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Most Anticipated MMA Fight Ever: Penn vs St-Pierre

If you're a true fan of MMA, a purist, it probably is.

Luke Thomas from the Bloody Elbow explains why. This is a rare match in sport - two champions who embody the evolution of MMA in their skill sets, are dominant in their respective weight classes, are at the peak of their powers, and possessed of massive cult followings. And, of course, it's a rematch. GSP won a controversial decision over BJ Penn at UFC 58.

If you're not that familiar with these guys, this is a good breakdown. If you revel in pre-fight hype like me, you'll enjoy this video as well.

You know a sport is getting mainstream when ESPN creates a studio show around it.

A MMA equivalent of college gameday can't be far away.

My take:

BJ Penn

The Hawaiian Prodigy relies on excellent - often underrated - pure boxing skills and the world's most dangerous jiu-jitsu. He combines that with a relentless warrior ethos, occasionally betrayed by a commitment to conditioning that resembles Jarrod pre-Subway. At his proper weight of 155, he's the most frightening fighter on the planet. At 170, his efforts have been a mixed bag. Amusingly, even when he shows up for a fight visibly fat and untrained, he still dominates early before exhaustion kicks in. He won't show up out-of-shape in this fight, but BJ would have been better served having GSP meet him halfway at 162.5 for a non-title fight. That weight would have been a real challenge for GSP to make and still maintain his freakish energy and strength.

BJ's gameplan is simple: mix it up early and often. Pressure and movement. Goad GSP into a hands exchange at a boxer's range where he can test his chin. BJ will gladly take some shots in order to give them. He'll use his stand-up to set up his submission game and he'll snatch his rest on the ground rather than on his feet. GSP has the ability to physically dominate Penn on the ground in terms of position, so BJ will offer St-Pierre a number of openings to lull him into something rash. Penn has the ability to turn a small mistake into a tap so GSP needs to be very careful with found money.

BJ is hoping that hoping that he can pull a Manny Pacquiao and come out on top against a naturally bigger opponent. The difference is, of course, that De La Hoya should have retired five years ago and George St-Pierre is in his prime. Still, betting against a guy like Penn is hard for me to do.

George St-Pierre

GSP is a physical freak and cardio machine: the best combination of long rang cardio and dynamic explosiveness in Mixed Martial Arts. He's fast twitch, he's slow twitch, he's all twitch. He also has a distinct size advantage: he's already considered a huge 170 pounder - he reportedly walks around at 195 when not in serious training for a fight - so the size difference here is significant. He's a creative striker, a dominant wrestler, and a solid submission guy - the epitome of modern MMA.

His athletic ability leaps out at you, literally: he has 40 inch vertical leap; and he's arguably the best guy in transition - the crucial time between striking and wrestling, the scramble between ground and feet, feet and ground - in MMA. His great weakness, like Penn, is boredom. Oh, and an occasionally suspect chin.

Questionable chin? Did the fight just get interesting or what?

It's not so much that he has a bad chin - it's just a normal chin. That's not a great trait to have when you're fighting a guy with an anvil for a head like BJ.

GSP gameplan is pretty obvious: embrace Penn's fast pace early but pick spots wisely. Take Penn out to the deep water of Rounds 4 and 5 and see if Penn will drown. In stand-up, he needs to keep space with his kicks or immediately close ground, clinch, and use knees, uppercuts, and elbows for a little Couture-style dirty boxing. Straight up hand exchanges with Penn in the middle range don't favor him even though his overall striking milieu is greater than Penn's.

GSP also has to resist the urge to end the fight immediately if he gets BJ in a bad spot. Penn is quick in recovery and his jiu-jitsu is clever, multi-faceted, and counter-intuitive. GSP could blunder into something. He needs to dominate position on the ground with superior strength and world class wrestling, pick his spots, chip away to score points and store up the big burst in Rounds 4 and 5.

Vegas favors GSP 2:1 or so and I can't find fault with the oddsmakers, other than for their wardrobes.

On a related note, if you're trying to get a woman in your life to tolerate MMA, this might be a good fight to introduce her to it. GSP seems to have a rather robust female following.