UFC's Fitch missing killer instinct

CHRIS DOUCETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:41 PM ET

TORONTO - When B.J. Penn and Jon Fitch square off Down Under Saturday night, there will be a lot at stake.

One fighter aims to prolong his storied UFC career, the other hopes to finally secure his place among the greats in MMA.

And both know a shot at the welterweight title is on the horizon for who ever exits the cage victorious at UFC 127 in Sydney, Australia.

As the main event on a card stacked with solid matches, this one has all the makings of a great fight. But it could just as easily be boring as hell.

Whether it’s memorable or forgettable depends largely on two things:

Has “The Prodigy” been working out as hard as he claims? And has Fitch finally learned to finish an opponent?

Many fans believe Fitch will continue his UFC winning streak. Even some of Penn’s fellow fighters have counted him out.

On ufc.com this week, heavyweight Brock Lesnar told UFC president Dana White that he believes Fitch will win by decision.

Go figure!

There are plenty of valid reasons to think the Indiana native will beat Penn.

For starters, Fitch should be able to easily control the much smaller Penn, who moved up from the 155 pound lightweight division to take this fight.

Penn was taken to the ground repeatedly by Frankie Edgar when he lost his lightweight strap to him last spring and again in their rematch last summer.

Fitch is 15 pounds heavier than Edgar, six inches taller, with two more inches of reach and he’s a takedown specialist.

Common sense says he should dismantle Penn, who has also had a tough time with wrestlers over his career, including Georges St-Pierre.

Before his recent string of five wins, Fitch was also beaten by welterweight champ GSP, his only loss ever in the UFC. Prior to that, he won eight in a row.

But as much as I’d like to pick Fitch here, I can’t do it, not until he finds his killer instinct.

He has the second best winning percentage among UFC fighters with more than 10 bouts, but seven of his last eight bouts were won by decision after going the distance.

It’s been nearly four years since he won by submission and nearly five years since his last knockout.

UFC colour commentator Joe Rogan has called Fitch the ultimate grinder.

But some MMA fans more aptly refer to him as “Smoke Break Fitch.”

That says a lot in a sport where spectators are afraid to blink for fear of missing the next great knockout.

Fitch focuses on winning the fight rather than beating his opponent, a tactic similar to the trap in hockey. It’s effective, but boring to watch.

This fight is his chance to make a statement to fans, and to his boss, that he deserves to be at the top of the division.

My guess is Dana White isn’t sold on Fitch yet, so he put a proven performer in front of him as a test.

Penn is among the best in the world at defending a takedown, which may be the difference-maker.

The knock on Penn has always been he’s too cocky and becomes complacent after big wins. Let’s hope at 32 those days are behind him.

He was offered the fight right after his stunning knockout of Matt Hughes just 21 seconds into their fight in November, a win that showed how in an instant anything can happen in this sport.

It also showed once again that Penn thrives as the underdog, a position he finds himself in once again.

Penn has made a career out of taking bigger fighters and knocking them out with his powerful punches, kicks and knees. He has also shown he can be patient and rely on his Brazilian jiujitsu prowess to get a submission.

Unlike his opponent, Penn’s killer instinct has never been questioned, which is the main reason I believe he’ll take this.

If Fitch employ his “lay and pray” tactic, the Hawaiian will make him tap.

TALE OF THE TAPE

B.J. PENN

Nickname: “The Prodigy”

From: Kailua, Hawaii

Age: 32

Discipline: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Stats: 12-6-1 in UFC, 16-7-1 in MMA

Height: 5-foot-9

Weight: 170 pounds

Reach: 70 inches

PIE CHART (from ufc.com)

Fight history leading up to his 20th UFC bout — 26% submissions, 28% takedowns, 47% striking

BODY GRAPHIC

- solid chin (face) — good foot speed (feet)

- great boxing skills (hands) — jab with knockout power (left hand)

- quick kicks (legs/feet)

- dangerous knees — lacks heart (chest)

- over confident/too cocky (head) — extremely flexible (hips/other joints)

- defends takedowns well (legs)

KEYS TO SUCCESS

- experienced in big bouts

- avoid being taken down

- don’t get tied up by bigger Fitch

- use quick, powerful hands

- use foot speed to stay away

- be aggressive

- end fight early with knockout

- be patient on his back

**************************************

JON FITCH

Nickname: None

From: Fort Wayne, Indiana

Fights out of: San Jose, California

Age: 33

Discipline: Wrestling

Stats: 13-1 in UFC, 26-3-0, 1 no contest in MMA

Height: 6-foot

Weight: 170 pounds

Reach: 74 inches

PIE CHART (from ufc.com)

Fight history leading up to his 15th bout — 23% submissions, 47% takedowns, 29% striking)

BODY GRAPHIC

- lacks knockout power (hands)

- strong takedowns (legs)

- tactical fighter (head)

- strong chin (face)

- lacks killer instinct (head)

- hard-working grinder (?)

- won’t quit (heart)

- controls from mount (hips)

- no finish

KEYS TO SUCCESS

- go for takedown repeatedly

- use size to control fight

- tie Penn up

- find a way to finish

- ground and pound

- drag fight out

- stay sharp

- needs win for title shot

chris.doucette@sunmedia.ca


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