Between UFC 64 and UFC 83, a period of less than two years, there were a total of eight title changes across each weight class. Compare that to the UFC of today, where you will find the combined length of title reign for the five champions is well over 3000 days.

What a difference a few years makes.

Right now, the UFC finds itself on uncommon ground. All five of their champions are the best in the world in their weight class (a guy who defeats recycled UFC champions for lesser promotions is not the top heavyweight in the world anymore…sorry), and honestly, there are very few guys out there that will challenge any of these champs.

  

Simply put, the UFC is in the midst of a historical era in mixed martial arts. Breaking it down:

  • Of the five champions, three are a lock for the UFC Hall of Fame (arbitrary I know, but BJ Penn, Anderson Silva, and Georges St. Pierre would make any MMA Hall of Fame)
  • Taking it one step further, you’d have a hard time arguing these three are not the greatest fighters of all-time in their weight classes
  • The other two (Lyoto Machida and Brock Lesnar) are both very early on in their career, yet already look like they could some day be HOF worthy
  • Three guys are a fight away from completely cleaning out their division (Silva and GSP are probably already there)
  • None of the above 5 have lost a fight in the last two years, except for BJ, but his lone loss came from fellow champ GSP

 

Impressive to say the least.

Nonetheless, as good as these guys are, they will all taste defeat at some point. It’s the nature of the sport, and everyone is one punch or one bad decision away from being beaten.  So while it will happen, who knows when or by who? Hopefully this primer will help figure that out.

Over the next five days, a different fighter will be featured and analyzed, starting today with current lightweight champ, BJ Penn:

  

gettyimages 89714023 Evaluating the Champs: BJ Penn

BJ ‘The Prodigy’ Penn – 15-5-1

How He Got Here – def. Joe Stevenson via Submission on January 19, 2008

Title Defenses – 3 (Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez)

  

What Makes Him So Good?

One of the most well-rounded fighters in MMA history. BJ Penn has one of the best ground defenses in MMA, disciplined striking, and when he is focused and on his game, there are few that can dominate a fight the way Penn can.

To sum up why BJ Penn is so good, just look at the origin of the nickname ‘The Prodigy.’ He began training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the age of seventeen and within 3 years, he achieved his black belt, a time frame almost unheard of. Only weeks after that, be became the first non-Brazilian to ever win the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in the black belt division. Unreal.

Whats ironic about BJ is that for a long time, he competed at 170 and many clamored that he should move down to his natural weight of 155. Well he finally did and has cleaned that division out. Now, those same people are saying he needs to move back up because theres nothing left for him at lightweight. He is just too dominant.

 

What It Will Take To Beat Him

BJ can’t be submitted. It hasn’t happened and probably won’t happen. The only way to beat him is standing up, where BJ is solid, but has let down in the past. In his 5 losses, each of his opponents have won the striking game and beaten BJ. Granted his losses have come against Georges St. Pierre, Matt Hughes, Lyoto Machida (who outweighed him by 30lbs), and Jens Pulver, all world class strikers, this is where opponents have found success against BJ. Its tough to find anyone with those kind of striking credentials in the lightweight division, but if there’s a path to take to the belt, that is it.

 

So Who’s Next?

Inside the UFC, Kenny Florian, although getting dominated in their first fight, is the most likely of the lightweights to give BJ a run for his money. Kenny has a solid all-around game and has come a long way with his striking. Itll be interesting to see how KenFlo looks against Gomi at UFC Fight Night 21, as he looked like a different and more determined fighter in his last match against Clay Guida. George Sotiropoulos could also be an interesting matchup for BJ, but George’s strength is his jiu-jitsu, an area where BJ is unparalleled. Honestly, its tough to find someone in house that would take down BJ.

Even going outside the UFC, its tough to find a good matchup. Currently, Shinya Aoki is the best lightweight in the world not named BJ Penn. He has made a name for himself in Japan with his flashy submissions (check out this highlight reel on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0GKneOIyXyA and then check him out on April 17th at the Strikeforce event on CBS) and his dominance of the lightweight division abroad over the past 4 years. Like Sotiropoulos, Aoki’s strength is also Penn’s strength, as few men have the ability to defend the submission like Penn. Take into consideration Aoki’s striking is far from great, and BJ would most likely dominate.

Perhaps a better matchup against BJ would be Bellator’s lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. Alvarez’s striking is one of the best at 155, and recently, he has worked submissions into his repertoire, with his last four victories coming via tap out. One of the hottest names not in the UFC right now, Alvarez would provide a good match for BJ, perhaps the best of the talent that is out there.

Finally, I guess we should mention Frankie Edgar in this column, as the two will battle on April 10th at UFC 112: Invincible. They say anything is possible, but Edgar’s strength is using his wrestling to grind out victories. He stands little chance if this is his gameplan for victory. BJ should roll.

 

The Champs: BJ PennGeorges St. PierreAnderson SilvaLyoto Machida Brock Lesnar

 

Follow Smitty and the rest of the Boston Throwdown crew at www.twitter.com/BostonThrowdown.

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