Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - Undisputed. UFC lightweight champion BJ Penn likes the sound of that, and after turning back the challenge of former champ Sean Sherk via third round TKO tonight in the UFC 84 main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he can be content in the fact that there are no more questions – either about his cardio or his claim to the title.
By Thomas Gerbasi
LAS VEGAS, May 24 – Undisputed. UFC lightweight champion BJ Penn likes the sound of that, and after turning back the challenge of former champ Sean Sherk via third round TKO tonight in the UFC 84 main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he can be content in the fact that there are no more questions – either about his cardio or his claim to the title.
Tonight, he is, to paraphrase Tina Turner, simply the best lightweight on the planet.
“This is very satisfying,” said Hilo, Hawaii’s Penn, “Sean Sherk is a great competitor.”
It was Sherk’s first bout since July of 2007, after which he was suspended by the California State Athletic Commission for a positive test for nandroline. Sherk vehemently protested the result, but he was subsequently stripped of his belt. His game performance in defeat earned him a significant measure of redemption, though that was probably little consolation to the Minnesotan, who was systematically picked apart by Penn, who won the vacated crown in January with a win over Joe Stevenson.
Sherk (36-3-1) shot for a takedown immediately and was turned back by Penn (14-4-1). The two stood and exchanged punches in a frantic sequence until settling into a more measured groove. A minute in, Sherk scored with a nice combination to the face, but Penn took it well and returned fire. Sherk’s punches were crisp, but Penn’s jabs started to find their mark more as the round progressed, reddening the challenger’s face and bruising him under his right eye. Sherk added a leg kick to his arsenal in the final minute, but Penn walked through it and continued to keep his punches coming with accuracy and pop until the bell.
Penn’s reach was becoming more and more of an issue in round two, even though Sherk still aggressively pursued his foe and was able to score well when he got in close. But at long range, it was all Penn, who was able to control the pace behind his jab. Sherk wasn’t taking no for an answer though, and even though his face was starting to show the scars of battle, he stayed in the pocket, looking for the opportunity to change the course the bout was currently on.
Cut under both eyes, Sherk strode out in determined fashion for round three, but his attempts to jab with Penn were unsuccessful. Surprisingly, Sherk wasn’t shooting for the takedown, and it was Penn who actually shot for one a minute and a half in, but he was turned away, opting to then flurry at Sherk before getting back to his long-range sharpshooting attack.
“I knew I had to show something different,” said Sherk of his strategy. “I wanted to establish a striking game before I took it to the ground.”
With under two minutes left, Sherk tried leg kicks to soften up Penn and met with some success, though not enough to put together a sustained assault that could turn the fight around. But it wasn’t going to happen because just when it seemed like Sherk had survived another round, Penn attacked with a fury with seconds remaining, catching Sherk with a left knee to the head as he came off the fence. Sherk dropped to the mat and Penn followed with flush strikes. The bell sounded but Sherk was deemed unable to continue by referee Mario Yamasaki, ending the bout in emphatic fashion.
As for the future for the undisputed king, Penn made a plea to the packed house.
“Fans of the sport, do you want GSP. Do you want BJ Penn to fight GSP?”
The crowd roared for the possibility of a rematch between Penn and Georges St-Pierre, now the UFC welterweight champion. When the two fought for the first time in March of 2006, St-Pierre won a razor-thin three round decision.
“I think there’s your answer,” said Penn.
It was a night filled with them.