Rory MacDonald has 12 finishes among his 13 career victories. | Photo: Sherdog.com
Rory MacDonald (13-1, 4-1 UFC) vs. B.J. Penn (16-8-2, 12-7-2 UFC)
The Matchup: The last time we saw Penn, he essentially announced his retirement in the Octagon after absorbing a beating from former Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz at UFC 137. The former two-division champion expressed a desire to spend more time with his family, and he wanted to do so without the bumps and bruises that come with fighting for a living.
Penn’s hiatus lasted until June, when the call of one of the welterweight division’s most promising young talents presented him with an opportunity he could not resist, although a cut above MacDonald’s right eye postponed their showdown from UFC 152 until now. It is not clear if Penn is back in the game for the long haul or only to put the young blood in his place. What is clear is that MacDonald, in front of a national television audience on Fox against one of the sport’s all-time greats, can officially announce himself as a title contender with an emphatic victory.
Recent history has shown that Penn is much more effective at 155 pounds than at 170. When properly motivated, his combination of durability, boxing and takedown defense made him a formidable challenge for anyone in the lightweight division. However, at 33 years old, Penn prefers to avoid the weight cutting process, so he must find ways to compete against more powerful opponents. “The Prodigy” used the element of surprise against Jon Fitch at UFC 127, shooting for takedowns in the first two rounds and securing back control against the American Kickboxing Academy product. After a strong start, Penn faded down the stretch and the bout ended in a draw. As usual, Penn’s conditioning will be something to watch again in the later rounds against MacDonald.
A Tristar Gym representative, MacDonald has drawn plenty of comparisons to teammate Georges St. Pierre, and he has the tools to implement a game plan similar to the one GSP used against Penn at UFC 94. While “Ares” has solid boxing , athleticism and a 6.5-inch reach advantage, he can drain the Hawaiian’s gas tank by driving him into the fence with tie-ups and forcing takedowns.
Although Penn has a potent guard and some of the best jiu-jitsu in the UFC, he will struggle to defend against a relentless MacDonald on the floor. The Canadian is an excellent guard passer, and he constantly shifts his hips and adjusts his posture from top position. He lands ground-and-pound with a purpose, as he demonstrated by smashing through Che Mills’ guard at UFC 145. Nobody is suggesting that Mills is anywhere near Penn’s level on the ground, but a persistent approach from MacDonald will be tough to overcome.
The Pick: MacDonald was only 20 years old when he made waves by coming within 10 seconds of beating Carlos Condit at UFC 115. Now 23, he is presumably stronger and smarter than he was then. Look for something of a GSP-lite performance as MacDonald pounds on Penn from above, earning a late stoppage or decision win.
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