While BJ Penn handed top lightweight contender Diego Sanchez a definitive beatdown at UFC 107, even co-commentator Joe Rogan was left asking the same question as everyone else – “Who the hell is this guy going to fight next?”
Despite the inevitable talk of a third fight between lightweight champion Penn and current welterweight belt holder Georges St.Pierre, the Hawaiian will be staying at 155lb for at least one more fight according to Dana White.
“It’s all about cleaning out divisions and he’s probably one fight away from doing that. If he does that, he could move up to 170 (lbs) again,” he told sherdog.com after the post fight press conference for UFC 107.
So who is he likely to face next?
There are two main options at 155lb for Penn at this stage. First off is Frankie Edgar, who is on a three fight win streak, and is 6-1 during his time in the UFC. He earned a convincing submission victory against Matt Veach at the TUF 10 finale which has helped keep his name firmly in the picture at the top end of the division.
The other major contender is Gray Maynard. The wrestler is currently on a six fight win streak in the UFC, and notably already has a win over Frankie Edgar back in 2008. That puts him in a good position to get the next title shot, but first he has to overcome Nate Diaz at UFN 20 in January.
The problem for Maynard is that his last five fights have ended in a decision. Ideally he needs a decisive win in this bout to make an impression, and generate interest in him earning the title shot.
Does either fighter pose a significant threat to BJ Penn’s lightweight title reign?
They won’t be pushovers by any means, but I don’t believe they are any better than either Diego Sanchez or Kenny Florian who Penn has recently dispensed with.
Maynard is still a relatively one dimensional fighter, and much of his success in this fight would depend on him breaking down the exceptional takedown defense that the champion is renowned for.
Frankie Edgar one the other hand is well rounded, but he is relatively small for the divison, and in some of the key areas of his game – boxing and jiu-jitsu, Penn is better.
I belive Penn – Edgar would be a more exciting fight, but Maynard may well get the nod due to his winning record. The problem for the UFC is that neither contender is likely to be a PPV bonanza.
Are there any other contenders left at lightweight?
I like Tyson Griffin. He’s 7-2 in the UFC (earning ‘fight of the night’ in five of them), 14-2 in his career to date and has improved his striking a great deal in recent times to complement his wrestling. Like the others mentioned above his main downfall is too many decisions, but he is coming off a knockout win over Hermes Franca.
I also believe that despite his loss to BJ Penn at UFC 101, Kenny Florian has as good a chance to beat him as anyone currently fighting in the divison. In their first fight Florian came in with a poor gameplan and didn’t fight as he has in the past. As he proved again this past weekend by defeating Clay Guida, he is still a dangerous opponent.
I don’t believe that either fighter is likely to leapfrog Maynard or Edgar, but if they can put in another convincing performance or two, they may yet convince the right people that there is still other challenges for BJ in the division.
If BJ Penn wins his next fight, would he automatically get a third fight with GSP?
Not according to Dana White.
“I don’t think he just walks from the 55 into 170 and faces Georges St.Pierre,” he said. “George has two wins over him. BJ’s going to have to earn that at 170, whether it’s going in and fighting a number one contender or somebody else – I don’t know yet.”
Who is he likely to face first if / when he moves up to 170lbs?
Things may change in the coming months but With Dan Hardy already set to face Georges St.Pierre next, I would imagine Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck would be among the most likely options.
Koscheck has been pushed hard by the UFC in recent times, featuring in the co-main event twice in the space of two months, and could well be considered the next top contender.
Despite going on another three fight win streak, bringing his UFC record up to a remarkable 11-1, the promotion haven’t been as quick to build up Jon Fitch, perhaps due to his tedency to find himself in relatively pedestrian fights that go the distance.
Other interesting match-ups might include a rubber match with Matt Hughes, or a mouthwatering bout with former No.1 contender Thiago Alves.
What about a move to the the lower divisions?
Urijah Faber would also be a bout that would generate significant interest, and former Bantamweight champ Miguel Torres would be likely to make a move up to 145lbs for the opportunity to fight Penn.
All three would be perfect opponents for the champion. The catch is that the WEC is not yet a big enough platform for a major UFC star like BJ Penn.
One solution would be to make it a ‘superfight’ in the UFC. Along with ensuring that Penn stayed in the UFC it would offer the chance to put on an exciting fight, and lends Zuffa the opportunity to push the WEC brand to a bigger audience.
It should also be noted that Versus, the network that broadcasts the WEC events have just announced they will air two UFC events live next year, perhaps the perfect platform to air the fight.
Despite the appeal of this, it is not a scenario that the UFC have indicated they are considering at this stage.
Penn’s immediate future lies in the lightweight division, but it now appears that the most interesting fights for BJ Penn lie outwith his current division.
Though a move down in weight seems like a sensible option, Penn’s desire to avenge his defeats to Georges St.Pierre is likely to be the over-riding factor here in the longer term.
“I have an obligation to defend the lightweight title, but I want another crack at St. Pierre, of course,” he told fighters at the post-fight press conference.
With Dana White now refusing to rule out a third fight between the two, and Penn potentially in the best form of his life, it may only be a matter of time before his wish is granted.
Article By RossC
Pictures courtesy of sherdog.com