By Michael Angelo S. Murillo

Surprising ‘low-key’ start for UFC in 2017

Posted on January 13, 2017

UNLIKE in previous years, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has seemingly decided to go “low-key” to start its 2017 edition, which has left one local fight analyst surprised.

MMA legend BJ Penn returns to the Octagon on Monday, Manila time, at “UFC Fight Night 103” against Yair Rodriguez. -- Alvin S. Go
The UFC begins the new year with “UFC Fight Night 103” in Phoenix, Arizona, on Monday (Manila time), headlined by the featherweight clash between rising star Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez (#10) and comebacking BJ “The Prodigy” Penn.

UFC Fight Night 103 is a virtual “generation battle” which will see a young streaking UFC star out to continue making a name for himself and ascend in the division engage a mixed martial arts legend who has unretired after two and a half years and seeking to prove that he still has fight left in him.

While the event presents an engaging dynamic between the main card protagonists, fight analyst Nissi Icasiano still thinks that the UFC offering at hand is somewhat a “deviation” to what was up for the organization in recent years.

“It’s surprising that the UFC will start the year with a low-key card. If my memory serves me right, the UFC always opens the year with a big pay-per-view event or a high-profile card that would air on cable TV since 2011,” said Mr. Icasiano in an interview with BusinessWorld.

“In 2011, the promotion held ‘UFC 125: Resolution’ on new year’s day, which was headlined by a thrilling encounter between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard for the lightweight title. In 2012, the organization catered a featherweight championship clash between Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes at ‘UFC 142.’ The co-featured attraction of that event was a catchweight contest between Vitor Belfort and Anthony Johnson,” the analyst said.

“The UFC changed formats in 2013, but they offered a middleweight encounter between Vitor Belfort and Michael Bisping. Meanwhile, the UFC held its inaugural fight card in Singapore as its first event in 2014. In 2015, Jon Jones defended his world light heavyweight championship against fierce rival Daniel Cormier at ‘UFC 182.’ The UFC started with a bang in 2016 with Robbie Lawler taking on Carlos Condit,” Mr. Icasiano added.

With the popular Penn, 38, seeing action anew, Mr. Icasiano said fans would still watch UFC Fight Night 103 notwithstanding it being “tempered.” But apart from the return of Mr. Penn, the analyst went on to say that the event still has other fights worthy of attention.

“Of course, MMA fans will watch this because of BJ Penn. But if you are not interested to see a returning BJ Penn, I have two fighters in mind that I will definitely watch on this card. One is [lightweight] Joe Lauzon. He is coming off a split decision loss to Jim Miller in their rematch last August, which earned a “Fight of the Night” bonus. He is facing Marcin Held, who made a name in Bellator and was once a title challenger in the promotion. Second is [welterweight] Court McGee. I have been watching this Utah native since Season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter. He shares the Octagon with an exciting competitor like Ben Saunders,” Mr. Icasiano said.

Focusing on the main event, considering the circumstances of Mr. Penn heading into the fight -- inactivity and Father Time -- the burden of proof lies on the MMA legend, Mr. Icasiano said.

“You just can’t back BJ Penn given his age, recent performances and the time out of the UFC cage. He is currently on a three-fight losing skid and has not won a single match since he knocked out Matt Hughes in just 21 seconds in November 2010. In addition, featherweight is not BJ Penn’s turf. In his maiden featherweight appearance, Penn suffered a one-sided setback at the hands of Frankie Edgar, which was their third encounter inside the Octagon. BJ Penn had virtually nothing to offer Edgar as the latter had all the right answers, pounding his opponent for two-plus rounds before finally forcing referee Herb Dean to halt the contest,” he said.

He added, “Penn was supposed to have his comeback bout against a No.3-ranked featherweight in Ricardo Lamas last October [here in Manila]. Unfortunately for us Filipino fans and luckily for BJ Penn, it was canceled. Although he is having a No.10-ranked featherweight in his Octagon, it is still dangerous for BJ Penn.”

That being said, Mr. Icasiano is high on the chances of Mr. Rodriguez, who made his UFC debut in 2014.

“Yair Rodriguez has been nothing but money since joining UFC in 2014 and is one of the top rising stars at just 24 years old. Rodriguez is an athletic fighter who puts his 41-inch leg reach to good use and has a lot of stamina to go the distance and wear down his opponent,” he said.

“Rodriguez may not be a flashy finisher, but his style is effective and is proven to be a force at such a young age. Of course, a win will be a good sight on his résumé as he tries to lobby a bout with those ahead of him in the rankings like Brian Ortega, Dennis Bermudez and Charles Oliveira,” Mr. Icasiano continued.

UFC Fight Night 103: Rodriguez vs. Penn will be aired live on Monday, starting at 11 a.m., over Hyper Ch. 91 on SD and Ch. 261 on HD on Cignal TV with an encore showing over TV5 on the same day.