UFC 84: Animal Kingdom, Starring Sharks, Dragons and….Sporting Goods?

Animal Kingdom

May 24, 2008
Kill the family, sell the dog and bomb the block.

All essential to ensuring your enjoyment of UFC 84 come Saturday night as Dana Warbucks delivers one of his finest offerings to date. Okay, you can keep the dog but the rest is non-negotiable.

Sean Sherk (Pictures) vs. B.J. Penn (Pictures)

After a seemingly endless tango around the lightweight division, the UFC will deliver its first lightweight super-fight since Jens Pulver (Pictures)'s hey day when embattled former champion Sean Sherk (Pictures) attempts to reclaim both his title and reputation against Hawaii's favorite son, B.J. "The Prodigy" Penn.

While Penn has the good fortune of entering this fight as the UFC's great Hawaiian hope, Sherk (32-2-1) is still trying to convince the world that his "Muscle Shark" persona is the product of his "300" inspired training regiment and not the sort of anabolic cocktail that turned Barry Bonds' cranium into a comet.

Ever since B.J. Penn (Pictures) (12-4-1) graduated from the world of sport jiu-jitsu and entered MMA, everyone has been waiting for him to become the division's "Master and Commander" but the Jack Aubrey routine has been plagued by a series of starts and stops. Most of the blame lies squarely on Penn's shoulders as his often lackadaisical training habits have taken the edge off his meteoric talent on more than one occasion.

Thankfully, his cold-blooded dismantling of Joe Stevenson suggests Penn has regained the focus he had in his early days. The prospect of retaining the title that has long been his assumed destiny may be the cheddar that keeps Penn on the treadmill, for the time being at least. Just how much time Penn has spent keeping his cardio in order will have as much to do with the outcome of this bout as anything. Sherk thrives on nullifying his opponent's offense with bullet train takedowns and cautious top control, the grind of trying to wriggle free from Sherk's boa constrictor offense could be what costs Penn the fight.

Of course, Penn has proven time and time again that he can stuff even the best of takedown attempts and on the feet, Sherk's short reach leaves him vulnerable against Penn, who remains remarkably accurate despite throwing primarily power punches.

Granted, Sherk isn't likely to let this turn into much of a boxing match and will force the issue with constant takedown attempts. That sort of one note approach won't work well against Penn who remains a major submission threat whether working off his back or in top control.

Unless Penn simply doesn't have the cardio to keep the pressure on Sherk, his offensive arsenal should be good enough to net him a submission win in the third round. We all know Dana White will be cage side praying that the UFC's latest hot potato doesn't put together another one of his five-round wrestling seminars.

Tito Ortiz (Pictures) vs. Lyoto Machida (Pictures)

After more than a decade in the UFC -- and a three year-plus title reign -- the executioner's song is sounding for Tito Ortiz (Pictures)'s run in the UFC but don't bank on Dana White getting the ghost of Norman Mailer to pen a eulogy.

The politics in play here are obvious as the epic egos of both White and Ortiz are barely able to exist in the same universe, never mind the same promotion. With Ortiz (15-5-1) set to leave, his going away gift consists of one last UFC match against one of the division's premier contenders.

Make no mistake, the UFC would love nothing more than the sight of Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida dismantling a shopworn Ortiz and effectively collapsing his free agent value.

Questionable plot devices aside, the real tragedy here is that the ongoing White/Ortiz feud is overshadowing the fact that Machida (12-0) is likely next in line for a title shot once the current season of "The Ultimate Fighter" sorts itself out. Undefeated and unorthodox, Machida is MMA's answer to boxer Willie Pep, a defensive wizard whose technical acumen frustrates opponents into making foolish mistakes.

What makes the style clash this time around a bit more interesting is that Ortiz won't be dazzled by Machida's striking and will look to impose his roughhouse wrestling style from the opening bell. But, with 11 years worth of training under his belt, Ortiz's knees aren't what they used to be and we've seen him lose his ability to physically dominate bouts with the methodical ease he once displayed.

What's worse, conditioning has become a major concern for Ortiz who simply can't handle the rigors of his almost inhumanly intense training camps anymore.

Despite being a bit undersized as a light heavyweight, Machida proved in his bout with Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (Pictures) that he won't be bullied around and has the conditioning to survive a trench war. Neither of which bode well for Ortiz who will to employ the same unsuccessful strategy as Sokoudjou.

Someone will throw a comically huge stack of cash at Ortiz but it won't be because of his performance against Machida, who will keep the one-time UFC poster child off balance with a dizzying mix of strikes and almost ethereal footwork.

Expect an audible sigh of relief emanating from the UFC's corporate headquarters when Machida is announced as the unanimous victor.
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