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. 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:
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.
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.
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 … or B.J. catches him with a punch or submission. I'm leaning toward Fitch.
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-[takedown-]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.
Brendan Schaub: A focused and determined Penn is the best 155-er 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 2 and 3.
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.
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 perform, 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 counterboxing, 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.
Mike Ciesnolevicz: I got to spend some time watching and talking with B.J. while he was training for this fight in Las Vegas at one of the same gyms I train at daily. I saw some of the stuff he was working on, and I think he has a few surprises up his sleeve for Fitch. I am a Fitch fan also. I like his grinding style. He is well-rounded and shuts people down. He is very dominant but [is] also a humble guy. I think if it wasn't for GSP, Fitch would be dominating 170 the last few years. This fight is a toss-up for me, but I am rooting for B.J. by submission.
Enson Inoue: B.J. [wins].
Stefan Struve: The only way I see B.J. winning this fight is by submission or KO, but I think that it is going to be a tough task to finish Fitch. I think Fitch will score points with his wrestling and will be able to avoid B.J. and his boxing and sub attempts. Fitch by decision.
Tom Vaughn: I don't think anyone gets finished in this fight; they are both too tough. B.J. has strong takedown defense, his striking is superb and he's learned how to last. I'm going with B.J. by decision.
Elvis Sinosic: This match definitely has piqued fan curiosity. Fitch is well-deserving of a title shot, let alone a No. 1 contender's match. Many say Penn shouldn't be in the running for a contender shot, as there are other welterweights with more wins on the board than he has. Regardless of whether people think this match [should have been made], the fans are excited to see how Penn performs and wonder what Fitch will do. This fight, on paper, should be a lock to Fitch. He's generally regarded as the No. 2 welterweight in the UFC. He's going to be a lot bigger than B.J. He has the superior wrestling and has a great chin. He's also on a five-fight win streak. On paper, Fitch should be able to clinch with B.J., take him down and at the least ride him out for a decision if he doesn't get into a position to TKO him with ground-and-pound. I can't see Fitch subbing B.J. unless he hurts him badly first with some serious ground-and-pound. B.J., on the other hand, is 1-2 in his last two fights. He was beaten by Frankie Edgar, but it was speed and movement, not size and pressure, that beat him. When he bumped up to welterweight again, he beat Matt Hughes easily in the first round. A lot of pundits attribute this win to Hughes being close to retirement and also his willingness to trade with B.J. rather than take him down straight away -- which is something that Fitch needs to do -- that cost him the fight. B.J. is always dangerous, as he has fast and heavy hands. He has good takedown defense and great Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Though B.J.'s BJJ is better from the top than the bottom, he's always a threat anytime it hits the mat. Also, if he hurts you with stand-up, he has the ability to finish you quickly when he follows up with either striking or grappling. Now, the obvious pick is Fitch. If you were a betting man, you'd have to say that Fitch is the safe bet. He's got a better record at welterweight. He's on a longer win streak. He's going to come in bigger and stronger and with better wrestling. He should be able to easily take down B.J. and at least ride out a decision victory if he doesn't get into a position to finish. Saying that, the last couple of fights with Penn I've gotten wrong. Every time I've picked him to win, he's lost. Every time I've picked him to lose, he's won. If I pick him to lose this match based on the obvious matchup, then it's apparent I'm going to be wrong again, so, for this pick, I'm going way out on a limb and picking B.J. for the victory. Since I think Fitch will most likely win a decision, I'm saying that B.J. is going to finish Fitch. Let's hope I finally get a B.J. fight prediction right.
Stephane Vigneault: Fitch will overpower B.J. like Georges did. [He's] not gonna be so dominant like Georges did but enough to win a boring decision. Fitch over B.J. by sleeping on my sofa. I hope something will happen and then go to the three-round [decision].
Dan Evensen: B.J. [wins].
Charlie Brenneman: Fitch is as good, or at least almost as good, as B.J. in all positions. He's bigger and stronger, as well, so I'm going with Fitch by decision. He may eat a ton of jabs, but that won't be enough to prevent him from winning.
Rex Richards: I've always been a huge Penn fan. I hate to say that I believe Fitch will grind out a victory. If B.J. comes with a ton of heart, like in the past, he can finish Fitch early.
Ovince St. Preux: I think Fitch is going to win. It's going to go all three rounds, but Fitch's wrestling is going to be the factor.
Alberto Crane: B.J. [wins].
Ron Foster: It's hard to pick against B.J. after his last fight, but the truth of the matter is this: Fitch is a huge guy for 170. His size, strength and wrestling abilities will be a bit much for Penn to handle. Fitch has an iron chin and is a cardio machine, and we all know Penn has had cardio issues in the past. Fitch will grind B.J. down with wrestling. I don't see him doing any damage to B.J., but Fitch will get the W. My heart is with B.J., but my mind says Fitch will grab his 14th win in the UFC -- 10th by decision. Fitch by unanimous decision.
Kultar Gill: As good as B.J. is, I don't see him breaking the iron chin of Fitch. Size will prevail this time, and Fitch will wear down B.J. to a decision.
Tim Kennedy: The AKA guys have been on a tear of late. I think Jon has the wrestling and size to do the same thing that GSP has done. Fitch by unanimous decision.
Pros who picked Fitch: 24
Pros who picked Penn: 10
Pros who could not decide: 5
Mike Sloan is a contributor to Sherdog.com. You can also contact Mike Sloan at www.facebook.com/mikesloan19. Brian Knapp contributed to this report.