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By: Chris Park, MMATorch UK Specialist
It took B.J. "The Prodigy" Penn all of 21 seconds to get his name back in the win column, as his rail-roading of Matt Hughes at UFC 123 put the Hawaiian native's career firmly back on track.
Penn looked healthy, focused and more motivated than ever as he entered the Octagon last Saturday in incredible shape. There was no doubt that claiming this rubber match win was of paramount importance to Penn, and in doing so may have thrown his hat into the ring with the best of the rest at 170 lbs.
With suggestions being made of a Jon Fitch clash in February; it won't be long before the credibility of this current welterweight charge is determined. The victory over Hughes was a huge one, and will give Penn great momentum leading into his next bout. However, it is not an accurate measuring stick in determining whether or not Penn is able to make a successful run at the welterweight title.
Jon Fitch will pose a different threat to "The Prodigy" than the one he faced against Hughes. While the Hall of Famer had been enjoying a late resurgence, in what must be regarded as the twilight of his career, Fitch on the other hand is arguably in the prime of his life.
With an overall UFC record of 13-1, Fitch's sole organisational loss was a five-round encounter - in which he was categorically dismantled - against Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre.
Since the loss Fitch has gone on another tear, winning five straight unanimous decisions, including dominating victories over Thiago Alves and Paulo Thiago. With size on his side and a habit of patiently grinding his opponents down; it is clear that Fitch will prove a daunting task for B.J. Penn should this proposed UFC 127 clash come to fruition.
One thing that has haunted the career of Penn has been the questions so often raised of his motivation and commitment to training. While only those behind the closed doors of Penn's gym can honestly answer those questions, it remains to be seen if Penn will be able to replicate the same intense hunger that the third Hughes encounter provoked.
Defeating a fighter like Jon Fitch will require a similar level of focus; should Penn be able to display strong enough take down defence and use speed to defeat strength - similarly to his first bout with Hughes - then Penn could find success.
Looking ahead, it is hard to imagine that a third bout with Georges St. Pierre would end any differently than their last encounter. The natural talent that Penn possesses has carried him a long way in his career. Such skill and technique will almost always prevail in the classic war against size; but when an athlete can combine such high levels of skill and technique as well as size, in the way that St. Pierre does, then it makes it very difficult to envisage a way in which Penn could ever inflict defeat on the exceptionally talented Canadian.
One thing is for sure, B.J. Penn looked sharp on Saturday. His striking landed hard and fast and, in the circumstances of UFC 123, would have given many a man trouble. Only hindsight will show if last Saturday was just a marquee-like victory for Penn, or if it was something of a re-birth in the career of "The Prodigy" that will see him once again become a force in the welterweight division.
Chris Park is the MMATorch UK Specialist and guest columnist at ESPN.co.uk. Please email any comments or questions to Chris at; email@example.com or look us up at http://www.facebook.com/mmatorchuk2 our new MMATorch Facebook home for UK Fans!
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