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B.J. Penn versus Blank Space

Having to unexpectedly replace injured fighters is as familiar a concept for MMA organizations as hiring attractive ring-girls and crossing your fingers Cecil Peoples hasn’t been assigned to score one of your bigger bouts. Any sport involving a high level of physicality inherently has more risk involved where maintaining its participants’ health is concerned so it goes without saying the occasional cut, break, or tear may spring up to throw a wrench in a promotion’s plans.

Such was the case last week when word surfaced Jon Fitch had been forced out of a scheduled bout with B.J. Penn at UFC 132 due to an undisclosed shoulder injury. The two had been set to meet after fighting to a Draw in February as means of determining the welterweight division’s top contender.

While the perception may be the UFC caught a break based on the affected event taking place in July rather than two weeks from today, the reality is the problem is far more complex than simply slotting a new name opposite Penn’s and calling it a day. Penn is by no means your average fighter for reasons beyond simply his phenomenal ability in the ring. He is a complex individual requiring motivation beyond money of which he already has plenty in the bank; who genuinely seemed to be on the cusp of retirement after underperforming in his estimation against Fitch at UFC 127.

Who should the UFC call upon to fill Fitch’s vacancy? With such a deep roster there are plenty of options but how many actually make sense and would spark Penn’s interest? It may actually be fewer than you think…

Anthony Johnson: Johnson falls into the category of fighters who are certainly talented enough to make a fight with Penn competitive but don’t carry the necessary name-value to co-headline a PPV or inspire B.J. to put his legacy on the line (See also: Martin Kampmann, Mike Pyle). “Rumble” would pose problems for Penn where wrestling and size are concerned but he’s also coming off an extended layoff and didn’t do himself any favors with fans by taking Dan Hardy down repeatedly after guaranteeing a stand-up war in media appearances prior to the bout. From 1-10 with ten being the most realistic/best possible choice to face Penn he’s a “3”.

Diego Sanchez: Sanchez is certainly a big enough draw and he’s coming off a win but let’s not forget the absolute decimation he suffered at the limbs of Penn when they fought in 2009. In fact it would be interesting to see if Sanchez even wanted the bout based on comments he made about how the loss impacted his psyche. However, things could arguably go different at welterweight than they did at 155-pounds so it’s at least worth considering…just not for long. He rates as a “5”.

Thiago Alves: Unfortunately, Alves is already booked to face Rick Story at UFC 130 on May 28 so it would take some reshuffling for the “Pitbull” and “Prodigy” to meet. Even if Alves wins in dominating fashion a six-week camp in preparation for Penn would make as much sense as Shonie Carter competing in sweatpants. As such he’s a “1” based purely on scheduling though granted it would definitely be edge-of-your-couch-cushion stuff if the UFC decided to scrap the Story fight in favor of a match-up with Penn.

Carlos Condit: The UFC should seriously consider Condit as a replacement for Fitch. He is a former champion who has won eleven of his last twelve bouts (with the exception being a Split Decision to Kampmann), is on a three-fight winning streak, and has finished 25 of the 26 opponents he’s beaten. Those factors not only make him divisionally relevant but a stiff challenge for Penn, plus he arguably matches the Hawaiian’s intensity in the ring which would almost certainly create fireworks in the Octagon if the two faced off. The “Natural Born Killer” is also available after having to withdraw from a February fight with Chris Lytle with a minor knee injury. 9 out of 10.

Jake Shields: The only way Shields applies in this scenario is if he loses to GSP later this month and escapes the bout relatively unscathed. Beyond that there’s no reason to rush him back into the ring against someone on Penn’s level after having fought an opponent the caliber of St. Pierre two months prior. Since things are unlikely to play out as they would need to for a match-up with Penn to be made he comes in as a “3”.

Georges St. Pierre: Similar to Shields he would have to lose at UFC 129 and make it out of Toronto injury-free for a fight with Penn to make semi-sense, and even with those two things in place it has to be considered that St. Pierre is 2-0 on Penn with their last fight being fairly one-sided in nature. 2 out of 10.

Josh Koscheck: Koscheck is on par with Condit in terms of being an excellent selection to replace Fitch for a few reasons. He’s got the wrestling ability to pose problems for Penn where takedowns are concerned, the high-level conditioning to press the pace and test B.J.’s fitness, and the fortitude to keep fighting regardless of the situation (as evident in his ability to go the distance with St. Pierre while dealing with a severely broken orbital bone). He’s coming off the title-fight with GSP, so his contendership-credentials are in place for Penn, and also happens to be a teammate of Fitch’s as AKA so there’s that dynamic as well in terms of inspiring Baby Jay to bring his best. It would also be an easy fight to promote based on Koscheck’s role as somewhat of a villain in MMA and Penn’s as a fan-favorite. Like Condit, “Kos” is a 9 out of 10.

