No championship is up for grabs, but company President Dana White has made it clear the winner of tonight’s bout will earn himself a shot at the coveted welterweight title.
For his part, Penn is attempting to make another run at the welterweight strap he once held all the way back in Jan. 2004 when he obliterated the original one-man wrecking crew, Matt Hughes.
Fitch looks to achieve his sixth consecutive victory and continue his run of dominance in the 170-pound division against everyone not named Georges St. Pierre.
Record: 16-7-1 overall, 12-6-1 in the UFC
Notable Wins: Matt Hughes (UFC 123, UFC 46), Sean Sherk (UFC 84), Renzo Gracie (K-1 World Grand Prix 2005 in Hawaii), Kenny Florian (UFC 101)
Tough Losses: Georges St. Pierre (UFC 94, UFC 58), Frankie Edgar (UFC 118, UFC 112), Matt Hughes (UFC 63)
Penn’s legendary status is unquestioned in the sport of MMA. However, he got this number one contender fight against Fitch based on his tremendous legacy and a lack of credible challengers. Last we saw “The Prodigy,” he was knocking out Matt Hughes with a perfectly timed right hook to decisively win the trilogy between the two welterweight greats.
If you were to build a fighter as the perfect foil to Jon Fitch, you would probably end up with BJ Penn. He’s the perfect combination of outstanding boxing and unmatched takedown defense. But he also has some of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the entire sport. So if he ends up on his back, it’s not like he’s in no man’s land. What Penn should want to do though, is keep the fight standing and make Fitch pay for every single takedown attempt. The more he can make Fitch stand and trade with him, is the more he can utilize his boxing to get inside and batter his bigger foe. Submitting the Fitchster isn’t impossible but we’re talking about a guy who’s only cried uncle once in his entire career — and that was in his debut as a professional. Don’t expect a flyin’ Hawaiian tap.
Record: 23-3 overall, 13-1 in the UFC
Notable Wins: Thiago Alves (UFC 117, UFN 5) Diego Sanchez (UFC 76), Paulo Thiago (UFC 100)
Tough Losses: Georges St. Pierre (UFC 87)
Winning five of his last six bouts, Fitch has continued to look dominant at 170-pounds, other than his fight against UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre. His wrestling and uncanny ability to grind down opponents hasn’t exactly endeared him to fans, but with a 13-1 record in the UFC, it’s hard to argue with the results. At UFC 117, Fitch dominated top ranked welterweight Thiago Alves en route to a unanimous decision that clearly showed he’s head and shoulders above the rest of the division.
Has Jon Fitch ever come in with a different gameplan? That’s the beauty of his meat-grinder style — it works against everyone. Take ‘em down and grind ‘em out. And as great as BJ Penn is, he has yet to submit a fighter off his back. Not only that, he’s shown that if he can be taken down and pressured, he will lose the fight. Fitch can not afford to be sloppy with his takedowns and will need to set them up with strikes. And in the off chance that Penn actually stuffs said takedowns, he needs to make him carry his weight to get him tired for the later rounds.
Conditioning is going to play a major role in this bout. Penn is notorious for starting fast but fading the deeper the fight goes. If Fitch can take him down on any sort of consistent basis, BJ doesn’t inspire much confidence in his ability to stay fresh. That said, there have been rumblings of Fitch coming in as skinny as he ever as due to his new vegan diet. Will that have any effect on his cardiovascular endurance? At the very least, it’s something to look for.