a title shot is the winner of Machida/Silva?
BG: If it’s Machida, then yes, he’s quite worthy. The Dragon sailed through his first four opponents in the UFC without losing a single round, then humiliated Tito Ortiz at UFC 84, which won him big points with the UFC’s top brass. (If you’re wondering why Dana White started saying that Machida could be the next #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, it’s because he held up his end of the bargain when it counted.) Plus, his pre-UFC wins over guys like Rich Franklin and BJ Penn could be used as ammo to hype him in the run-up to a title fight. And of course there’s the possibility that Machida really is better than everybody else in the UFC’s light-heavyweight class, like it or not.
Thiago Silva, on the other hand, doesn’t bring nearly the same cache. His early opponents were mediocre small-timers for the most part, and while in the UFC his biggest win has been a TKO of Houston Alexander at UFC 78, which may have seemed like a big deal at the time, but in retrospect, not so much. Basically, he’ll need another high-profile win after Machida to realistically be considered the #1 contender. But with guys like Forrest Griffin, Wanderlei Silva, Quinton Jackson, and Keith Jardine in the mix, the options are always there.
BF: Hold on, you’re saying that Machida has done enough to deserve the shot if he beats Silva, but if Silva beats Machida (the man who, in your opinion, has done enough to earn the shot) he still isn’t worthy? Dammit, that makes no sense. I agree that Machida is deserving of the shot in a fair world. I also think he’ll win this fight, because, as you pointed out, he has a bunch of quality wins over big time opponents and Silva has a TKO over Houston "I ain’t trying to learn no jiu-jitsu" Alexander.
But if Silva does manage to put the first blemish on Machida’s record, that alone makes him worthy of a shot. That said, I’d still rather see "Rampage" Jackson square off with Rashad Evans while the opportunity is there. I know Evans needs more time to recover from his last fight, while Jackson wants to work, but to me that’s no excuse for setting up a Jackson-Jardine fight where only one winner is a realistic opponent for Evans. I just don’t get it. Would it kill Jackson to wait a few more months and fight for a freaking title?
How will the bonuses be handed out at UFC 94?
BF: Fight of the Night is Penn-GSP. That’s a given. As long as it gets out of the first round and doesn’t turn out to be the worst fight since Quarry-Starnes, there’s just no way this "historic" bout doesn’t earn the participants a little extra cash.
Submission of the Night is going to be Thiago Tavares doing something crazy to Manvel Gamburyan, perhaps even something involving Manny’s trick shoulder, which would be a real jerk move but also a smart one.
Knockout of the Night is going to Jon "Bones" Jones (God, just because it rhymes doesn’t make it a good nickname, people) who will use his unorthodox striking techniques to pick apart and then put away Stephan Bonnar late in the fight. Lastly, Decision of the Night goes to Lyoto Machida. That one isn’t cash, but rather a gift certificate to Pinkberry, courtesy of Mr. Dana White.
BG: I’m with you on St. Pierre/Penn for Fight of the Night. I’d be surprised if we’re not still talking about this one 11 months from now, when we’re putting together our “Best of 2009” lists.
But since Thiago Tavares is coming off consecutive losses to Matt Wiman and Kurt Pellegrino, I don’t have as much faith in him as you do. My hope is that Nate Diaz makes Clay “Energizer Blanket” Guida pay for one of his takedown attempts and subs him from the bottom, so I’ll predict that he’ll pick up the Submission of the Night bonus. Jon Fitch is probably just as likely to choke out Akihiro Gono, but I don’t think the UFC is quite ready to reward him with extra money so soon after the video game licensing agreement drama that led to Fitch leaving the UFC for a day and everyone at American Kickboxing Academy being put on notice.
Jones is a good pick for KO of the Night, but I also have my eye on Dong Hyun Kim. Though “Stun Gun” hasn’t looked entirely impressive in his two Octagon appearances, he was a knockout artist before he came to the UFC, and if Karo Parisyan experiences one of his unfortunate panic attacks before the fight, he might lose focus at just the wrong moment.
Is "UFC Primetime" just screwing with us, or will BJ’s conditioning be a factor in this fight?
BG: No, it won’t be the conditioning that does him in. As we saw in his last fight against Sean Sherk, Penn can go three rounds and still look ass-beatingly fresh; I’m sure he’ll have gas in the tank for the championship rounds against St. Pierre, if it comes to that. But while Penn has been training hard — with improved cardio to match — Georges St. Pierre has been training harder. GSP is obsessed with training, in a way that BJ isn’t and never will be. And more importantly, he surrounds himself with better people. To have a game-plan master like Greg Jackson on your side is an immeasurable advantage, as is having top fighters in nearly every weight class coming by to kick your ass on a regular basis.
What does BJ Penn have, by comparison? It’s not like he trains at Jackson’s MMA, or ATT, or Xtreme Couture, or AKA, or Team Quest, or any other camp known for putting out top-flight talent. (“Neither does Fedor Emelianenko,” you might say, to which I’d reply, “Fedor’s motivation has never been a question.”) Penn built his own training center so he wouldn’t ever have to leave his hometown. If he has a gameplan for St. Pierre, he probably came up with it himself, and his training partners are not on his level — or GSP’s. I think the most important factor in this fight will be BJ’s hubris, and a laziness that has less to do with how hard you push yourself in the gym, and more to do with how hard you allow others to push you.
BF: I can’t decide whether "Primetime" is screwing with us, or whether Penn is screwing with them. I mean, I see him jogging with his mincing little steps like an old woman running for a bus, then I see GSP leaping over hurdles, and I have to think that there’s some calculation on somebody’s part.
The best way to think of this fight is to disregard most of what we’ve seen on "Primetime." It was great entertainment and illuminated the storylines well, but you can’t predict a fight based on slick editing and great visuals. When trying to figure out if Penn’s cardio will be an issue just ask yourself, when has it not been an issue? Only in fights where he was the superior fighter from the start. He’s never really dug deep against someone who is his equal and come out on top. Never. That’s all you need to know.