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UFC 101 Preview: B.J. Penn vs. Kenny Florian

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I always enjoy seeing the lightweight fighters get a chance to main event a card. Zuffa has picked two great ones to headline their first show in Philadelphia. Both Penn and Florian are dangerous fighters that can win in a variety of ways. Enough has been written on this site and others about Penn's recent controversial statements and he has, rightfully, been widely criticized for them. This attention has, in some ways, served to drum up more interest for this fight by making Penn over into a heel. Love him or hate him, on Saturday night there will be a clear division of fans either actively cheering for or against B.J. Penn. I'm guessing that B.J. will look to establish his jab early and stay out of range from Florian's kicks. Penn is arguably the best lightweight fighter that this sport has seen thus far, but there is no question that he will have his hands full on Saturday. B.J. Penn enters this contest with a professional record of 13-5-1 with 5 wins coming by way of knockout and 5 wins coming by way of submission. The combined career winning percentage of the opponents that he has faced is 64.5%.

Kenny Florian deserves this title shot and anyone that thinks that Penn is going to obliterate him is in for a surprise. He has improved as much as any of the fighters from that first TUF season and has been a force since dropping down to the lightweight division. Although he's known for throwing the nastiest elbows in the game, there are many aspects to his game which could be praised. I particularly like the way that he utilizes distance in the standup. He's out of range, then he's in range just long enough to unload a nice combination. Then he's circling off again, constantly in motion. From a public relations angle, Florian has gained a deserved reputation as a likable guy from his commentary work on Inside MMA and his dedication to helping MMA gain popularity in Spanish speaking countries. I wouldn't be surprised to see Florian try to really push the pace on Saturday night and tire the champion out for the later rounds. Florian has a professional record of 13-3 with 3 wins coming by way of knockout and 7 wins coming by submission. The combined career winning percentage of the opponents that he has faced is 75.5%.

There's an old adage in the fight game that says that speed and reflexes are the first thing to go but power sticks around a lot longer. I say this only to encourage B.J. Penn to use the time he has remaining in his career to stick with his natural weight class. The smaller fighters, generally, have to move their careers along a little more quickly because once the speed and reflexes are gone their window of competing at the highest level is closed. The lightweight class benefits from a marquee name like B.J. Penn. Because he hasn't poured himself into keeping his body conditioned, unlike many of his peers, I don't think that he will rule the division for too much longer. However, he'll be the younger man in this fight (30 as opposed to his 33 year old opponent) and, in my opinion, still has enough to get past Kenny Florian. Florian will put on a good performance, especially early, but I just think that he's in a little over his head. Penn is an absolute handful for anyone south of 155 pounds and I look for him to finish the challenger by submission in the third. What do you all think? Does Florian take the title in Philly or is Penn still the baddest man in the lightweight division?