Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Five things to expect from UFC 80
By Ryan Hockensmith ESPN The Magazine
At his best, B.J. Penn, left, is a force to be reckoned with.
This weekend's UFC show, "Rapid Fire," isn't going to break any pay-per-view sales records. The main event, B.J. Penn against Joe Stevenson, is expected to be a ground battle between two good -- but not great -- fighters who aren't exactly pay-per-view headliners. But it's a fight fan's card, with some serious second-tier studs battling it out to move up the UFC's internal rankings and angle for bigger bouts.
Five things to expect Saturday night.
1. Penn's teller
At his best, Penn is as gifted as any mixed martial artist on the planet. After all, "the Prodigy" has beaten Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver and Matt Serra in a terrific career. But Penn's biggest challenge could come just in getting to the fight. With conditioning always an issue (he gassed badly in a title-fight loss to Hughes in September 2006), he'll try to make 155 pounds for the first time since his 2003 win over Takanori Gomi.
"An in-shape B.J. Penn is maybe the most talented fighter in the world," White says. "And from everything I've seen, we're getting an in-shape B.J. Penn."
2. 155 rises up
This year promises to be the best yet for the UFC's smallest weight class. The winner of Penn-Stevenson becomes the organization's interim champion and kicks off a slew of juicy 155-pound matchups.
The winner will take on former champion Sean Sherk, who relinquished his belt when he tested positive for steroids in 2007. After that, Roger Huerta, Kenny Florian, "Ultimate Fighter" Mac Danzig and several others loom as enticing 2008 bouts.
Sherk will be Octagon-side, hoping for a Penn win.
"BJ's talked a lot of trash, calling Sherk a cheater and a bunch of other stuff," White says. "Sherk's praying for him to win, so he gets a shot at winning back his title."
3. Losing cause
Expect heavyweights Gabriel Gonzaga and Fabricio Werdum to come out guns blazin'. In Gonzaga's last fight, his six-fight win streak thudded to a halt against Randy Couture.
Werdum, who stopped Gonzaga in 2003 in "Jungle Fight 1," lost his last fight too, a three-round decision to Andrei Arlovski. To stay in the thick of the title hunt, each needs a win.
Lanky fighter Kendall "Spyder" Grove lost to Patrick Cote in his last bout, but the former "Ultimate Fighter" champion is legit. Before the Cote defeat, Grove, who stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 185 pounds, had reeled off three straight wins. A win at "Rapid Fire" against solid veteran Jorge Rivera puts Grove back in the contender picture.
5. Going Rambo
Over/under on the amount of Rambo mentions: 9-5. Expect to see as much hype for Sylvester Stallone's latest Rambo installment as any upcoming UFC event.
Ryan Hockensmith is an associate editor at ESPN The Magazine.