When you have an opportunity to make a fight between two of the five best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet*, you have to take it. That's why even though I prefer to have cohesive, logical build-ups to title matches in the UFC, I have no beef with BJ Penn getting a crack at Georges St. Pierre's welterweight title. Sure, it means that Thiago Alves has to wait several months for his WW title shot. And it means that Kenny Florian has to wait several MORE months before he gets his long-deserved shot at BJ's lightweight title. But hey, on Saturday we're getting to see St. Pierre/Penn II, and that's a superfight by any definition.
* = GSP, Penn, Anderson Silva, Fedor, and Miguel Torres, not necessarily in that order
I've been going back and forth in my head to decide who's going to win this bout, while trying to keep my heart (which is obviously pulling for fellow Canuck GSP) from overly influencing my decision-making. Maybe it snuck in through a window somewhere since I am in fact picking St. Pierre to win. GSP won their first bout (a very close decision back in 2006) and his skills have only improved since then. His wrestling is arguably second to none in all of MMA, as St. Pierre has been able to dominate trained wrestlers like Josh Koscheck on the mat. His striking is crisper than ever, as Jon Fitch's face can attest. Logically speaking, if GSP was better three years ago and has only improved since then, he should be able to beat Penn now as well.
But the problem, however, is the same problem that crops up in any BJ Penn fight...namely, how much does Penn want it. BJ is like the A.J. Burnett of mixed martial arts. He has all the natural ability in the world and you get the feeling that if he ever properly harnessed it, he'd be nigh unstoppable. Now, Penn has a higher pedigree than the Yankees' soon-to-be-injured right-hander, since Penn has won championships and beaten a number of top-line guys to establish himself as one of MMA's best already. He could retire tomorrow and be a Hall of Famer. But Penn's issue has always been the lack of focus on training and cardio to really make sure he goes into every right at 100 percent. This has already cost him at least two defeats (he tired out in the first GSP match, and his blamed a third-round broken rib on a lack of fitness that cost him against Matt Hughes) and, as Penn recently stated in an interview, he felt that he had been wasting the prime years of his career. Now, since moving to lightweight and allegedly recommitting to training, Penn is 3-0 and has regained the LW title. So, theoretically, if GSP barely beat Penn three years ago and now Penn is committed, BJ will win on Saturday, right?
Nope. Penn's wins at lightweight were over Jens Pulver, Joe Stevenson and Sean Sherk; three guys who BJ should've been able to whip anyway. It would be like if, to re-use the analogy, Burnett came out and said he had a new focus on pitching and then threw a shutout against the Nationals. Well, great, but let's see how that focus works against tougher competition first. This is the first time that we've seen the 'new' BJ Penn face a guy who could legitimately beat him. There is no question that Penn is taking St. Pierre very seriously (as we've seen from his near-crazed interviews on the Spike TV specials to promote this fight), but it remains to be seen if Penn can truly walk the walk. Until I find that out for sure, I simply have to take St. Pierre to win via decision. I seriously hope this is the best fight I've ever seen....and that GSP wins.
Other UFC 94 matches....
* Stephen Bonnar over Jon Jones, submission R2. Kind of a tough one to predict. Bonnar should win on paper, as he's looked good winning his last two fights since joining Randy Couture's camp. The trouble is, those two fights took place in 2007, as Bonnar has been out with a knee injury for almost a full year. If he has any ring rust, up-and-comer Jones will knock it out of him. I'll tentatively pick Bonnar, but my support will switch is Jones enters the cage to my current favourite song of the moment, "Mr. Jones" by the Talking Heads. And this one came out five years before the Counting Crows, so suck on that, Adam Duritz.
* Lyoto Machida over Thiago Silva, decision. God, I want Silva to win this fight. But, he won't. Machida is MMA's answer to the 1995-2005 New Jersey Devils. Technically proficient, very skilled, and horribly boring as fuck to watch. Normally I'd find it unfair that the UFC keeps putting off giving a title shot to an unbeaten fighter, but in Machida's case, I'll make an exception.
* Karo Parisyan over Dong Hyun Kim, decision. This is contingent on Karo not having a panic attack before the match like he did at UFC 88, thus causing him to pull out of a match against Yoshiyuki Yoshida. Kim is a national hero in South Korea, but given that he barely and controversially beat Matt Brown, I doubt he has enough to beat a top-10 welterweight in Karo as long as Parisyan keeps his head on straight.
* Clay Guida over Nate Diaz, decision. I went with my head over my heart on the Machida fight, so I'll let the heart have a say in picking the always-entertaining Guida over the barely-literate idiot Diaz. Nate's a talented fighter, but every time he speaks, I feel like it's Billy Madison and we're all dumber for having heard him. Hopefully the judges award him no points and Guida has mercy on his soul. (Wait, am I calling Clay Guida a god? His nickname is 'the Carpenter' so that's kind of Biblical. Call it a wash.)
* Manny Gamburyan over Thiago Tavares, R1 TKO.
* Chris Wilson over John Howard, decision.
* Christian Wellisch over Jake O'Brien, R2 knockout.
* Matt Arroyo over Dan Cramer, R1 submission.
* Jon Fitch over Akihiro Gono, decision. In case you're wondering why this match featuring former #1 welterweight contender Fitch isn't on the main card, it's because Fitch is being punished for not quickly signing a video game likeness deal that briefly led to Fitch being fired from the UFC for a day. Seriously. That is some petty shit from the UFC. In Fitch's defense, the video game was actually an MMA version of Grand Theft Auto where Fitch's character would've been a coke dealer trying to make a shipment to Chuck Liddell before a big match. Anyway, Fitch should win. I'm mad this fight is on the undercard not because of Fitch's situation, but because it means even if it is shown, we won't get to see the fighter entrances, and this Gono guy allegedly has one of the flamboyant entrances this side of Ric Flair. Hell, maybe I should root for Gono just so he can get a main card fight next time.
And, since I'm in a predicting mood, Steelers over Cardinals 24-18.