Third Title Fight is a Charm for Penn


B.J. Penn throws a jab at Joe Stevenson during their championship bout at UFC 80: Rapid Fire. Photo property of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

In a night of quick fights and surprising stoppages, one thing remains the same: B.J. Penn is still that damn good.

Penn submitted former Ultimate Fighter contestant Joe Stevenson with a rear naked choke in the second round to claim the vacant UFC lightweight title and become the second fighter in history along with current heavyweight champ Randy Couture to win championship gold in two different weight classes.

The lively 8,412 inside the Metro Radio Arena in Newcastle, England saw Penn surprise Stevenson with an uppercut that sent the California native down to the mat in the opening seconds. Penn pounced on his opponent but Stevenson was able to maintain his composure and survive Penn’s initial assault.

The former welterweight champion controlled Stevenson on the ground for the remainder of the first round, opening up a vicious cut in the middle of Stevenson’s forehead with just over a minute left in the round. Stevenson would end up donning a crimson mask for the rest of the fight.

The two had an even exchange on the feet to start the second stanza but that ended once Penn started to pick Stevenson apart with looping lefts and uppercuts. The bout was stopped at one point to have the doctor check Stevenson’s cut but the stream of blood avoiding Stevenson’s eyes already gave those watching the doctor’s answer.

Stevenson fell victim to another Penn (12-4-1) uppercut once the bout was restarted, signaling the beginning of the end for “Daddy.” Penn used punches and elbows to force Stevenson (28-8) out of position enough to be able to give up his back, which Penn quickly took without a second thought.

Penn was able to sink in a rear naked choke and Stevenson was forced to tap out without putting up much of a fight. The win finally gave Penn the UFC lightweight title in what was his third career attempt at the belt.

After the fight Penn acknowledged that he was trying to make his third try a successful one.

“Joe is a great guy,” said Penn. “I knew he was going to be tough, but I put everything into this. I wanted to make sure it was three times the charm and not three strikes you’re out.”

Penn also went out of his way to send former champion Sean Sherk a message now that Sherk will be challenging Penn in his first title defense later this year.

“Hey Sean Sherk, you’re dead,” Penn shouted during his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan.

Sherk, who was cage-side doing color commentary on the bout along with Rogan and UFC play-by-play announcer Mike Goldberg, stormed into the Octagon and picked up a microphone right after Penn made his comment.

“That belt belongs to me,” said Sherk. “You’ve got one more fight before you can be called lightweight champ.”

Undercard Action

Fabricio Werdum continued his dominance over Gabriel Gonzaga by stopping the former title challenger with strikes in the second round of their bout.

The two had fought before earlier on in their respective careers. Gonzaga controlled Werdum for two rounds until he was able to overwhelm “Napao” in the third round and ultimately stop him with strikes in their past war.

The first five minutes of the fight certainly weren’t the best for Werdum, who was tossed around, literally, by Gonzaga. Gonzaga used his size advantage to muscle Werdum to the canvas in order to score points and then waited for referee Dan Miragliotta to stand his opponent back up.

The sequence of events was repeated many times throughout the first round that also saw Werdum survive many a leg kick, including two that swept the former PRIDE veteran off of his feet on separate occasions.

Werdum (10-3-1) turned the tide early on in the second round when he rocked Gonzaga (8-3) with a combination in the opening seconds. Werdum used some quick movement on his feet to change levels and land looping punches on a visibly exhausted Gonzaga.

A regular Muay-Thai clinch worked well for Werdum who threw a number of hard knees that Gonzaga simply had no answer for. Werdum was warned at one point after nearly kneeing Gonzaga while he was down on the mat but used the position to flatten his opponent out and pound away with unanswered punches for nearly half a minute until Miragliotta decided that Gonzaga suffered through punishment.

After the fight Werdum attributed his prior fight with Gonzaga to his success this time around.

“I fought Gonzaga before, so I know he is a very tough guy,” said Werdum. “I knew what I had to do. I trained hard and it showed.”

Marcus Davis made quick work of Frenchman Jess Liaudin in their welterweight affair, using his professional boxing skills to land a straight left that sent Liaudin down to the canvas where Davis finished things off with punches that put Liaudin to sleep.

Liaudin (12-9) scored with a few leg kicks early but it ended up being another kick that set-up Davis’ killer left. With the win, Davis (14-3) extended his winning streak to 11 straight fights, including six consecutive victories inside the confines of the UFC. The loss was Liaudin’s first under the Zuffa banner.

American Top Team’s Wilson Gouveia overcame a tough first round to score a surprising second-round knockout win over veteran Jason Lambert.

Lambert stalked his opponent from the opening second of the first round, eventually scoring a takedown that would lead to him spending most of the first five minutes with Gouveia on the mat. Lambert survived an early guillotine attempt, two kimura tries, and even a swift omoplata attempt and pounded his way to a 10-9 victory on most people’s scorecards.

Lambert (23-7) controlled the early part of the second round, using his size advantage to keep Gouveia (10-4) up against the cage. After scoring with a flurry of left hands, Lambert created distance between himself and Gouveia. A toe-to-toe exchange resulted in Gouveia connecting with a right hand directly on Lambert’s chin. Lambert crumpled to the canvas and referee Herb Dean immediately waved off the fight, giving Gouveia his fourth straight UFC win.

Boston native Jorge Rivera continued the New England area’s winning ways as he scored the biggest upset of the night in taking former Ultimate Fighter winner Kendall Grove to town with crisp strikes in their fight.

Rivera shook off an early left to the face and scored an early takedown. In a scene of aggressiveness that no one has seen out of Rivera (15-6) in recent years, “El Conquistador” unleashed a busy ground and pound attack that had Grove (8-5-0-1) reeling. Standing up proved to be a fatal mistake for Grove, who took numerous punches to the face from behind before finally being finished off with a straight left.

Preliminary Fights

Fight of the night honors will likely go to England natives Paul Taylor and Paul Kelly as the two battled at a frenetic pace over three rounds in a fight that went all over the place inside the Octagon. Kelly (7-0) used his superior wrestling to take home a unanimous decision over Taylor (8-3-1-1).

Seventeen seconds was all Antoni Hardonk needed to finish off elder statesman Colin Robinson in their heavyweight clash. Hardonk (6-4) connected with pairs of knees, leg kicks, and jabs in order to seal the deal in a fight where Robinson (9-4) never even threw a punch.

Alessio Sakara (12-6), who will now drop down to 185 lbs, used strong takedown defense to put James Lee in a position that allowed him to tag Lee (13-3-0-1) with a number of unanswered right hands that sent the King of the Cage veteran slumping to the mat and where he failed to respond to referee Dan Miragliotta’s requests to defend himself.

Canadian Sam Stout (13-3-1) stuffed what looked to be over a dozen takedown attempts from newcomer Per Eklund (12-3-1) en route to a unanimous decision win. Stout and Eklund’s performance was the worst received of the night as the crowd showered the athletes with boos and jeers throughout the course of the bout.

Notes: The UFC announced during the event that they had set a box office record of $1.25 million inside the Metro Radio Arena, beating the previous record held by Luciano Pavarotti. B.J. Penn and Sean Sherk are tenatively set to headline a card in May along with Tito Ortiz. Jess Liaudin was taken to the hospital for precautionary measures after his loss to Marcus Davis. The UFC dished out $140,000 in post-fight bonuses: B.J. Penn received submission of the night, Wilson Gouveia knockout of the night, and Paul Taylor and Paul Kelly fight of the night. Each fighter received $35,000 on top of their base salary.

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