In a sport that relies on storylines, Penn-G.S.P. makes promoting easy
B.J. Penn vs. Georges St. Pierre has the makings of a classic UFC bout
If he defeats Thiago Silva, the UFC has to give Lyoto Machida a shot at the title
The most underrated fight at UFC 94 is easily Nate Diaz vs. Clay Guida
Fight promotion is all about storylines. For the most part, they're manufactured ones. But occasionally, a bout so easy and genuine that hyping it is as simple as getting out of the way and letting the story tell itself (or, if you're the UFC, paying a first-class production crew $1.7 million to do the storytelling for you) will surface.
Such is UFC 94's headlining bout between welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre and lightweight champ B.J. Penn, which, as Spike TV's weekly UFC Primetime series has made sure to remind us, has all the makings of a classic. Penn is said to be unhappy with his portrayal on the show, and doubtless there is some reality TV-style calculation at work behind the scenes. (But, then again, no one forced Penn to take five days off from training camp just weeks before the fight, did they?)
But while you can't believe everything you see, Primetime has provided us with one useful insight: when it comes to fighters of this caliber, it's not just what you know, but who you know.
Coming from Greg Jackson's camp, St. Pierre has training partners like UFC light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans, Keith Jardine, Nate Marquardt and Donald Cerrone to push him in his fight preparation. Penn, by comparison, prefers to stay home at his gym in Hilo, Hawaii, where his list of training partners isn't nearly so impressive. Guys like Justin McCully or Troy Mandaloniz may be fun to have around in training camp, but they can't simulate five rounds with a monster like G.S.P.
That's not to say Penn won't be in shape for this fight. He may have suffered from motivational issues in the past, but nothing spurs "The Prodigy" on quite like the opportunity to avenge a loss while also etching his name into the UFC record books.
However, there's training hard and then there's training hard with world-class sparring partners. At this level the difference can mean everything.
The great Lyoto Machida debate
Whether you like watching Lyoto Machida fight or not -- his particular brand of "elusiveness," to put it kindly, isn't for everyone -- his list of victories and conspicuous lack of losses makes him impossible to ignore. If he edges out Thiago Silva, who is also undefeated but against a less-impressive roster of opponents, it becomes harder and harder for the UFC to justify not giving Machida a title shot.
No, he isn't the most thrilling or charismatic fighter, nor is he the most promotable in a championship fight. But if he keeps winning, there's nothing else the UFC can do with the guy other than throw him in with the titleholder and let them sort it out in the cage. That said, a victory by something other than a judges' decision this weekend would go a long way toward helping Machida's cause.
Jon Fitch in a non-televised bout? I'm afraid so
The main-event hype has overshadowed a very decent undercard for UFC 94, but what's surprising about the lineup is that Jon Fitch's bout with Akihiro Gono has been shoved to the dark portion of the card as a preliminary bout. It's hard to see this as anything other than punishment for Fitch's very public rift with the UFC over a video game licensing deal. Just a few months ago he challenged for a title and shared "Fight of the Night" honors with St. Pierre. Now, he'll fight in a bout that probably won't be televised while Stephan Bonnar and Jon Jones occupy spots on the main card. There's no explanation for that other than retribution, which is a sad little game that no one wins.
Most overlooked fight of the night
Hardly anyone is talking about it, but Nate Diaz vs. Clay Guida is one of the more compelling bouts on the pay-per-view portion of Saturday night's proceedings. Not only does it pit two young and exciting lightweight contenders against one another in a title-sweepstakes elimination bout, but it's also a great contrast of styles.
Diaz has proved he can take a beating and still remain a constant come-from-behind threat with his slick submissions game, much like his brother. Guida is a suffocating wrestler who, when he sticks to his gameplan, can wear down opponents with his frantic pace. "The Carpenter's" bout with Roger Huerta at The Ultimate Fighter 6 Finale was a UFC classic. And while this one may not be getting due publicity since the spotlight's on GSP-Penn II, it could easily end up being just as good.
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