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UFC 107:

Best B.J. Penn ever?

At 31, Penn is showing he’s even more dominant than earlier in his career


Mark Weber/The Memphis Commercial Appeal

B.J. Penn lands a left hook to Diego Sanchez during their lightweight championship fight at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., on Dec. 12, 2009. Penn ended up winning the fight by TKO in the final round.

Penn Retains Belt

In the main event of UFC 107, B.J. Penn dominated Diego Sanchez and finished him and won the fight by TKO in the fifth round to retain his UFC lightweight championship.

UFC 107 in Memphis

B.J. Penn lands a left hook to Diego Sanchez during their lightweight championship fight at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., on Dec. 12, 2009. Penn ended up winning the fight by TKO in the final round. Launch slideshow »

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Like many others around the world, B.J. Penn was very impressed when he watched world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao dismantle Miguel Cotto last month in Las Vegas.

Penn (15-5-1) delivered a very similar performance Saturday in defending his UFC lightweight championship against top contender Diego Sanchez with a TKO stoppage in the fifth round of UFC 107.

Penn admitted there are a few similarities between his style and the Filipino boxer’s, although they’re hard to compare because of the difference between the two sports.

“I just like watching Pacquiao, he throws punches in bunches,” Penn said. “You might get away from the first one but not the second and third. I was throwing the first tonight and it was the ones at the end that were landing.

“But this is mixed martial arts where a guy can take you down. So with that said, I can’t be as free with my punches.”

That may be true, but the takedown defense of Penn basically turned Saturday night’s championship fight at FedEx Forum into a boxing match.

The challenger Sanchez (23-3) continually looked for opportunities to get Penn to the mat during their five-round fight but was unsuccessful every time.

The Memphis crowd even began booing Sanchez when he latched on to Penn’s lower body looking for single-leg takedowns. The champion said he didn’t mind that strategy from Sanchez, as it provided plenty of opportunities to land easy shots.

“It’s a blessing when a guy grabs my leg, I know that’s my chance to hit him,” Penn said. “It’s either that or he’s running away. I didn’t know what game plan he was going to use, but I was glad every time he grabbed my leg.”

Penn didn’t need long to take control of the fight, dropping Sanchez with a big right hand in the fight’s opening round.

That shot had Sanchez in trouble immediately, especially when Penn jumped on him right after looking to finish Sanchez off. Referee Herb Dean gave Sanchez a chance to recompose himself, which he eventually did.

After the fight, UFC President Dana White commended Dean for not stopping the fight too early.

“I thought Herb Dean did a fantastic job in the first round,” White said. “It’s not often you get to fight for a title. He was watching closely and let that thing continue. Diego ended up being OK and he showed a lot of heart by hanging in there and kept coming forward.”

Although Sanchez survived the early scare, he was unable to even come close to turning the fight around.

Penn seemed a step ahead of the 27-year-old fighter through all five rounds, stuffing takedowns and dominating the stand-up.

By the end of the fight, Sanchez’s face was badly swollen from all the damage he had taken, including the deep gash over his left eye that ended up being the cause of the stoppage. Sanchez was taken immediately to the hospital following the bout.

Although he was clearly dominated through the entire fight, Penn said he never saw a mental break in Sanchez as the fight wore on.

“One thing I give Diego credit for is he recovers well,” Penn said. “I hit him with some big shots, he recovered and kept going. I think after the first round he started to back up a bit but he never totally gave up on the fight. He always thought he was in it.”

To observers, the fight was not a let down from the challenger as much as it was an outstanding performance by the champion.

Thought to be one of the biggest threats to Penn’s reign as a champion, Sanchez could find rhythm against the 31-year-old, whose birthday is today.

“To me, it was just another fight, but (UFC co-owner) Frank Fertitta and (UFC commentator) Mike Goldberg were telling me it was one of the best fights of my career,” Penn said. “I don’t know. I haven’t watched the tape yet.”

The win, and how dominating of a win it was, makes the future very interesting for the lightweight champ.

In the week leading up to the fight, Penn mentioned multiple times his desire to get another shot at welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, who he already has lost to twice in his career.

White has said he would consider giving Penn another shot, only if he cleaned out the entire lightweight division.

After defeating Sanchez as handily as he did, some believe Penn already has fulfilled that requirement.

“It’s hard to pick any weaknesses in B.J.,” said UFC heavyweight Frank Mir. “Really at this point in the 155-pound division, it’s hard to see who could have a definitive shot against him. Maybe you could wrestle him to death, but that’s hard to say when the guy has five rounds to knock you out or submit you.”

Realistically, there are only two fighters left in the lightweight division that are considered potential threats to Penn: Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard.

Following the fight, Penn refused to comment on potential future match-ups, saying he was just going to enjoy the win.

Whether his next shot in the welterweight division is next or another title defense must comes first, one thing is certain.

We’re seeing arguably the best Penn ever.

“At 31, he’s finally training seriously,” laughed White. “I’ve been waiting for this for years, for B.J. Penn to take it seriously. He’s the real deal. He’s been coasting on talent for years, but now he’s taking it serious.”

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].

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