B.J. Penn vs. Rory MacDonald: Why You Can't Count Penn Out

Matt MolgaardCorrespondent IIIDecember 7, 2012

PHILADELPHIA - AUGUST 08:   Lightweight champion BJ Penn (R) battles Kenny Florian during their lightweight championship title bout at UFC 101: Declaration at the Wachovia Center on August 8, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images)
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

Rory MacDonald has a bright future in this sport. He’s young, refined, big and powerful. And the scary thing is, he’s only going to get bigger, stronger and more polished as a fighter.

He’s ahead of the curve, simply put, and he’s gutsy enough to challenge elite competition in order to better himself. MacDonald is a nightmare on two legs who looks like he’ll be in title contention in the not-so-distant future.

B.J. Penn, on the other hand, is ten years older than MacDonald at 33 and has been through more wars than MacDonald can conceive of.

His best days look to be behind him.

Penn’s still a wicked grappler with a brick of concrete for a head and dynamite in his fists, but he’s lost a few steps over the years. Being an overachiever can do that to a fighter. Let’s face it: Penn’s been a part of a series of fights he had no business being involved in. Amazingly, he won a handful of them.

These two will collide Saturday night, and every line of logic leads directly to a victory for Rory. At this point in time, the Canadian’s weapons look far more threatening than those possessed by Penn. As a nearly 20-year follower of the sport, I’ve seen B.J. blossom from a highly touted jiu jitsu prospect to a well-rounded machine who’s held more than a single title. Knowing his days are limited is admittedly a bit heartbreaking.

But life is life. Analysts are leaning in Rory’s direction for this fight, and in all likelihood that’s not unreasonable. If I were a betting man, I’d drop a few dimes on the kid myself. But B.J. Penn isn’t out of this fight, by any means.

“The Prodigy” has been scrutinized in the past. Accusations of laziness in the gym, poor dieting and too much play time have plagued the man for years. As his career winds down, Penn is realizing the significance of leaving behind a truly lasting legacy.

You’ve probably read the rumors of Penn’s newfound motivation and peak physical condition in preparation for this encounter.

Believe those rumors.

For B.J. Penn, a place in the history books is at stake here. People will always remember B.J., but he’s hungry to ensure that fans and peers remember him as a warrior of the greatest stature, willing and able to defy the odds time and again, and not as a lazy fighter who never lived up to his potential.

Saturday night we’ll see a driven Hawaiian inside the Octagon. Physically he’ll be outgunned. But deep down inside, B.J. Penn is still a tougher, grittier guy than Rory MacDonald. (For now. MacDonald will likely develop into a monster of Penn’s nature with time.)

That means he’s got a serious chance at completely derailing the hype train of MacDonald.

At UFC on FOX 5, Rory could very well transition from the next best thing to a prospect that needs a lot of work and a lot more ladder climbing.

Penn’s chin will keep him in this fight while things stay vertical. If he can pump the jab and close the distance, he can break Rory down as the rounds progress. If the fight hits the mat, Penn’s rubber guard could severely hinder MacDonald’s savage ground-and-pound. If we see a frantic scramble, Rory could be in all kinds of trouble: if Penn gets your back, he tends to finish.

Penn has the tools to upset the surging contender tomorrow, and that alone makes this an extremely intriguing fight.


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