After nearly a year-long war of words, BJ Penn and Sean Sherk will finally settle their differences on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 84 Ill Will at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Sherk, the former UFC lightweight champion was stripped of the title after testing positive for steroids following his victory over Hermes Franca last summer. As a result, Penn stepped in and defeated Joe Stevenson for the vacant title and in the process became the new champion back in January a claim Sherk refuses to acknowledge.
Sherk [32-2-1] is an absolute powerhouse who uses his wrestling to control and dominate opponents with superior positioning. In addition, Sherks excellent cardio allows him to set a pace that very few opponents can match. While the Minnesota resident seems a little outside his comfort zone during striking exchanges, he does utilize a tight stand-up game that puts an emphasis on defense first. Also, even though Sherks not an accomplished submission fighter, his strong base and top control has propelled him to victory over three consecutive Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts (Franca, Kenny Florian, and Nick Diaz).
Penn [12-4-1] has long been considered one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the business, although his commitment and dedication to the sport have been questioned at length. However, it finally appears the Hawaiian native is serious about reaching his potential and possibly carving out a legacy. In his last two outings, the 29-year-old champion was extremely focused and finished both fights before the end of the second round. Penn, a world-class BJJ black belt, causes match-up problems for most fighters on the ground, but his striking skills are also very dangerous too. Essentially, Penn possesses a threat wherever the fight takes place.
Breakdown: This fight really comes down to whether Penn can finish Sherk inside two rounds, or if the challenger can survive the initial onslaught and extend the fight into the middle and later rounds.
Penn is without a doubt cognizant of the fact he wont be able to match Sherks conditioning over the course of a five round fight. Therefore, the champion will have to operate with a sense of urgency and punish Sherk early and often. Since Penn has one of the best takedown defenses in MMA, Sherk will be forced to stand and strike with Penn during the opening moments of the fight.
However, if Sherk is still conscious after 10 minutes the pendulum will begin to shift in his favor as the fight progresses. Penn appeared to have only just enough stamina to finish off Stevenson, as he was barely able to stand after the fight. Therefore, should Sherk hear the horn to start round three, it will be the equivalent of a bull that sees red.