Commentary

Getting the most out of UFC 94

Chances are, you're still wondering who to bet your lunch money on: the bona fide welterweight, Georges St. Pierre, or the ultra-talented B.J. Penn. Let Sherdog help you decide.

Originally Published: January 27, 2009
By Jake Rossen | Sherdog.com

BJ PennAP Photo/Jon SuperTalented as he might be, BJ Penn's skills are best served in the lightweight division.

You're reading the words of a dirt-poor prognosticator. Local-weatherman bad. If I ran a sports handicapping service, subscribers would make money only by playing the opposite side -- assuming the appliance box I had led them into inhabiting had Wi-Fi.

Some of my bigger stumbles:

"Gosh, Tim Sylvia has one hell of a reach advantage over Fedor Emelianenko."

"Rematches usually end the same way. Quinton Jackson is in some real trouble against Wanderlei Silva."

"Everything Frank Mir does, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira does better."

"Randy Couture beating Sylvia? [Condescending chuckle.] Whatever."

Had I promised to eat a shoe every time I came up short, I'd have cleaned out Foot Locker by now.

The detour around those displays of dumbbellery, I've learned, is to leave fight picks to my betters and instead consider all outcomes -- and their effects on the respective weight divisions. That's the blueprint for Saturday's UFC 94 card, which features two co-headlining bouts that will have serious consequences on the remainder of the year.

Georges St. Pierre vs. B.J. Penn

Best Case Scenario: St. Pierre wins. Here's why.

At 155 pounds, Penn resembles the rolling boulder in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" -- a relentless killing machine constructed to run you over in the goriest ways possible. Fights against Caol Uno, Takanori Gomi and Matt Hughes promised it; fights against Sean Sherk and Joe Stevenson proved it.

But Penn, for all his sincere drive to be the sport's pound-for-pound best, didn't get any breaks in the genetics department. At 170 pounds, he barely scrapes the ceiling of the class; he's loose around the middle and too easily fatigued fighting off men who can weigh upward of 185 pounds on fight night. A solid showing against GSP -- even a victory -- would provide a kind of negative reinforcement. And deserved contenders at 155 pounds -- Kenny Florian, Tyson Griffin, hoped-for recruits like Shinya Aoki and Eddie Alvarez -- will be expected to sit on the sidelines while Penn bumps from class to class.

GSP-Penn is a worthy special attraction of a fight, but win or lose, Penn's dimensions dictate a permanent home in the 155-pound slot.

The French-Canadian is another story. Massive for the division and repeatedly hailed as being incredibly strong for any size, a summer showdown with Anderson Silva will become increasingly likely if he's able to conquer here. It's a mixed-weight spectacle between two dominant champions that could round out St. Pierre's trophy room.

Lyoto Machida vs. Thiago Silva

BCS: Machida wins -- in a fight he shouldn't even be in.

[+] EnlargeMachida and Ortiz
AP Photo/Eric JamisonHow many times does Lyoto Machida, right, have to prove himself to earn a crack at a title?

Think: 13-0 in a sport in which a 75 percent winning percentage is impressive; even better, Machida has toppled three current or former UFC champions in three weight classes. What else does a guy have to do to earn a world title shot?

The inconsistency in how contenders earn their spots is a maddening component of the sport. Brock Lesnar, 2-1 in MMA and 1-1 in the UFC, vies for the heavyweight championship versus Couture; Machida goes 4-0 in the promotion and gets a fight with Silva. Timing, injuries and PR commitments all play a part. It's understood. But Machida shouldn't have to continually prove his worth.

One reason is that there's no shortage of 205-pound contenders. Another is that Machida is, to some, the antidote to too much excitement. (His last fight, versus Tito Ortiz, was thrilling, though.) But should Keith Jardine -- slated to face presumed No. 1 contender Quinton Jackson in March -- be taking up challenger's real estate there if he's unwilling to face teammate and champion Rashad Evans?

Providing Machida wins, a title shot should be on lockdown for the spring. Silva has an identical 13-0 record but hasn't faced Machida's level of opposition. Despite the technique promised, the faceoff is equivalent in at least one way to a street fight: it's wholly unnecessary.

UFC 94 vs. UFC 91

BCS: Saturday's card trumps November's in pay-per-view buys.

The old guard is getting older. Chuck Liddell, once responsible for the majority of the promotion's highlight reel, is nearing his end; Couture, as compelling a story as any we've had in the sport, is one or two fights away from submitting to Father Time; Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock, once the mercury in the industry's thermometer, are best left alone.

If St. Pierre and Penn could rival their numbers, perhaps surpass them, it would be an encouraging sign that the next generation of athletes is capturing public interest in the manner necessary to maintain the sport's growth. (St. Pierre in particular has the charm and ability to dissolve criticism of MMA's tattooed, in-your-face demo.) It also would vindicate "UFC Primetime," a well-produced hype program that's been long overdue.

With Oscar De La Hoya eyeing retirement, 2009 and 2010 represent MMA's best opportunity yet to become the world's favored way of enjoying cathartic violence. Overtaking boxing -- even action movies -- seems a foregone conclusion.

In fact, I guarantee it. And when have I ever steered you wrong?

Jake Rossen is a contributor to Sherdog.com.

Jake Rossen is a contributor to ESPN.com. His byline has appeared in the New York Times, Wired.com, and numerous other outlets. He began covering mixed martial arts in 1998.