Matt Hughes (left): Sherdog.com
In the world of combat sports, rubber matches tend to be the most dynamic and alluring aspects of any rivalry.
On Saturday at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich., longtime rivals B.J. Penn and Matt Hughes will meet for the third and what figures to be final time in the UFC 123 “Rampage vs. Machida” co-main event. Penn won their first encounter, submitting Hughes with a first-round rear-naked choke at WEC 46 in January 2004. Hughes avenged the defeat two years later, stopping the Hawaiian on third-round punches at UFC 63.
Sherdog.com recently caught up with dozens of professional trainers and fighters to gauge their opinions on the third act in the Hughes-Penn trilogy:
Junior dos Santos: I think B.J. wins.
Daniel Cormier: Penn [wins]. His takedown defense has gotten a lot better than four years ago, and if it’s a stand-up fight, he is a better stand-up fighter than Matt.
Josh Thomson: Penn by submission in round one, most likely by rear-naked choke.
Roan Carneiro: B.J. wins by decision.
Kevin Burns: Hughes will outwork B.J. to get him tired and beat him everywhere in rounds two and three.
Josh Neer: I gotta go with my old training partner. Matt is a bad matchup for B.J. I think B.J. is dangerous, but Matt won’t try to take him down until later on, and B.J. will be gassed. It’s hard to submit Matt and especially later in the fight. I’m gonna go on a limb, but I’m picking Matt to win by submission in the second round.
Ryan Schultz: I am taking B.J. I hope he has the fire back. His last two fights, he seemed to be going through the motions, but if his fire is there, very few can beat him.
Micah Miller: I’m very happy that the UFC made this fight. I think B.J. will win in what will be an exciting end to one of the best rivalries in MMA history.
Frank Shamrock: B.J. is gonna whoop his butt.
Johnny Eduardo: Good fight for B.J. This is the ideal weight class for him. He is very versatile and is better than Hughes, standing and on the floor. I think B.J. wins.
Ben Saunders: Penn by TKO, KO or submission.
Sam Hoger: Penn will win this one if he listened to the right people. If Hughes is on top of his game, it could be his day. Something is telling me B.J. will win.
Tom Vaughn: It’s awesome Hughes has been making a strong comeback. People are quick to jump on the he’s-all-washed-up band wagon, and, truthfully, it’s a harsh reality in this business. It’s sink or swim at the elite level, and lately, Hughes has been swimming like a champ again. Penn is one of my favorite fighters for several reasons. The main reason is his true warrior spirit. I believe B.J. will fight anyone, anytime, anyplace, anywhere, regardless of what kind of shape he’s in. B.J. also says funny stuff and talks smack with the best of ’em. Penn always seems to fight best when he’s at a disadvantage, so I like him in this fight. He comes out fired up this time, stuffs the takedowns and wins a decision.
Mike Ciesnolevicz: Tough fight to call. I could easily see Hughes wearing him down and using the size advantage, but on the other side of the coin, Hughes doesn’t move like Frankie Edgar does so I can see B.J. using his superior boxing skills and jab to control the fight. I think B.J. is more well-rounded, but I think Hughes is good at what he does. I’m actually not able to lean one way or the other on this fight. Flip a coin.
Roli Delgado: This is a tough fight to call. Size matters, and Hughes has that. However, B.J. is still a much better boxer. If Matt can smother B.J. standing and end up on top, he will win a decision. I don’t think B.J. can sweep or sub him. If B.J. gets on top, he can finish. Perhaps B.J. will learn from his last two fights and pick up his activity level and outwork Hughes. If not, Hughes will find a way to get on top and win. Hate to say it, but I’m taking Hughes by decision. He’s got the momentum and size.
Chase Beebe: For the Hughes-Penn fight, I’m not too sure who to pick. I would lean towards Hughes because I think it will end up being a conditioning battle, but you never know. B.J. has heavy hands and they’re better than Matt’s. Matt has good kicks, although he makes it not such a factor with his wrestling. If B.J. can force the fight to stay standing, stay aggressive and put combinations together, I think he can win, but he hasn’t been fighting that way as of late. I would say either Matt by decision or Penn with an uppercut knockout or slick sub.
Kultar Gill: The trilogy will be won by B.J. On Nov. 21, B.J. will be going back to Hawaii with Hughes’ arm.
Dan Bobish: I think Penn will dominate Hughes for the entire fight. Matt is great but has lost a step and is still, in my opinion, a one-dimensional wrestler with a few submissions. If Penn is in shape, he will win. That’s Hughes’ only hope -- for Penn to come in out of shape.
Shamar Bailey: I’m picking Penn to win this one simply because he was beating Hughes until he gassed in their initial rematch. He has also had to get accustomed to the fast feet and fluent motion of Frankie Edgar, which might make Hughes look like he’s moving in slow motion. I’m picking B.J. to finish Matt Hughes, as long as he stays off the cage.
Ron Foster: Hughes has looked great in his last couple fights, and B.J. has seemed to have lost a step or two at 155. I think B.J. coming back up to 170 for this fight may be the best thing for him at this point. Stylistically, Penn matches up very well with Hughes. B.J. is a much better striker and has a speed and reach advantage over Matt; he also has tremendous takedown defense. In fights one and two, Matt had a very difficult time getting B.J. to the ground, and I don’t think things will be much different in this fight. Penn will attempt to use that long jab to keep Hughes on the outside, ensuring that his back is off the cage. I do believe cardio will be a factor in this fight. Matt will look to use his size and strength, attempting to smash Penn against the fence and pressing for the takedown. If he is able to do this, it will suck the life out of Penn and swing this fight heavy in Hughes’ favor. Coming off of two losses, I think B.J. will be very hungry, sharp and well-prepared for this fight. I don’t think it’s going to be an easy fight for B.J., but I see him walking away with the win. Penn via unanimous decision.
Pat Miletich: Seeing how I trained Matt and trained with Matt for 10 years, I don’t think I even need to say who I am pulling for. From a neutral standpoint, this fight, just as the first two, will be a war. I give the edge to Matt based on his last performance. He is obviously hungry again and is back in top shape. When Matt is in shape, he is almost impossible to beat once the fight hits the seven-minute mark. Overall, Matt’s strength will wear B.J. out, and Hughes will get the win.