Blog: St. Pierre floors Penn in 4th at UFC 94
The hype is strong for the UFC's fifth Super Bowl-eve card. But when two in-their-prime champions come together for an anticipated rematch, it's hard to call the buildup undeserved.
More than any mixed martial arts event I can remember, UFC 94 has a boxing feel to it, in that the main event -- Georges St. Pierre vs. B.J. Penn -- has garnered virtually all of the pre-fight discussion. And for good reason.
St. Pierre, the 27-year-old UFC welterweight champion, is unquestionably one of the sport's top athletes. Against Penn, whom the French-Canadian star topped with a hair-thin split decision in 2006, GSP (17-2) is being asked to defend his belt versus the UFC lightweight champ in a bout that portends serious divisional and pound-for-pound ramifications.
Penn has talked a lot leading up to tonight's fight. He's questioned St. Pierre's heart. He's questioned the welterweight champion's decision to cut weight -- GSP should outweigh Penn by at least 15 pounds. He's questioned his portrayal during the UFC's first effort at a 24/7-style program. But, really, none of that means much of anything when they step into the cage tonight.
Penn's trainer Rudy Valentino says the lightweight champion won't chase St. Pierre. Instead, expect the Hawaiian to stand in the center of the octagon and make GSP come to him.
St. Pierre has vaulted to the top of a division loaded with quality wrestlers by beating them where they're best. His control, top game, and constant pressure in the guard makes St. Pierre a multi-dimensional threat. He's shown he can knock opponents out. He's shown he can take them down. He's shown he will work and work and work to pass the guard. He's shown he can submit some of the sport's best.
So how can Penn win? Defend takedowns, which he does expertly thanks to incredible flexibility in his hips and a gymnast's balance. He should box on the outside, make it a bloody, ugly fight. And hope that he connects with the kind of punch that made Matt Serra welterweight champion.
St. Pierre would be smart to pressure Penn (13-4-1) early in the clinch and threaten takedowns. Even if he doesn't finish them -- and that would be a surprise considering GSP has put everyone on the canvas -- the constant grind could eat into Penn's stamina, which has plagued him throughout his career. (Also, this is the scenario that won GSP the first fight.)
I don't expect Penn's cardio to be an issue, though. He didn't cut weight to make 168, and he won't have the stress of cutting to deal with. This has all the makings of a grueling war. When fighters of great skill and championship experience meet, I'll generally favor the bigger, more athletic fighter. That's St. Pierre. My call: GSP by late stoppage or decision.
11:48 p.m. -- Before we get to the fight everyone wants to see, an important matchup of unbeaten light heavyweights is worth watching. Both 13-0, Brazilians Thiago Silva and Lyoto Machida should bring out the best in one another. Silva comes from the tradition of hard-charging Brazilian Muay Thai fighters. There's no doubt he's aggressive and fighters who make mistakes pay dearly. That's what makes this particular bout so compelling. Machida doesn't make mistakes. He's almost impervious to them.
Machida's footwork is terrific. His movement helps him dart in and out, move to the side and, basically, never get hit. That's why I think he'll remain unbeaten. He's too good defensively, even against a brawler like Silva. Keeping with the developing trend of the evening, I'm calling Machida by unanimous decision, meaning every bout on the card so far will have required the judges.
11:50 -- Machida, southpaw, stands like a karate fighter. Mainly, because he is. He can get away with it because of excellent takedown defense. And even if Machida goes to the floor, he won't have much of a problem with Silva's submissions.
11:51 -- An inadvertent groin strike with a short knee separates the fighters for a moment. Referee Yves Lavigne restarts the action and Lyoto uses a pretty foot sweep to put Silva on his back. He stands quickly, almost to make a point.
11:53 -- Left hook by Machida puts Silva down. He's fine and working from the bottom now. Machida, who has not lost a round in his four fights that have gone the distance in the UFC, is in total control. He hasn't really hurt Silva, but on the feet and on the floor it's his cage.
11:57 -- Silva is winging shots, firing sloppy hooks and lunging rights. A sharp left straight counter from Machida puts Silva down again. That was his best punch of the fight. With 30 seconds remaining in Round 1, Machida has outclassed his fellow undefeated fighter. They grapple in the clinch for the final 10 seconds. An outside trip puts Silva down again. And Machida follows down with a big right hand to the jaw knocks Silva out cold right at the bell. Brilliant effort from Machida, who must be next in line to get a UFC title shot. It seems Quintion Jackson is next if he defeats Keith Jardine, but by all rights Machida deserves to fight Rashad Evans. And he should get that opportunity without having to fight anyone else.
12 a.m. -- Irony is in Machida's corner tonight. Criticized throughout his career for slow fights, plodding decisions and a missing killer instinct, UFC 94's first stoppage comes in its second to last bout. Machida, asked by a UFC color commentator about a possible title shot, polls the crowd inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena. They clearly believe, as I do, he should get next.
12:06 -- So what happens if Penn wins? There are more compelling fights for him at 170, including a rubber match against St. Pierre. Thiago Alves, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck and a host of others present real challenges. At 155, Penn's toughest bout could come against Kenny Florian. No offense to Florian, who's improved dramatically since The Ultimate Fighter 1 and dropping from 185 to 155, but the sense I get is Penn doesn't look at that fight as something he's terribly interested in.
And GSP? A win should bring him Alves, a very aggressive, accurate and hard-hitting challenger.
We'll know in a matter of minutes.
