If you didn’t see UFC 107 last weekend, one picture succinctly tells the tale. Poor Diego Sanchez, bloody, cut, broken, face swollen like it was a collagen experiment gone wrong. Sanchez is one of the very best fighters in the world, an all-action lightweight who combines aggressive standup and a solid ground game. This former Ultimate Fighter winner was beaten into a pulp. BJ Penn did this. And lightweights should be afraid. Should be very afraid.
The BJ Penn that dismantled Diego Sanchez is a far cry from the Penn who was once the UFC’s most important and best prospect. Remember that skinny kid from Hawaii? Frank Shamrock once called him the best fighter in the world – and this was before he had a single fight in the cage. That BJ exploded across the ring to knockout Kauro Uno, and was tapped to be Zuffa’s first breakout star after they purchased the UFC in 2001. It all fell apart, victim of Penn’s immaturity and failure to put his incredible physical gifts together in a coherent way. He had excellent striking and transcendent jiu jitsu; he just couldn’t figure out a way to put it all together.
The new Penn didn’t have those problems Saturday night in Memphis, Tennessee. He controlled Sanchez with his jab and his incredible ability to stay on his feet, despite top wrestlers doing all they can to put him on his back. This new Penn never wavered, never got impatient, never deviated from the game plan, and most importantly – never tired.
Penn is finally in a place to solidify his status as one of the sport’s all-time greats. He is clearly the best lightweight of all time, but he needs to put his stamp on that division with a long and unequalled title reign. Instead, sources inside the UFC tell Heavy.com that the master plan for Penn will include a move back to the welterweight class in 2011. Penn won’t be allowed to make his mark at his natural and appropriate weight. He will be asked, once again, to put his superior abilities to the test against bigger and stronger men. Penn, if the UFC follows this course, will be remembered as a great fighter, but not an all-time great. If he follows his true path, as the unbeatable lightweight he truly is, he will be remembered as a legend. Which would you rather be BJ?