B.J. Penn (top) has a hard obstacle in between himself and 170-pound title talk. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The gifted but enigmatic B.J. Penn returns to the Octagon against perennial welterweight contender Jon Fitch in the UFC 127 headliner on Saturday at the Acer Arena in Sydney, Australia. There, Penn, a former two-division champion, will put his immense natural ability to the test against one of the best fighters the welterweight division has to offer.
Sherdog.com recently caught up with dozens of professional trainers and fighters to gauge their opinions on the matchup:
Nick Thompson: This fight between B.J. and Fitch reminds me of something that happened to Derrick Noble many years ago. Derrick, a former member of an elite United States Army Special Forces, was walking into town minding his own business, when the overzealous sheriff drove him out of town because the sheriff disliked drifters. Noble stood his ground and walked right back in to town. After being arrested, the sheriff’s deputies harassed Noble. Then Noble snapped. Noble fought his way out of the jail and headed into the mountains. The police followed, but Noble used his combat experience, setting booby traps and maiming his pursuers. At this point, I flew in to meet with the sheriff. I advised him that it would be better to let Noble go, but the sheriff persisted. Continuing to be attacked by the sheriff’s men, Noble headed back in to the town and laid waste to the area. He then entered the police station and cornered the sheriff. He was about ready to kill him when I entered the station and talked him down.
Chris Wilson: I don’t usually give half-hearted decisions. Usually, I have a clear answer in my mind, but this is a tough call for me. You have two guys who are very hard to bet against. Will B.J. be the first guy in a long time to finish Fitch? Can he win a decision if a bigger Fitch grinds on him for three rounds? I just don’t know. Fitch has a size and stamina advantage. B.J. has submissions and punching power, though they both are skilled everywhere. Fitch will likely be the favorite, but I can’t call it.
Nate Marquardt: I believe Fitch will defeat B.J. Jon is the more well-rounded fighter and has given GSP his toughest fight, in my opinion. Jon will control the fight with his wrestling and probably get the decision.
Micah Miller: Very cool fight. I see B.J. landing all the strikes and going for all the submission attempts, but Fitch will be on top “grinding” away and [will] win a decision.
Gerald Harris: B.J.’s jab will be his key to victory.
Mark DellaGrotte: I’m looking forward to this fight. I’m friends with both of them, so I’ll refrain from picking a winner. I do like B.J. at 170 [pounds]. He seems to perform better there lately. Unfortunately, he’s facing a very tough guy in Jon Fitch, who is, in my opinion, a bigger, badder guy than just about anybody at 155. B.J.’s effectiveness in his jab and takedown defense will greatly determine the outcome. We all know, Fitch included, that [Fitch] is not a big finisher but will certainly die trying. If I was a betting man, I would say B.J. by submission or Fitch by decision.
Frank Shamrock: Fitch is a goner. Baby Jay Penn can fight.
Marlon Sandro: I think B.J. wins by submission in the second round. I don’t believe in a KO in this fight.
Rory Markham: I don’t think there has been a fight that represented the potential B.J. factor -- what Royce Gracie brought to the table facing larger opponents in the early UFCs -- as much as this one. Though I can’t pick a victor, I will tell you who wins: my Comcast bill.
Benji Radach: I’m gonna pull for B.J., but Fitch could very well pull it off. Tough one to call.
Andre Pederneiras: B.J. is the favorite. He’s ready to win against anyone. I think B.J. wins.
Mike Constantino: B.J. will win by using his jab and his extraordinary takedown defense. I see B.J. frustrating Fitch with this combo and taking a decision victory.
Sam Hoger: Fitch is too big. B.J. is good, but I don’t think Fitch will come up short.
Jorge Masvidal: Super tough fight to call. I think Fitch could grind it out and dry hump him, or B.J. catches him with a punch or submission. I’m leaning toward Fitch.
Leonardo Santos: I think B.J. has more weapons to win. I believe in a victory from B.J.
Jonathan Chaimberg: This is just a bad matchup for B.J. Luckily for him, it’s just a three-round fight, and he may not gas as bad as if it were a five-rounder. Fitch’s relentless style, anti-submission defense and terminator attitude will be too much for B.J. here; that and probably 30 pounds come fight night. B.J. will come out strong and look to employ his will standing, only to be either taken down or grinded out against the fence. Each round may resemble the next. Fitch 29-28 on all cards.
Blake Bowman: Fitch is fighting? Cool, I guess I’ll put off painting my bedroom and watching it dry and get the UFC so I won’t have to overexcite myself. Every time I bet against Jon Fitch, he proceeds to punish me with a 15-minute-single leg-and-almost-pass-guard-but-not-really festival. Every time I bet against B.J., he almost kills someone. So I’m going to say Fitch all the way, baby, in hopes that B.J. will blow Hilo kisses in the camera while Fitch is looking up saying, “What happened? Did I get caught?”
Ricardo Liborio: Fitch by decision.
Bebeo Duarte: Fitch is a tough fighter. He has good takedowns and good ground-and-pound, but B.J. is better. I think BJ wins.
Brendan Schaub: A focused and determined Penn is the best 155er in the world. Fitch always seems to find a way to win, but I think B.J. will be too much for him in the later rounds. I’ll take B.J. by submission win late in the third.
Travis Lutter: I am cheering for B.J., but my money is on Fitch. Fitch is simply too big and too good of a wrestler for him.
Martin Kampmann: I think Fitch is gonna win by decision -- takedowns and top game. But B.J. might pull out a sub. You never know.
Nam Phan: I say Fitch.
Javier Vazquez: Fitch all the way. I’m a B.J. fan, but I think Fitch grinds him out over three rounds. If B.J. can catch him early and KO him, I would be surprised since no one had been able to do this yet. Fitch wins 29-28, winning rounds two and three.
Keith Berry: This is a hard fight to call, but I think Fitch will squeeze out a decision. He’s a lot bigger than B.J., and he will outwrestle and box him.
Tom Gavrilos: Perry “Shen” Hauck from the underground by pure unbearable douchebaggery in round one. On a more serious note, Fitch is too big, and even if B.J.’s conditioning is top notch, it’s always suspect, new training methods or not. If Fitch can last five rounds with [Georges St. Pierre], he will have no problem grinding out a decision over B.J. Fitch needs to be wary of heavy hands and a very slick guard and solid back control if B.J. can get it. Fitch by decision.
Cristiano Marcello: I think B.J. wins a judges’ decision.
Michael Guymon: I’m looking forward to seeing how this fight plays out. I see Fitch just plain wearing down B.J. I believe Fitch has a much stronger training camp and work ethic. Fitch by split decision.
Jared Hamman: I’m going with Fitch -- big heart and good wrestling. Fitch by decision.
Ray Elbe: I’m excited to be watching this one live in Sydney. Following his five-round loss to GSP, Fitch spent some time in Thailand training at Tiger Muay Thai. At 13-1 [in the UFC], he deserves to be fighting for the belt. It’s cool to see him want to fight, instead of sitting on the shelf afraid to lose. I got Fitch picking up the decision win against Penn, as he continues his quest of bringing another championship belt to [the American Kickboxing Academy].
Anthony Leone: If Penn comes in to preform, I believe it will be a tough three rounds for Fitch. If B.J. is able to defend the shot, slip the punches and come back with his counter boxing, he is going to score more than Fitch. Fitch is great at everything and poses a real threat for B.J. I believe it will depend on how B.J. approaches the fight more than Fitch’s game plan. B.J. via unanimous decision.
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