After knocking out Matt Hughes in his return to the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight division, B.J. Penn seemed focused on climbing his way back to the top.
But one man blocked his path, Jon Fitch, who was coming off a phenomenal string of victories, losing only once -- against Georges St. Pierre -- in a span of eight years that included 21 wins.
Seven years ago today, the men did battle at UFC 127 on Feb. 27, 2011. Here is what Sherdog’s Brian Knapp reported with his deadline recap:
Fifteen minutes were not enough to decide the showdown between former two-division champion B.J. Penn and perennial welterweight contender Jon Fitch on Sunday at the Acer Arena in Sydney, Australia.
The UFC 127 headliner ended in a disappointing but just majority draw after three highly competitive rounds. Two of the three cage-side judges ruled it a 28-28 deadlock. A third scored it 29-28 for Fitch, who dominated Penn with top control and heavy ground-and-pound in the third round.
“I thought [I deserved the win],” Fitch said. “I gave some positioning in the first two rounds, but I came back and did enough to at least win a split decision.”
Penn surprised the American Kickboxing Academy standout with his game planning. The gifted Hawaiian scored with takedowns in each of the first two rounds and secured back control on Fitch, threatening him with chokes from behind. Fitch defended successfully and turned into Penn’s guard on both occasions.
“My cardio was through the roof. It just threw me off. I didn’t train for B.J. shooting takedowns,” Fitch said. “I wasn’t expecting that at all. It took me until the second round to really find my groove.”
Fitch came out firing in the third, as he unleashed a crisp overhand right and transitioned immediately to a takedown inside the first 10 seconds. Penn fought back to his feet, only to be taken down again with 3:44 left in the fight. He never again returned to an upright position. From there, Fitch tore into Penn with elbows, punches and hammerfists from the top. It was the most decisive part of the 15-minute encounter between the two.
“I think I got some dominant positions in the first and second, but he kicked my butt in the third,” Penn said. “If I lost this fight, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my career, but since the gods were nice to me and gave me a draw, if he wants to do it again, I’ll do it again.”
Fitch -- who entered the Octagon with wins in 21 of his last 22 fights -- restated his desire to challenge for the welterweight title again, though he seemed resigned to the fact that a rematch with Penn might be forthcoming.
“I want the title more than anything, but at the end of the day, we don’t make the decisions,” Fitch said. “The guys in the suits do and the fans do. Whatever -- I’m here to fight. I’m here to fight the best. If my 13 wins in the UFC aren’t enough to put me in there for a title shot, then I’m willing to prove myself some more.”