Penn v Sanchez: Lightweight Championship Title Fight
BJ Penn comes into this fight after a thorough defeat at the hands of George St Pierre when contesting the Welterweight Championship and more recently a win over Kenny Florian at lightweight: how he must relish being back at 155lbs.
This is BJ's "house", and, with only one defeat at the weight, back at UFC 35 he is right to think of it as such.
Penn has had a busy career, moving between weight classes, organisations and continents to take on all comers. This has enabled him to fight such varied opponents as Jens Pulver at 155lbs and current UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion Lyoto Machida.
These particular examples resulted in defeat for Penn, although he has since avenged his loss to Pulver and has held the lightweight belt since defeating Joe Stevenson at UFC 80.
Penn's skill set covers all aspects of the modern MMA game; he possesses strong boxing ability, incredible balance and takedown defence, and another-worldly flexibility when on the mat.
His guard from his back makes the "rubber guard" a misnomer when applied by other fighters, as Penn has an agility and fluidity of movement that can tie up even the best ground exponents.
His recent wins have seen rear naked choke victories over Joe Stevenson and Kenny Florian, and this must be at the front of Sanchez' mind.
Diego has an approach for each fight that is evident from the weigh-in, to the walk-in and finally the stare down in the cage. He relies on his aggression and mental strength, allied with strong striking and wrestling to bully opponents.
His preparation for Penn should have started months earlier, in attempting to formulate a game plan to beat the premier lightweight. Aggression alone will not do it, nor can Sanchez rely on his athleticism to take Penn into deep water.
Whilst BJ is not renowned for his cardio, the Hawaiian is a veteran of going to the championship period, seeing fights into the 4th and 5th five minute rounds, and Sanchez cannot bank on having the upper hand fitness-wise here due to this being his first championship fight.
The New Mexico man has only fought in three round bouts previously and may find himself out of ideas come the 4th if Penn is still stood in front of him.
Sanchez' strength is his devotion to the cause; his relentless striking, furious energy and will to win should push Penn to really test his own levels of endurance.
I feel Penn's opportunities to win this match-up will come when he gets hold of Sanchez, either standing up or on the ground.
Penn should be able to control the clinch, using his superior core strength to take Sanchez where he wants him - to the mat. Penn was the first ever non-Brazilian to win the World Jiu Jitsu Championships, managing to do so after just three years training.
He fully justifies his nickname "The Prodigy" but is now a UFC veteran at the age of 30. My bet for this fight is for Penn to use his experience and ability to subdue and eventually submit Sanchez - Penn by submission in the third round.