The Ultimate Fighting Championship showcased one of its brightest young talents at the expense of one of its most revered legends.
Yair Rodriguez dispatched former two-division champion B.J. Penn with a head kick and follow-up punches in the UFC Fight Night 103 headliner on Sunday at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix. “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America” winner left figurative tire marks on Penn as he ran over him, forcing the stoppage 24 seconds into Round 2.
The outcome was never in doubt: Rodriguez overwhelmed the popular Hawaiian with kicks to the head, legs, body and arms in the minutes preceding the finish. By the time he was done, the fast-rising prospect had connected with 56 total strikes to Penn’s seven. Rodriguez floored “The Prodigy” with a blinding combination in the second round, backing up a front kick to the face with a right cross. He then followed Penn to the canvas and uncorked rapid-fire hammerfists until referee John McCarthy had seen enough.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Rodriguez vs. Penn,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Yair Rodriguez vs. Mirsad Bektic-Darren Elkins winner: Rodriguez still has much to prove, but the 24-year-old has the look of a future champion at 145 pounds. He has gone 6-0 since arriving in the UFC in November 2014, and his rout of Penn figures to put him in line for even more substantial opportunities in the near future and beyond. Rodriguez has won four post-fight performance bonuses in his six Octagon appearances. Bektic and Elkins will lock horns at UFC 209 on March 4 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Joe Lauzon vs. Nik Lentz-Islam Makhachev winner: Though he disagreed with the decision in what can only be described as a refreshing display of class and candor, Lauzon nevertheless walked away from his co-main event battle against Marcin Held with a victory in hand. Now 23 bouts and more than a decade into his UFC career, “The Ultimate Fighter 5” alum has watched the miles begin to pile up on him. Lauzon still has plenty to offer the lightweight division as a reliable gatekeeper with a long-established history of blood-and-guts action. Lentz has been booked opposite Makhachev at UFC 208 on Feb. 11.
Sergio Pettis vs. Jussier da Silva: Pettis has emerged from the shadow of his older brother and started to carve out a spot as a legitimate contender at 125 pounds. The 23-year-old Duke Roufus understudy ran his winning streak to three fights on the main card, as he earned a unanimous decision over former flyweight title challenger John Moraga -- a short-notice fill-in for the injured da Silva. Pettis has quietly compiled a 6-2 mark in the UFC and shown he can stomach some adversity, rebounding from losses to Alex Caceres and Ryan Benoit. Da Silva has not fought since he took a unanimous verdict from Dustin Ortiz at UFC Fight Night 95 on Sept. 24.
Walt Harris vs. Justin Ledet-Dmitriy Sosnovskiy winner: In terms of raw, physical tools, few in the heavyweight division can match American Top Team’s Harris. Those skills were once again on display on the undercard, as “The Big Ticket” cut down Chase Sherman with a devastating knee strike and follow-up punches in the second round. Harris remains something of an enigma, his wins over Sherman and Cody East offset by disappointing losses to Shamil Abdurakhimov, Soa Palelei, Nikita Krylov and Jared Rosholt. The unbeaten Ledet will take on Sosnovskiy at UFC Fight Night 104 on Feb. 4 in Houston.
Ben Saunders vs. Randy Brown-George Sullivan winner: Saunders has resurfaced yet again. “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 7 graduate returned to the UFC for the first time in nearly a year and did so in triumphant fashion, recording a unanimous decision over Court McGee on the main card. Saunders has rattled off back-to-back wins since his January 2016 loss to Patrick Cote, and while he may never escape the middle-tier of the welterweight division, he wields the kind of weapons that can do damage against virtually anyone at any given time. Brown and Sullivan are set to do battle at UFC 208 on Feb. 11.