The UFC returns to Phoenix, Arizona on Saturday for UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez v Penn. TUF: Latin America winner Yair Rodriguez will welcome former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion BJ Penn back to the Octagon for the first time in two and a half years in the main event, while submission experts Joe Lauzon and Marcin Held tussle in the co-main event in what should be a real treat for grappling fans.
Main Event: Yair Rodriguez v BJ Penn
BJ Penn needs no introduction at this stage of his career; he is an MMA legend and was one of the first inductees into the UFC Hall of Fame. His MMA career dates back to UFC 31 in 2001 and he has an illustrious career career, managing to join the very small club of people who have won UFC titles in two weight classes.
Unfortunately those days are long behind him and you have to go back to November 2010 to find his last victory. His last outing, which was a third meeting with Frankie Edgar, was a particularly poor showing in which he was defeated by TKO.
Even though he is 38 years old, Penn is still a dangerous fighter, he has solid boxing and incredible jiu-jitsu and he has trained for this fight with his old coach Jason Parillo so there is hope that we will see a rejuvenated BJ Penn this time around.
As for Rodriguez, he has attracted a lot of hype in his short career but it is easy to see why. He has already amassed a 5-0 record in the UFC and has a flashy style that consists of various flying, jumping and spinning techniques such as the jumping switch kick to the head that knocked out Andre Fili.
He likes to stay on the outside and keep range with his kicks, his boxing is improving but he is still not comfortable in the pocket. On the ground he has an active guard and likes to create scrambles. His biggest asset is his athleticism, he moves around the cage with incredible speed and fluidity and he can keep a good pace for 25 minutes.
This will be an uphill task for Penn to say the least, he will need to close the distance on the rangey Rodriguez who will be able to keep up a fast pace with plenty of kicks. Trying to get close enough to Rodriguez to land punches or shoot for a takedown is going to wear down the ageing Penn and Rodriguez will get a finish late in the fight.
Prediction: Rodriguez via KO
Co-Main Event: Joe Lauzon v Marcin Held
These two fighters have many similarities but also some key differences which will decide the fight. Both of them are aggressive submission hunters; Held is a leg lock specialist and has no qualms about rolling to his back to grab a leg and he is tenacious once he gets a hold of one, while Lauzon has the most post fight bonuses in UFC history including six Submission of the Night honours.
This aggressive grappling style leads to another trait they both share, suspect cardio. Both men can exhaust themselves early in a fight looking to get the finish and leave themselves exposed later in the fight.
One area in which they clearly differ is their age, with Lauzon being eight years older. Despite having been in many wars throughout his career, Lauzon has been performing well in recent fights, and despite only being 24 years of age, Marcin Held has a wealth of experience with 27 MMA fights already behind him.
The main difference between these two men and the thing which will decide the fight is striking, and more specifically punching power. Held’s striking is fine, he keeps a consistent jab in his opponent's face but it is merely a setup to get him close to enough to initiate a grappling exchange.
Lauzon throws hard punches in the pocket and has surprising hand speed, as shown by his quick finish of Diego Sanchez. This fight is sure to be fun but I think the more diverse Lauzon will come out on top.
Prediction: Lauzon via Decision
Court McGee v Ben Saunders
This is going to be a very close and competitive fight. McGee is well rounded and incredibly durable, he isn’t very athletic but he has good technique in every area and is a tenacious wrestler.
Saunders is more inconsistent, he has flashes of brilliance, such as when he secured the only omoplata victory in UFC history, but he has holes in his game. While he has an excellent guard, he is far too content to stay there and try for hopeful submissions, and he is susceptible to big punches in the pocket.
Prediction: McGee via Decision
Sergio Pettis v John Moraga
This is another well matched fight as rising prospect Pettis gets a step up in competition against a man who has faced off against the best the division has to offer in Moraga.
While Pettis is a striker, he is very different to his brother. He lacks the power but he makes up for this by having good fundamentals and a stronger boxing game. Moraga is good everywhere, but great nowhere.
Pettis has won his last two fights, while Moraga has lost his last two and I think that says a lot about this fight.
Prediction: Pettis via Decision