Stevenson Penned by the 'Prodigy'

Jan 20, 2008
NEWCASTLE, England, Jan. 19 -- After previous efforts had seen him denied by defeat to Jens Pulver (Pictures) and a draw with Caol Uno (Pictures), B.J. Penn (Pictures) finally annexed the UFC lightweight title in a mature, focused and thoroughly dominant display Saturday against Joe Stevenson.

Before the fight, Penn had expressed a single-minded desire: to be seen as the best ever. "Is that too much to ask?" he inquired.

While a commanding, blood-spattered win over a solid contender like Stevenson won't cement his legacy to those lofty proportions just yet, there can be little doubt that the Hawaiian looked spectacular in beating his gutsy opponent. Penn excelled in every facet of the game before applying a rear-naked choke for the victory at 4:02 of the second round.

Just seconds in, Penn cracked Stevenson with an uppercut that sent him to the deck. Penn pounced, applying right hands and dropping sharp elbows from Stevenson's half guard. Stevenson struck back, though, with an elbow of his own from the floor.

"I thought I would ice him right there," Penn said. "I thought that was it, but he came back stronger."

Moving the action to the cage, Penn briefly stood to measure his foe for more punches before resuming control on the ground. In his efforts to escape, Stevenson came close to giving up his back before thinking twice and allowing Penn back into his half guard.

Stevenson, 25, remained busy from the floor, while Penn worked methodically to maximize his position. Moments later, after absorbing some strikes from the cornered Californian, Penn regained dominance with a brutal right elbow to the forehead. It seemed just a matter of seconds before the canvas was splattered with Stevenson's blood, which flowed freely from just below his hairline. The round ended with Penn on top, punctuating a dominant opener.

The extent of Stevenson's injury was revealed between rounds as his corner worked feverishly on a horrible, jagged gash on his forehead.

Stevenson (28-8) began the second round purposefully, firing his jab only to absorb an overhand right. He worked steadily behind his left lead, while Penn countered with hooks and crosses.

With blood again flowing and Stevenson's face a crimson mess, referee Herb Dean (Pictures) called a timeout. After a brief inspection, the claret-covered former "Ultimate Fighter" winner was allowed back into the fray, much to the delight of the crowd, which clearly appreciated his game effort.

Wasting little time, Penn (12-4-1) quickly brought the fight back to the ground and compounded his fellow challenger's misery with more punches and elbows. Stevenson hung tough, but his efforts to buck his tormentor only landed him in deeper water. Penn transitioned to the back before moments later applying the choke that secured his impressive victory.

At lightweight, Stevenson is no joke. He's as solid and well-rounded a contender that exists at 155. That the Hawaiian made a victory over him seem almost effortless serves notice: A motivated, focused B.J. Penn should be a frightening proposition to the other contenders in the UFC's lightweight talent pool.

"Joe's a great guy and real tough," the 29-year-old Penn said afterward. "But I put everything into this victory tonight."

Penn's win proved hugely popular with the U.K. fans, who thundered their support for him throughout.

Former champion Sean Sherk (Pictures), whose positive steroid test saw him stripped of the belt Penn and Stevenson had battled for in front of over 8,000 fans inside the Metro Radio Arena, exchanged inflammatory words with the Hilo, Hawaii, fighter moments after the bout. Sherk, whom Penn called "dead" upon their encounter in the cage, looks set to be the first man challenging for the new champion's belt in 2008, likely at UFC 85 which is tentatively scheduled for a May date in Las Vegas.

In the heavyweight co-feature, Fabricio Werdum (Pictures) repeated his 2003 victory over former UFC title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga (Pictures), winning their all-Brazilian affair at 4:34 of the second round due to strikes.

After an early exchange on the feet, Werdum scored with a right before Gonzaga brought the bout to the ground, landing a useful right of his own. It was little surprise to see the Abu Dhabi standouts cancel one another out on the mat, and after Werdum worked his way to full guard, Gonzaga stood back up.

"Napao" chipped away with some solid low kicks, one of which sent Werdum to the canvas. Quickly regaining his feet, Werdum then took Gonzaga down and landed a few effective elbows to end an otherwise even round on top, despite a kneebar attempt from Gonzaga before the bell.

Werdum looked the more determined of the two in the second, connecting with kicks and punches and more than holding his own when the bout went to the ground. Despite a spectacular looking high kick that missed and a couple of effective low kicks, Gonzaga appeared a little gun-shy. A staring contest then briefly broke out, as each man seemed momentarily unwilling to engage.

With the air filling with boos, it was Werdum (10-3-1) who took the initiative. After a brief flurry of fists, he pressed Gonzaga against the cage and applied a few knees for good measure while his stocky opponent squatted in a failed attempt to avoid punishment.

