I remember when UFC 100 happened, and the main event of the show was Brock Lesnar’s successful title defense against Frank Mir. But the UFC had a “flex fight” for that show, a fight they would only air on pay per view if they had enough time for it. The result is that the last fight to take place at UFC 100 was actually Jon Fitch vs. Paulo Thiago. The TUF finale scheduled to take place on Sunday feels a lot like the Fitch-Thiago fight – it’s not bad but it seems so awkward having it a day after UFC 175.
It helps that the main event of the show features Frankie Edgar battling B.J. Penn for the third time. It’s a fight that draws interest even if Penn is far removed from the prime of his career. However, when the fight actually happens, I suspect that it’s not going to be very interesting at all.
What I mean by that is: I don’t expect to see a career resurgence from Penn here. Even though he’s dropping two weight classes to featherweight and is in the best shape of his life for the 37th time, recent history suggests that Penn is no longer competitive against top competition… and Edgar certainly qualifies as top competition.
In Penn’s last five fights, he’s landed 167 significant strikes and absorbed a whopping 438. That’s 6.23 significant strikes absorbed per minute, which effectively puts Penn’s striking defense on par with Nam Phan. It doesn’t help that Penn’s last five opponents include Edgar, Nick Diaz, and Rory MacDonald, who qualify as three of the best volume strikers in the sport. But it’s still a disturbing trend for a fighter who was once considered one of the top pound for pound fighters in the world.
Subjectively, Penn has reached a point where I feel like he’s just a shot fighter. His reaction to opponents throwing punches at him is to simply eat them… there is no real reaction. Penn still has some offensive striking prowess but seems to be slower than his opponents and have no feel for how to get inside his opponent’s reach. I’d love to see Penn try to beat his opponents with his high level submission game, but he hasn’t had the chance outside of some back control in his draw against Fitch.
I think Penn is still capable of winning fights in the UFC, much like Mirko Cro Cop was still able to beat opponents like Anthony Perosh and Mustapha Al-Turk after his rapid decline. I actually think Penn is fully capable of beating mid-level UFC fighters, with the potential of making them look silly. Penn was genuinely a great fighter once; it wasn’t a fluke and I have no doubt that Penn’s great talent is still in there somewhere. But as far as elite competition is concerned, I have zero faith in Penn’s ability to even be competitive at this point.
As far as I’ve seen, Edgar is still in his fighting prime, and that means I expect him and Penn to settle into a pattern of Edgar landing a lot of strikes while Penn struggles to retaliate. I’d love to see the “old Penn” come back and make this a great fight, but I think it’s a lot more likely we see Edgar run away with this one.
Pick: Frankie Edgar by decision