Former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion BJ “The Prodigy” Penn will be looking to add to his legacy and show his fighting spirit when he takes on gritty number two welterweight Jon Fitch in the main event of this weekend’s UFC 127 event.
In addition to that match up, the UK’s Michael Bisping will look to defend his honor against trash-talking veteran Jorge Rivera in a middleweight contest that will serve as the card’s co-main event. Also, Australian contender George Sotiropoulos will be hunting to extend his seven-fight Octagon winning streak by taking out dangerous German striker Dennis Siver.
FightLine.com owner Raj Giri and head writer Mark Wayne preview the top fights of this Saturday’s event and offer their predictions for the show. You can also enter your picks in our “Comments” section below this article. Also, don’t forget to check back at FightLine.com Saturday night for our live, ongoing coverage of UFC 127.
BJ Penn vs. Jon Fitch
The conventional line of wisdom on this one is that Jon Fitch’s style is a nightmare for BJ Penn; that, being the bigger, stronger grappler, Fitch will grind BJ down by applying constant pressure and will capitalize on the Hawaiian’s long-doubted endurance en route to a decision win or late stoppage. Before starching Matt Hughes this past November at UFC 123, Penn’s last bout at welterweight–against Georges St. Pierre at UFC 94–seemed to showcase “The Prodigy’s” massive size disadvantage in the weight class. Simply put, the skill gap between Penn and most any top welterweight is not so wide that an extra twenty pounds is insignificant and Jon Fitch is widely considered to be second only to St. Pierre in the 170 lbs. division.
Following two consecutive losses to Frankie Edgar at lightweight, Penn revamped his training camp and moved back to welterweight, where he knocked out Matt Hughes in 21 seconds. Similarly, Fitch has been on a path to reinvention since losing to St. Pierre back in 2008, and he has said that he feels everything has finally come together for this fight with Penn, for which he has been supremely motivated. In fact, both men have displayed supreme motivation for this fight and therein lies the key to victory for Penn, whose inconsistent brilliance in the cage has coined its own adage: “A motivated BJ Penn is a dangerous BJ Penn.”
Where Fitch’s most likely path to victory is to use his conditioning, size and relentlessness to drain “The Prodigy” before putting him away, Penn’s is to use his speed, craftiness and heavy hands to catch Fitch and disrupt his momentum.
Mark Wayne: The smart money is on Fitch for this fight, but I’m putting mine on the X factor an amped up and well-trained Penn brings to the table. Penn by second round submission.
Raj Giri: I’m going to have to disagree with Mark here and go with the Vegas odds-makers. I personally love seeing Penn rejuvenated at welterweight, however I feel that this is a bad match-up for him. Fitch has proven to be too much of a beast once he gets his opponents down to the ground. He’s a relentless grinder who shouldn’t have much trouble getting Penn to the canvas. He was able to handle Thiago Alves with ease, who probably outweighs Penn by a good 30 pounds. I think this bout will look a lot like GSP – Penn II, except that it will head to the judges scorecards. Fitch via unanimous decision.
Michael Bisping vs. Jorge Rivera
Though this fight may not have been seen as the most intriguing match up by some fans, Jorge Rivera’s near-constant taunting of Michael Bisping (there’s a whole video series, if you haven’t checked them out yet you probably should) has raised what was looked at as an unworthy co-main event to a grudge match with real heat behind it, as was evidenced in yesterday’s pre-fight press conference staredown.
Ill-will aside, Rivera is a 38-year old veteran currently enjoying a three-fight winning streak capped by a knockout win over Nate Quarry while Bisping is a 31-year old entering his prime and riding the momentum generated by convincing victories over Dan Miller and Yoshihiro Akiyama. “The Count” is the younger, faster and more technical fighter whose striking precision and volume, while usually not fight-ending, is matched only by his incredible activeness and competence on the ground. Rivera is the grittier of the two, favoring a gutter war to a measured, technical fight and also sporting the kind of experience that comes from squaring off with the likes of Rich Franklin and Anderson Silva, the two most recent (and current in Silva’s case) UFC middleweight champions.
Mark Wayne: Bisping is the favorite in this fight for good reason and should be able to overwhelm Rivera, but it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see Rivera continue his late-career resurgence by landing a power shot and putting Bisping away. Bisping by unanimous decision.
Raj Giri: I’ve got to agree with Mark on this one. Rivera’s best chance to beat Bisping in on his feet. Four of Rivera’s past five victories have been via KO/TKO due to strikes. However, I think Bisping has learned a lot from his bout with Dan Henderson and will be smart enough to avoid a slugfest. Bisping by unanimous decision.
George Sotiropoulos vs. Dennis Siver
As many see Jorge Rivera to be a slight step down in competition for Bisping, so do they see Siver as residing a rung below Sotiropoulos in the lightweight division. The German fighter is best known for his kickboxing prowess, but actually owns more victories via submission than KO or TKO. However, it is hard to consider the two men equal in the grappling department, as Sotiropoulos has displayed an impressively dynamic jiu-jitsu and wrestling game en route to racking up seven straight UFC victories. Sotiropoulos has also showcased a very competent stand up game, but tends to favor boxing and sometimes has trouble loosening up, whereas Siver can maintain an effective, diverse and powerful stand up game while throwing mostly an equal amount of kicks and punches.
Siver possesses the ability to hurt Sotiropoulos in a variety of ways, whether it be with his patented spinning back kick, a submission following a volley of heavy punches, or in any other number of ways. Sotiropoulos’ strength lies in the ground game and his ability to get the fight there, though his continued progression in the stand up should not be overlooked.
Mark Wayne: This is Sotiropoulos’ fight to lose. The Aussie will enjoy the rousing support of the Sydney crowd and arguably has the more dynamic overall game than Siver. Look for Sotiropoulos to continue to impress en route to second round submission win. Sotiropoulos via second round submission.
Raj Giri: I agree completely with Mark. While Siver has looked very impressive with his recent victories over Spencer Fisher and Andre Winner, Sotiropoulos has been on another level in his recent outings with Joe Lauzon, Kurt Pellegrino and Joe Stevenson. Sotiropoulos via second round submission.
Please let us know your picks in our “Comments” section below.