The UFC’s final card of 2009 saw new chapters written in some of the year’s most interesting storylines: the return of B.J. Penn to unabashed 155-pound dominance and Frank Mir’s feud with Brock Lesnar and his march to a potentially record-breaking rubber match.
In the vein of a truly great combat sport champion, Penn completely lapped a contender who many considered the toughest test available, becoming the first man to stop Diego Sanchez in the main event of UFC 107 on Dec. 12, the promotion's debut in Memphis, Tenn.
The statistics were staggering. According to Fight Metric, Penn landed 150 strikes over five rounds compared to Sanchez's eight. Penn’s first power shot, a right hook 27 seconds in, dropped Sanchez; his last, a forehead-slicing head kick in the fifth, ended the fight via doctor stoppage. Sanchez looked about helpless against the conditioned Penn, failing to gain anything from 27 takedown attempts in the fight. Sanchez suffered extensive facial bruising and cuts, including one of the bigger forehand gashes seen in the Octagon, as well as cuts to his lower lip and right eyelid. By the time it was over, Penn's white tights were stained pink with Sanchez's blood and the Hawaiian went about licking Sanchez’s plasma from his gloves.
The dominant performance sparked discussion yet again about Penn fighting in a different weight class. The fighter’s camp told Sherdog.com that their outlook matches UFC President Dana White's: dispatch all lightweight challengers and then move up. The ranks of serviceable lightweight challengers Penn has yet to dispatch are growing thin, basically coming down to just Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar.
White told Sherdog.com that Penn is probably one win away from clearing out the division, and would have to defeat contenders at 170 before getting another crack at arch nemesis Georges St. Pierre. Penn told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald that his next fight will take place in Abu Dhabi, where the UFC is targeting an April event headlined by Matt Hughes vs. Renzo Gracie.
Frank Mir backed up a memorable trash-talking campaign against opponent Cheick Kongo by dropping the powerful puncher with a deliberate overhand left in the first round. Mir then cranked a guillotine to put Kongo to sleep for the first time in his career. Mir put on some 25 pounds of muscle for the fight and weighed in at 264, compared to 245 in July, and also put his newly honed striking on display working with Jimmy Gifford and Mark DellaGrotte. Mir said Kongo's erect European boxing stance opened up the winning shot after a head slip.
The win was a huge step toward in what would likely be the most lucrative fight in UFC history, a rubber match between Mir and cash cow Brock Lesnar. Their meeting at UFC 100 reportedly drew some 1.6 million buys, smashing the previous record. Mir has already begun framing his career post-UFC 100 as a march back to Lesnar, who is currently sidelined with an intestinal issue. The next step for Mir might be Shane Carwin. Carwin has agreed to a clash at UFC 111 on March 27 for an interim heavyweight title. Mir said Friday that he was game for the bout, but did not confirm that he’d accepted the bout yet.
Like Mir, Kenny Florian also held firm in his weight class coming off a loss, notching a stoppage against Clay Guida. The crowd reaction to the hyper-energetic Guida rivaled any other UFC 107 competitor, but Florian took the crowd out of the fight, opening a nasty hairline cut on Guida with an elbow in the first. Florian then blasted Guida with a short “baby hook” in the second, following his opponent to the mat for a rear-naked choke finish. Florian told Sherdog.com his boxing trainers have long sung the praises of the short hook.
The other two UFC 107 main card bouts saw Stefan Struve outpoint Paul Buentello in a majority decision that featured crowd-popping exchanges and crowd-maddening stalemates, and Jon Fitch going the distance for the seventh consecutive time in defeating Mike Pierce.
Memphis native Alan Belcher made some pre-fight noise about being slotted on the preliminary card, but turned in a performance that landed him on the pay-per-view broadcast. Belcher's uppercut knockout of Wilson Gouveia earned him and his opponent $65,000 “Fight of the Night” bonuses, as well as a chance for Belcher to say on the microphone that he thinks he's ready to challenge for the middleweight title.
Also picking up wins at UFC 107 were DaMarques Johnson (first-round submission over Edgar Garcia); T.J. Grant (first-round TKO over Kevin Burns); Rousimar Palhares (second-round heelhook submission over Lucio Linhares); Johny Hendricks (decision over Ricardo Funch); and Matt Wiman (decision over Shane Nelson). Johnson's come-from-behind triangle choke win, set up by an upkick, earned him the “Submission of the Night” bonus. Grant earned the “Knockout of the Night” bonus by putting away Burns with three seconds left in the fight.
UFC 107 took place before 13,896 at FedEx Forum in Memphis, which translates into a $1.5 million gate. The event did not sell out.