UFC Fight Night 103, Sunday, January 15, 2017, Talking Stick Arena, Phoenix, Arizona, Main card from 10pm ET, watch on Fox Sports 1
AS far as UFC Fight Nights go, this one’s a doozy.
A legend returns to take on a young buck who has never lost in the Octagon.
One of the most revered names in UFC history, BJ Penn makes his long awaited return after two years out of the game.
And he takes on rising star Yael Romero, who has never lost a fight in the UFC.
Penn is the absolute attraction.
UFC fans want to see the great man step back into the octagon.
He is credited as the man that put the light weight division on the map, making it cool to like the lighter fighters.
So there is plenty of nostalgia attached to this fight.
More people will be going for Penn than Rodriguez, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the crowd will be going home happy.
The biggest question here is, at 38 and with more than two years since his last fight, why is Penn even coming back?
He doesn’t need the money, that’s for sure, but he says it is simply because he has a passion for the contest.
“I like it. I like this stuff,” he said.
“I love it. I’ve been training hard, but in the beginning, it was tough to find my bearings.
“But now I’m getting to the point where I can really do some stuff in there.
“I think I’m getting better. I don’t know. Bottom line, I missed the competition. I missed the struggle.
“That’s all this is, it’s a struggle. Fighting is a struggle. I miss that, and I just love the whole thing.
“It’s such a tough sport.
“You’re sitting there with your emotions running wild, butterflies, anxieties, anxiousness, but you know what?
“I don’t want to give it up.”
He believes the tim off has helped him become a better fighter.
“It really did help me, because after taking two years off, you become almost like a normal person,” Penn said.
“And maybe I trained wrong, too, for some of my fights.
“When you’re at the highest level and you’re training all the time and you take two years off, you’re nowhere near the world class guys.
“You’re nowhere near them no matter how good you are.”
The hype of the fight seems to be rubbing off on his younger competitor, even if he says Penn is basically “just another fighter”.
“I saw a good opportunity to fight against a legend,” Rodriguez told Keyboard Kimura.
“He already knows what it takes to be a champion two times – two different weight classes – and fighting him is like fighting a title shot, you know, because he already knows what it takes to be a champion.
“This just makes it more exciting.
“I’m not more excited to fight him because he’s BJ Penn and he’s a legend and Hall of Famer – I don’t really care about all that stuff.
“I think it matters for him, but it’s just going to be one more fighter in front of me that day and I want to win.
“I respect everything the same way as I respect my last opponents.
“I don’t care who he is.
“I will be prepared for him.”
It’s an epic fight night Sunday and here is our look and tips for some of the fights.
Yair Rodriguez -500 vs. BJ Penn +350
One man is a household name in UFC circles, with many believing BJ Penn is the greatest lightweight fighter of all time.
The other, Yair Rodriguez, is quickly making a name for himself as a man who possesses the precision and stamina to grind out fights.
Penn’s ground game is among the best in UFC history. His blistering takedowns were matched by a ferociousness to lock his man down once he got on top.
A powerful striker, Rodriguez will want to make sure the fighters stay on their feet, where he can utilise his youth and fitness against the UFC legend.
Penn’s striking game is not to be sneered at, but it usually came into play when fighters over defended his frightening takedown attempts.
The problem for him is that Rodriguez has great reach for the division and that makes it a tall order for Penn to get close enough to bring him to the ground.
An Olympic jiu jitsu gold medallist, Penn has had a glittering career as one of only three men who have won titles in two different weight divisions.
But, at age 38, and having not fought in the octagon after four false starts in the past two years, Penn is well past his prime. Given that Romero is 14 years younger at just 24 and is on a red hot five fight win streak in the UFC, we can’t see this being a happy ending for the legend.
This will probably be Penn’s final fight and we reckon it goes the distance – provided he can handle Rodriguez’s striking game.
Joe Lauzon -140 vs. Marcin Held +110
Our pick: Joe Lauzon to win
The co main event produces an intriguing bout between one man looking to make a name for himself in the promotion against another who has been around the block more than a few times. It is Marcin Held’s second UFC fight, while his opponent Joe Lauzon is a veteran of 22 bouts in the octagon. We think that makes things very hard for Held and he simply does not have the polish or experience to go with such a seasoned campaigner. Lauzon can finish things on his feet or on the ground and this one probably won’t go the distance.
Sergio Pettis -140 vs. John Moraga +110
Young flyweight star Sergio Pettis will have his work cut out for him against home town hero John Moraga, but we reckon the 23 year old star is beginning to fulfil his wild potential.
With four victories in his past five bouts, he is in fine form, contrasted by Moraga, who has been defeated in his past two ventures into the Octagon. He’s a wily veteran, but all his tools have been on display and we reckon Pettis has him covered. He’ll want to turn this fight into a good old fashioned kickboxing bout and his youth and fitness should allow him to do it.
Ben Saunders -120 vs. Court McGee -110
Our pick: Ben Saunders to win
Do we even care? We’re probably being a bit harsh here, given this fight is fourth on the card, but you don’t feel that either of these men are ever going to be contenders in the 170 pound division. That could make for a fun fight.
Ben Saunders won three of his past four fights, but for some reason, could no secure another UFC contract. A win in the minor leagues won him back a gig in the top flight and he should be able to make the most of it against fellow veteran Court McGee.