12:09 -- This is the kind of fight Penn has always wanted. To look at his record, one might not immediately see how good the Hawaiian is. He got by on talent early in his career. But struggles in the ring and troubles outside have changed him. I've always felt he was best at 155. Fighting at the weight forced him to be in shape. It forced him to train and be diligent. At 170 he was very good, stunning Matt Hughes to capture the belt in 2004.
Both fighters look calm and prepared heading to the cage. Penn, perhaps, a bit pensive while St. Pierre walked with a sense of purpose.
12:15 -- Standing face to face for the final time before being allowed to fight, GSP appears larger than Penn. They're standing a yard apart. Any closer and they might punch each other. And the bell sounds for Round 1.
12:16 -- GSP immediately engages in the clinch. They're exchanging short knees. A moment to gather themselves. A minute into the fight and St. Pierre goes for a single-leg. Penn's amazing balance keeps him standing.
12:18 -- St. Pierre is still working for it. This is smart. Penn is doing a fine job defending. More importantly, he can't attack. The separate with 2:45 to go in the first. Both seem tight. No flow to the fight yet. St. Pierre is dictating the action, but he hasn't done anything to shake the Hawaiian.
12:19 -- Good work in the clinch. Penn lands his first meaningful punch of the fight and the move to the middle. Penn has moved backwards since the opening bell. Nice overhand right from GSP. A minute remains.
12:20 -- Nice jab. good low kick. The first belongs to St. Pierre, 10-9.
12:21 -- The action favors GSP. In his corner, Greg Jackson tells St. Pierre not to worry about takedowns. He wants GSP to kickbox.
12:23 -- Penn throws three punches with his lead right. He misses, but he's more aggressive to start the second. GSP, smartly, backs Penn into the cage and works from the clinch. Again, the champion reaches for a single-leg and he gets it. Now Penn gets to work from his guard, and immediately he locks up control with the rubber guard. The thing with Penn, he's never really been that dangerous from the bottom. His subs have come after heavy strikes, and that's not the case now as GSP works with elbows and punches in the guard.
12:24 -- Guard pass from GSP. Side control for the champion. This is not surprising. St. Pierre is constantly working in the guard to pass. When he's not improving position, he's striking with short punches or elbows. A knee to the midsection from side-control for St. Pierre. This could not be going any better for the champ.
12:25 -- Good right hand from St. Pierre and Penn puts him back in the guard. If the fight plays out here, St. Pierre will win. He passes for a second time, but Penn, showing his flexibility, puts him right back into the guard.
12:27 -- Penn is cut underneath his left eye and St. Pierre lands two heavy shots to close out the second. A dominant period for the champion, worthy of a 10-9. Penn can't survive long if he's going to fight underneath GSP. And Penn is breathing heavy in his corner. A terrible sign for a man who said he was in top shape. St. Pierre, meanwhile, doesn't look like he's been in a fight.
12:29 -- Stiff jab from St. Pierre opens Penn's nose. I can't help but recall what St. Pierre looked like after two rounds in the first encounter. He was the fighter that was bloodied and battered. But he persevered his way to a decision. That's why Penn's verbal attacks focusing on St. Pierre's heart seemed misplaced. Another takedown for the French-Canadian. Two minutes gone in the third and Penn hasn't mounted any kind of offense.
12:31 -- Good elbow. Penn isn't active in the guard. He's not looking to sweep, submit, defend. Three hammerfists from St. Pierre inspire Penn to his feet, which he does beautifully. Now Penn is looking for a single. This is a telling moment. And GSP defends and reverses. Penn, now back-first in the cage, is back to defending. And easy takedown that time. Textbook thus far from St. Pierre.
12:33 -- Solid elbow from GSP. Penn is holding up well considering the shots he's taken. Penn looks a bit lost. He cannot compete with St. Pierre's size and wrestling. He cannot submit the champion from the guard. He's getting beat to the punch. And after the third, which Penn once again lost 10-9, is now being told by his corner how strong his mind is. Not the message I'm sure he expected to hear.
12:36 -- Penn's hands are at his waist to begin Round 4. Flat-footed, he offers a lazy jab, which St. Pierre ducks under for a double. Immediate pass to side-control. Elbows now. Like Matt Hughes did to Penn in their rematch, St. Pierre is pummeling St. Pierre with elbows from the side. Pure dominance.
12:37 -- For the first time in the fight, referee Herb Dean tells Penn he must fight back. St. Pierre would love to gain the mount. He's come close twice, but not yet. He doesn't need it to finish. He's fine from the half-guard or side control. With six minutes to go in the fight Penn needs a miracle.
12:39 -- Thudding shots to Penn's head. Another warning from Dean prompts St. Pierre to up his output. This is very close to being stopped. Penn struggles to put GSP back in the guard, and the bell for Round 4 tolls. St. Pierre knows he's dominating and shows emotion heading back to his corner. Meanwhile. Penn is being tended to by his corner, cutmen and ringside physician. Rudy Valentino asks Penn if he wants the fight. Strange question after four rounds of destruction. And it's over. Penn, in his corner, is done.
12:40 -- Penn's corner told the ring doctor that "The Prodigy" was done. Good call to protect their fighter.
12:46 -- There is no shame in losing the way Penn did. He fell to a better, bigger athlete. But more importantly, he lost to a better fighter. St. Pierre was dominant. Hopefully Penn gives it his all at lightweight. He can be the best there if he wants to be. But he's always searched out unique challenges. Those days, hopefully, are done.
12:48 -- Without giving it much thought, here's what my top five pound-for-pound looks like after wins by Fedor and GSP, and Penn's loss:
1) Fedor Emelianenko
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