BJ Penn vs. Joe Stevenson
Last month, the UFC officially stripped Sean Sherk [32-2-1] of his lightweight title after the Minnesota native lost his steroid appeal with the California State Athletic Commission, following a victory over Hermes Franca last July. Therefore, the main event between BJ Penn and Joe Stevenson at UFC 80 Rapid Fire in Newcastle, England will now be for the vacant lightweight title. While this marks Stevensons first shot at UFC gold, Penn will be making his third bid at claiming the 155-pound strap previously losing to Jens Pulver and battling to a draw against Caol Uno.
Penn [11-4-1] has long been considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. A legend in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu circles, Penn also possesses one of the best takedown defenses in MMA and has emerged as a very capable striker. However, if theres a knock against him its been his lack of focus during training, which has resulted in the Hawaiian fading down the stretch during fights. Nonetheless, when Penn has fought as a lightweight compared to welterweight hes been forced to make weight, and his conditioning has been the sole beneficiary.
As the season two winner of Spike TVs The Ultimate Fighter, Stevenson [28-7-0] made the decision to drop down from welterweight to lightweight and has posted a 4-0 record in one of the UFCs most dynamic divisions. An absolute beast on the ground, Stevenson possesses an excellent combination of wrestling and submission skills. Yet, while the TUF veteran has made steady improvements with his striking, it still remains an area of concern in his overall game.
While breaking down this fight, the classic Irving Berlin song Anything you can do, I can do better comes to mind. Stevenson is definitely no slouch in the grappling department, but hes just not at Penns level on the ground. In addition, Penn also owns a distinct striking advantage that should allow him to dictate where this fight will be fought. Therefore, it would seem Stevensons chances hinge on whether he can push the fight into the later rounds and possibly wear Penn down. However, the likelihood of this contest reaching the championship rounds (4 & 5) appears doubtful.
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Fabricio Werdum
The heavyweight showdown between Gabriel Gonzaga and Fabricio Werdum is a rematch from an encounter back in 2003, which was fought outside the UFC and won by Werdum. The initial match featured two excellent BJJ practitioners that were essentially novices in the world of MMA. Ultimately, conditioning was the deciding factor in their first bout, as an exhausted Gonzaga was stopped via strikes in the third round.
Gonzaga [8-2-0] is certainly a much improved version of the fighter he was in 2003. Napao is known for his grappling background, but hes also an extremely powerful striker. His highlight reel head kick of Mirko Cro Cop Filipovic was one of the most devastating knockouts in UFC history. But after going 4-0 in the UFC, Gonzaga was derailed by UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture at UFC 74. Though Gonzaga appeared as though he was beginning to fatigue against Couture aided by a broken nose he does have a reputation of tiring the longer the fight goes.
This will be Werdums [9-3-1] second foray into the UFC after dropping a unanimous decision to former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski in his debut. A BJJ world champion, Werdum has concentrated his efforts on becoming a well rounded mixed martial artist. Enlisting the services of Mirko Cro Cop to improve his stand-up skills only proved to substantiate that claim. However, after parting ways with the former K-1 star, Werdum has since taken up residency at the famed Chute Boxe Academy. The Brazilian also possesses a brown belt in judo to compliment his submission prowess.
Although Werdum has been training with some excellent stand-up teams, he doesnt seem to possess knockout power. As a result, the striking advantage is clearly in Gonzagas favor. In addition, Werdum was dropped by Arlovski in his last fight, but the Belarusian was a little too overcautious and elected not to pounce on his downed opponent. Gonzaga wont have any such reservations. Therefore, when he hurts Werdum he will jump into his opponents guard to finish the fight.
Kendall Grove vs. Jorge Rivera
Middleweights Kendall Grove and Jorge Rivera are looking to get back into the win column after they were both stopped in their last outing. The two fighters are also part of The Ultimate Fighter alumni association, as Grove was crowned the season three winner, while Rivera was bounced from the show by Patrick Cote during season four.
Grove [8-4-0] came to prominence under the watchful eye of Tito Ortiz, but hes since made the move to train with the star-studded cast at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas on a full-time basis. Showing a remarked improvement after leaving the TUF house, Grove quickly reeled off three consecutive victories in the UFC. However, during his last fight against Cote he suffered a momentary lapse when he came out of the clinch with his hands down and was caught with an overhand right, which led to a TKO stoppage.
Having been in wars against some of the top names in the division, there are not too many fighters as battle tested as Rivera [14-6-0]. El Conquistador is a protégé under Mark DellaGrotte, who is one of the top muay Thai trainers in the country. Unfortunately, Riveras chin has recently come into question, as hes been dropped early in fights by Chris Leben and Terry Martin. In addition, the last noteworthy opponent Rivera defeated was Edwin Dewees who has lost four straight fights himself. This is definitely a statement fight for Rivera, as another loss would likely see him become a gatekeeper of sorts in the middleweight division.
Expect to see a more focused and determined Grove on Saturday night, as hell outwork Rivera and ultimately force the veteran to consider if hes still capable of competing against the upper echelon of fighters in the sport.
Marcus Davis vs. Jess Liaudin
Its England versus Ireland but dont tell that to the rioters. Fighting out of London, Jess Liaudin will have the hometown crowd behind him in this welterweight clash when he faces the Irish Hand Grenade Marcus Davis.
Liaudin [12-8-0] is making his third appearance in the UFC, and has looked impressive in his two previous fights. In his debut against Dennis Siver at UFC 70, Liaudin looked to be in trouble early but he pulled off an impressive submission victory from his back. After a stretch of mediocre performances earlier in his career, Liaudin seems to have found the right formula since hooking up with Dan Henderson and Team Quest in Temecula, California. Hes currently riding a five-fight unbeaten streak.
Season two fans of The Ultimate Fighter should appreciate the transformation Davis [13-3-0] has undergone. The Maine resident came into the world of MMA with a boxing pedigree but hes continued to evolve each time hes stepped into the Octagon. Davis earned the UFC Submission of the Night in his last fight against Paul Taylor, but whats even more impressive was how the former boxer recovered after it appeared he was on the verge of being knocked out. Nevertheless, Davis isnt about to abandon his stand-up game though, as hes arguably the hardest puncher in the welterweight division.
This is a very intriguing match-up that has the potential to be the fight of the night. Neither fighter is afraid to stand in the pocket and trade bombs, which should make this a classic knock-down, drag-out battle. However, its worth noting there isnt a better underdog on the card then Liaudin, who has been listed at +265 on some sports betting lines.
Wilson Gouveia vs. Jason Lambert
This light heavyweight contest between Wilson Gouveia and Jason Lambert was originally slated to happen at UFC 76 in September, but Gouveia was forced to withdraw from the fight after suffering a broken nose in training.
Gouveia [9-4-0] is a submission specialist who trains with the American Top Team. In his UFC debut against Keith Jardine, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt dominated the stand-up during the opening round. Unfortunately, after starting strong he faded down the stretch and lost a unanimous decision. However, Gouveia has returned to his roots and submitted his last three opponents in the UFC.
Lambert [23-6-0] is a good grappler who looks to use his ground-and-pound to finish fights. In his last fight against Renatao Babalu Sobral, Lambert survived a near fight ending submission attempt, and went on to register a second round knockout. In addition, he joined Chuck Liddell as the only other fighter to stop Sobral.
Sam Stout vs. Per Eklund
Alessio Sakara vs. James Lee
Paul Kelly vs. Paul Taylor
Colin Robinson vs. Antoni Hardonk