Nate Marquardt: Marquardt could be an interesting option in the sense he’s talked about being able to make welterweight in the right situation. What better opportunity to do so than against a double-divisional champ like Penn on the stage set by July 4th Weekend? Marquardt’s grappling is solid, his striking is dynamic, he’s obviously bigger than B.J., and he’s a former middleweight title-contender. He’s definitely a threat to Penn and an apt opponent, i.e. a sellable match-up to fans as well as Penn himself. Assuming he can legitimately drop to 170 Marquardt gets a “7”.

A return to lightweight: Extremely unlikely to happen, as Penn has been fairly clear on his preference to compete at his natural weight rather than deal with the pound-cutting process. 1 out of 10, though it would be even lower had the scale started at “0”.


  • Rece Rock says:

    BJ vs. the winner of Diaz/ Daley… imagine that.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  • fanoftna33 says:

    I love the match up with Condit, not a overpowering wrestler but a guy who is willing and able to fight wherever he has to and win. That would be such an exciting match up.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  • Jak says:

    My vote is for him to drop to LW(or even catch weight) and fight Melvin Guillard.

    Guillard needs a bigger name opponent than Shane Roller, and Penn would get to fight a stand up fighter who would bring the fight.

    Will it happen? No. Would it be one the more exciting options out there? Yes.

    Penn vs. anybody who’s not named Shields/Fitch/Koscheck/Johnson or any other WW who says they’ll “bring the fight” and then just positions themselves against a smaller fighter for 15 minutes.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 9

  • Angry Mike says:

    BJ lost twice to Edgar and doesn’t want to fight at 155. He’s lost twice to GSP, so he isn’t at the front of the line for another title shot at 170. So the only challenge is to pick the most entertaining opponent. For that reason I vote for Condit. I’d take Kampmann, too. Who got screwed in his last decision.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  • I said Condit awhile back and I stand by it. If you can name me one boring fight the natural born killer has been in i’ll call you a liar! I like the Alves fight too, because I think the whole world might have to look on slack jawed while BJ actually lost alot of his leg movements due to the leg kicks of the Pitbull and eventually lost conciousness due to the Alves’s power.

    Oh and one more thing….
    “that St. Pierre is 2-0 on Penn with their last fight being fairly one-sided in nature” FAIRLY???? I wouldnt have wanted to see the judges score cards, the only round not at minimum a 10-8 was the first.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

  • MCM says:

    Agreed Angry Mike.

    And as much as I hate to say it, this fight was supposed to be for #1 contender and the only real option is Condit at this point. Even though I may consider him 1-2-1 in the UFC he’s technically put together a nice 3 fight win streak. With his recent showing (much better than GSP’s) over Hardy and a dominating win over BJ, I don’t think there is anyone (Fitch) that can claim a title shot. Plus there’s the added bonus of Carlos being a new challenge for GSP instead of Penn, Fitch, Alves, Hughes or Kos again.
    I wouldn’t mind Kampmann either as I still consider him to be on a 4 fight win streak, but records are records so Condit it is.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  • climbarock says:

    I’d like to see Condit or Alves fight BJ. At this point in BJ’d career it’s all about an making an exciting matchup, so I’d rather see BJ fight guys who are dangerous on the feet or the ground than another wrestler.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  • stone says:

    Condit, Alvez, or Kos…

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  • Dufresne says:

    I’m hoping they pull Condit in for this fight. He’s a former champ, he’s got a record of 26-5 with 25 finishes, his last loss was a close split decision and before that you have to go all the way back to 2006 to find another L on his record. He’s got the credentials and the talent to make it worth BJ’s time and like MCM said, if he wins it’s a new challenge for GSP (assuming he beats Shields of course).

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  • boomnutz says:

    I’ve been saying from the get i thought Condit is the only viable option, it is supposed to be a # 1 contender’s match. Aside from the fact it’s a # 1 contender’s match I would say Kos and Alves, more so Alves, would be exciting.

    On a side note, does anyone know where Mike Swick’s been?

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  • Mike Swick has been battling a grip of ridiculous injuries….the last one was some sort of esophogus problem that required surgery…I’d really like to see Swick get on a roll and get in there against someone like BJ…however everytime he gets goin…he loses or gets hurt.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  • MCM says:

    Swick had some major internal issues that required him to switch his diet. That’s why he got so emaciated and went down to 170. I can’t remember where I read it but he’s back on the right diet, has had successful surgeries, and should be back at 185 when he returns. I’ll see if I can find the article.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  • boomnutz says:

    sweet, i don’t think Swick will ever really be “elite” but he’s damn good and fun to watch, and funny to boot. speaking of Swick, anyone know of Paulo Thiago?? He’s been quiet since his loss to the nightmare, wait the dream, or is the nightmare?!?!

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  • Screenplaya says:

    I would like to see either Koscheck or Sanchez. They are both boneheads that would make it easy to cheer for Penn, they would both get their asses kicked, and all the world would rejoice.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1


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