By Thomas Gerbasi
MEMPHIS, December 12 – If you listened to some observers, BJ Penn has no cardio, no dedication, and no business being on top of the 155-pound weight class. Well, Penn must be doing something right, because Saturday night before 13,896 fans at the FedEx Forum, the pride of Hilo, Hawaii established himself as the greatest lightweight champion in UFC history with a fifth round stoppage of Diego Sanchez that saw him frustrate, punish, and dominate a talented challenger en route to his record third successful title defense in the main event of UFC 107.
“BJ’s a great champion,” said Sanchez. “I did my best, I didn’t come out on top, but I’ll be back.”
Sanchez’ return is a definite, but for now, the world and the night belongs to Penn, who now owns the following UFC records:
Most successful 155-pound title defenses - 3
Most successful consecutive lightweight title defenses – 3
Most lightweight championship fights won – 4
Most lightweight title fights – 6
Most lightweight championship rounds – 24
Most KO’s in lightweight title fights – 2
Most submissions in lightweight title fights – 2
And he did it with a definitive BJ Penn performance.
After the two circled each other to start the bout, Penn struck first and fast with a thudding right hand that put Sanchez on the canvas. Penn’s follow-up attack was furious, but somehow Sanchez survived and managed to get to his feet. With two minutes gone, Sanchez bulled Penn into the fence, looking for a takedown, but Penn fought it off and broke loose, ready to counter any wild attacks from the challenger, which he did to great effect a few more times before the end of the round.
Penn stalked Sanchez a bit more aggressively as round two opened, allowing Sanchez to get close enough for a takedown attempt. Penn again turned Sanchez away and pecked away every time Sanchez swung and missed. As the round progressed, Sanchez’ lunges and takedown attempts appeared to be getting more reckless, and Penn took advantage of each rush as he put another round in the bank.
Sanchez made every effort to get Penn to the canvas in the first two minutes of round three, but was unsuccessful and the two broke apart and got back to the center of the Octagon. By now, Sanchez was bleeding tom the mouth and the ear, and though he kept trying to get the fight to the mat, it was becoming a losing battle, especially as Penn was doing his best to punish Sanchez at close range during every failed takedown attempt.
At the start of round four, Penn and Sanchez raced to the center of the Octagon and traded blows briefly, with no serious damage being done by either fighter. Sanchez, with a look of determination on his face, was not about to give in, but Penn’s striking accuracy and takedown defense was making it impossible for the challenger to get any sort of offense together.
The final round began with a familiar pattern of Sanchez trying, and failing, to get Penn to the mat in order to mount an attack. Finally, the look on Sanchez’ face began to show frustration, and then a kick to the head by Penn opened up a nasty gash on the challenger’s forehead. With blood covering his face, referee Herb Dean brought in the Octagonside physician, who recommended that the bout be halted. Dean agreed, stopping the fight at the 2:37 mark.
With the win, Penn improves to 15-5-1; Sanchez falls to 23-3