Werdum gratefully accepted top position and began raining down right hands to the side of Gonzaga's head from side mount. Little or nothing landed cleanly, but with Gonzaga (8-3) apparently demoralized and making only a token attempt to defend himself, Dan Miragliotta had little choice but to wave the bout off in Werdum's favor.

A welterweight grudge match resulted in former "Ultimate Fighter" contestant Marcus Davis (Pictures) continued his hot streak with a quick knockout over Frenchman Jess Liaudin (Pictures). After absorbing a few pesky low kicks from the popular London-based fighter, Davis, a southpaw, landed a heavy body kick before connecting with a thumping left hand that flattened Liaudin (12-9). Mario Yamasaki rushed in to save the stricken Frenchman a mere 1:04 into the first round. The win, Davis' eleventh straight, moved the hard-punching New Englander's ledger to 14-3.

In an earlier bout at light heavyweight, Jason Lambert (Pictures) had seemed on his way to victory after a productive first round against American Top Team's Wilson Gouveia (Pictures). Lambert (23-7) scored an early takedown and remained in top position for most of the round. He landed effective strikes while avoiding an array of submission attempts, including a pair of guillotines, a triangle and even an omoplata. Ending the stanza in control, Lambert dropped thudding rights to his opponent's face.

If Lambert was already writing his victory headlines, Gouveia (10-4) had other ideas in round two. With Lambert pressing the action early, Gouveia narrowly missed with a huge countering right before scoring with a whipping left hook to drop Lambert face first to the canvas just 37 seconds into the round.

Middleweight veteran Jorge Rivera (Pictures) rebounded from swift defeat to Terry Martin (Pictures) last time out and resurrected his career with an impressive first-round victory over former "Ultimate Fighter" winner Kendall Grove (Pictures). Rivera (15-6) took Grove down quickly, then landed several thumping rights to put him in trouble early.

After giving up his back, the lanky Grove (8-5, 1 NC) rose to his feet only to suffer more of the same as Rivera continued blasting away with rights. Grove turned to face his adversary and found a left hand waiting for him that crumpled him to the canvas. Referee Dan Miragliotta wisely jumped in at 1:20 of the first round. The impressive victory by Rivera gave Grove his second successive upset defeat after losing to Patrick Cote (Pictures) in August last year.

Erratic light heavyweight Alessio Sakara (Pictures) had an easier than expected time against Detroit's James Lee (13-3, 1 NC), pulling out of an early takedown to drop some innocuous-looking rights to the side of his opponent's head that prompted what seemed a hasty referee stoppage at 1:30 of the first. Sakara (12-6) will be glad to return to winning ways, but the manner of his victory was inconclusive.

In what would turn out to be by far the night's most competitive bout, Englishmen Paul Kelly and Paul Taylor (Pictures) served up an exciting affair won unanimously by Kelly.

A thrilling opening exchange saw both landing with solid punches before they clinched against the fence. Taylor rashly attempted a guillotine only to find himself on the receiving end of his opponent's solid ground and pound. Kelly was able to maintain top position, working steadily while surviving an armbar and a guillotine attempt to take the round.

Taylor (8-3-1, 1 NC) made his most costly error early in the second. After a strong start to the round in which he was on top and landing elbows and punches, Taylor sloppily attempted to sink in a rear-naked choke. Soon he was reversed and eating punches from the aggressive Kelly, who remained perfect in seven fights.

Taylor was active from the bottom, though, landing punches and elbows while attempting Kimuras on more than one occasion. However, Kelly's control from the top gave him another round.

Kelly maintained his edge in round three, scoring an early takedown and pressing the action while Taylor battled valiantly from the floor. A standup saw a brief Taylor comeback, but he was quickly deposited on his back by the relentless Liverpudlian. Despite a brave effort, Taylor was out-hustled and out-struck for the remainder of the round.

Kelly's solid effort saw the judges deliver a popular and deserved 30-27 victory, but the other Paul can take heart from his endeavors in defeat. It had been an entertaining and thoroughly sporting battle.

Dutchman Antoni Hardonk (Pictures) (6-4) had an easy time with Northern Ireland's Colin Robinson at heavyweight. Jarred by a pair of knees to the body, then hurt by thudding kicks, it was two jabs that saw Robinson (9-4) dropped and dazed for Mario Yamasaki's stoppage after just 17 seconds of the opening round.

Swede Per Eklund (Pictures) and Canadian Sam Stout (Pictures) got the night off to a tepid start. Eklund (12-3-1) worked for takedowns and broke from several clinches by landing on his back in a series of naive attempts to coax the heavy-handed Canadian into his ground game. Stout (13-3-1) wanted and needed no part of it, and likewise Eklund had zero interest in exchanging strikes.

The fight had slowed to a crawl by the final bell, with the crowd making no secret of its utter boredom. Stout, who pressed the action, could do little with a negative opponent. The tough Canadian won by scores of 30-27 on two cards, with the other judge turning in an odd 29-27 to secure the unanimous verdict.
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