UFC Fight Night 103 Fight Breakdown: BJ Penn vs Yair Rodriguez
Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look at the main event of Fight Night 103 as Yair Rodriguez welcomes back the legendary BJ Penn to the UFC.
BJ Penn (Record: 16-10-2, +385 Underdog, Power Ranking: C-)
The Hawaiian legend and former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion returns to the Octagon for the first since July 2014. Penn has lost his last three fights in the UFC and hasn’t won a fight overall since 2010. The UFC Hall of Famer returns to the Octagon once again to see if he can find some of the magic that made him one of the most popular fighters of the last decade.
At Penn’s peak, he had very good knockout ability with a fantastic Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game to go with it. Jiu Jitsu seemed to come naturally to Penn, and he was certainly one of the best, at the time, to implement it in mixed martial arts. It’s very difficult to consider stats when analyzing Penn because he fights so infrequently. That in and of itself deserves thought as Penn has only fought two times in the last five years. In both of those fights, Penn fought elite fighters and was significantly outclassed. His speed has diminished since his peak, and the level of athletes that have entered the sport this decade are superior to the ones Penn had success against earlier in his career. The one positive for Penn in this fight is that he has trained at Jackson’s MMA for this camp. It’s easily the biggest camp he has ever trained with for a full camp.
Yair Rodriguez (Record: 8-1, -485 Favorite, Power Ranking: C+)
The featherweight champion on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter Latin America, Rodriguez has been on a tear since making his debut in the UFC, winning all five of his fights in the promotion. At just 24 years of age, Rodriguez is a budding star in the UFC’s loaded featherweight division and currently ranked 10th in the weight class.
El Pantera brings his taekwondo-based approach into his second straight main event inside the Octagon. Rodriguez uses a rather unorthodox approach and has an extremely aggressive on the feet with no fear of trying new attacks and coming forward at various angles. When Rodriguez fights, there’s a possibility one may see a maneuver never attempted in a UFC fight before. Whether it’s a type of spinning attack or a new type of kick, Rodriguez brings that kind of athleticism and excitement inside the cage. With each fight, Rodriguez has gained experience and looked more impressive. He’s out-struck his opponents by a wider margin in each successive fight. Furthermore, he’s proven very difficult to hit absorbing just 2.12 significant strikes a minute. Rodriguez has an underrated wrestling game too, securing takedowns in all five of his UFC bouts, averaging over 1.5 takedowns per 15 minutes. He’s capable of winning on the feet as well as controlling opponents on the ground. That’s why he’s already surged into the Top 15 of the UFC’s featherweight rankings.
The headlining fight on the UFC Fight Night 103 card is intriguing on paper. Rodriguez has proven to be one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. Meanwhile, his opponent Penn was considered the most exciting fighter in the UFC during his peak. While many Penn fans are hoping he can turn back the clock and make a late run in his career, it’s difficult to see him winning this fight. Once again, Penn will be the smaller fighter in a bout. He’s three inches shorter than Rodriguez and gives up an inch in reach. Rodriguez is a whopping 14 years younger than Penn. Especially in the lower weight classes, it pays to be younger. Simply put, cardio and athleticism are significantly more important as the weight decreases. It will be difficult for Penn to keep up with Rodriguez in this fight. Now, also take into account how little Penn has fought in recent years. Despite his experience, ring rust is a major issue, and competing against much more athletic opponent who has been active the last few years is going to be a real challenge. Rodriguez has been a finisher during his career, but he struggled to find a way to put away Alex Caceres in his last fight. Penn has been historically hard to finish in his career, so the safest play is to look at the points prop once the line is released and a lean towards over 2.5 rounds (-115).