On May 24, the war of words between current UFC lightweight world champion, BJ Penn, and former champion, Sean Sherk will culminate in both fighters finally having the opportunity to put their money where their mouths have been. While the Penn-Sherk main event is an MMA fan's dream, there are more story lines coming in to UFC 84 then your momma's favorite soap opera. Let's take a look.
Champ B.J. Penn (13-4-1 MMA, 8-3-1 UFC)
Sean Sherk (35-2-1 MMA, 6-2 UFC)
The byline for UFC 84 is "Ill Will", a perfect description of the emotions going back and forth between Penn and Sherk. While the bad blood that is sometimes used to market fights occasionally comes across as manufactured or contrived, make no mistake about it ... these two legitimately hate each other. The bonus? They just happen to be the best two lightweights in the UFC, by a long shot.
BJ Penn, appropriately nicknamed "The Prodigy," is widely regarded as one of the top-5 pound for pound fighters in the world, and deservedly so. BJ's Jiu Jitsu isn't just world-class, it's other-worldly.
He is the first non-Brazilian to ever win the BJJ World Championships at the black belt level and has a freakish flexibility in his legs that almost allows him to use them as a second set of arms when going for submissions. He also has great stand-up skills with knock out power (ask Caol Uno) and displayed strong takedown defense in his battles with Matt Hughes.
The only real knock on BJ has been his cardio. However, in his two UFC fights since making the drop to lightweight he has looked strong and fresh throughout, but neither fight made it out of the second round, so the question mark remains.
Sean Sherk was the UFC's first lightweight champion after they brought the division back to the promotion. Then, after his first title defense against Hermes Franca back in July, 2007, both he and Franca tested positive for steroids.
The Muscle Shark vehemently denied taking anything and did everything an athlete could do to clear his name. He hired an attorney at his own expense to fight the test, did other tests to prove his innocence and publicly fought his 12-month suspension.
While he was successful in getting it reduced to six months, the positive test stands and he was stripped of his title. And you can tell every time he speaks that he is angered by the circumstances that took the belt from his waist and has every intention of taking the anger out on the man currently wearing the belt he feels belongs to him, BJ Penn.
Stylistically, Sean is an incredible wrestler with brute strength and off-the-chart cardio and fight intensity, all areas that will be advantages against BJ. On the other hand, BJ has a huge advantage in the standup and when it comes to submissions.
When the fight goes to the ground, and I suspect it will, this could turn into a dream chess match between an incredible wrestler trying to ground and pound to a victory versus one of the best BJJ practitioners in the world seeking submissions from his back where he is completely comfortable.
Ultimately, I think BJ has an advantage because he has more ways to win the fight, but if Sherk can get the fight into the later rounds his cardio could make the difference. If you're a fan of MMA with a healthy dose of drama and ill will thrown in, don't miss this fight!
Keith Jardine (13-4-1 MMA, 5-2 UFC)
Wanderlei Silva (31-8-1 MMA, 1-3 UFC)
If you have to leave the room to do anything during UFC 84, don't do it when the "Dean of Mean" and the "Axe Murderer" lock horns. Silva is a legendary MMA fighter with two brutal knockout wins over current light-heavyweight world champion, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, that took place in Pride before the two joined the UFC.
His 2007 epic battle against Chuck Liddell was his first fight back in the UFC since 2000. He displayed tremendous heart, a granite chin, powerful stand-up skills and great conditioning in the loss and showed newer UFC fans why he is such a popular fighter.
Against Jardine, he plans on using his vicious knees and standup to show those same fans why he has 31 MMA victories on his record and why two thirds of those victories have come by way of knockout or TKO.
While not in the legend category, Jardine recently scored the biggest victory of his career over a legend ... Chuck Liddell. Jardine also holds a brutal first round TKO over fellow TUF alum Forrest Griffin, who has an upcoming title shot in July against Rampage.
With a victory here over another legend, Keith would be virtually assured of a title shot. His biggest weapon to date has been vicious leg kicks that just seem to wear down his opponent's base the longer the fight goes on. They were successful against Chuck, but the Iceman has thin legs when compared to the more muscular, stocky lower body of Silva, so it will be interesting to see how effective they'll be in this fight.
Another thing to watch for is that Keith suffered a brutal knockout at the hands of then-unknown Houston Alexander. I'm sure that both fighters will be testing the other's chin early and often. Like I said at the opening, don't leave the room once the opening bell sounds.
Lyoto Machida (12-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC)
Tito Ortiz (16-5-1 MMA, 14-5-1 UFC)
Machida comes into his biggest test in the UFC riding a 4-fight win streak. His first three wins consisted of boring, unanimous decisions over less than stellar competition. Then, against a highly-touted UFC newcomer, Rameau Sokoudjou, he scored a dominant victory complete with a second round submission, exactly what he needed to do to raise his stock in the UFC.
Lyoto is a well rounded fighter with strong stand up/classic karate skills and great BJJ. In fact, the undefeated Machida trains with UFC middleweight world champion Anderson Silva and UFC interim heavyweight champion, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
For Tito, the "Huntington Beach Bad Boy", this fight represents either a sweet or sour goodbye to the UFC as he could not come to terms with the promotion for a new contract.
Given his bitter, contentious relationship with UFC president Dana White, the most interesting story line of the night could be Tito's post-fight interview if he beats Machida. Maybe the "Ill Will" event title is as much about Dana and Tito as it is about Sherk and Penn.
Tito has had a storied UFC career with victories over Ken Shamrock, Wanderlei Silva, Forrest Griffin and many others. Tito should have a significant advantage over Machida in wrestling, strength and conditioning and has amongst the most brutal ground and pound in the division.
Machida should have advantages in the standup and BJJ. However it turns out, Tito has provided lots of excitement and drama both inside the Octagon and promoting his fights. Thanks for the memories, HBB.
Thiago Silva (11-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC)
Antonio Mendes (14-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC)
Another undefeated, Brazilian light-heavyweight fighter, Silva comes into this fight fresh off three consecutive TKO victories in the UFC. Thiago is a BJJ black belt with a very aggressive fighting style and strong stan-dup skills.
He looked very impressive in his most recent fight when he dominated Houston Alexander and finished him in the first round. After that fight, there were rumors of a Silva-Rashad Evans match up that would have given Silva the opportunity to propel himself to the upper ranks of the light heavyweight division. Instead, he will introduce Mendes to his first fight in the octagon.
Mendes is on an 11-fight win streak, mostly competing in Brazil and Europe. This is a tall order for Mendes, who is reputed to have strong Muay Thai skills.
Wilson Gouveia (10-4 MMA, 4-1 UFC)
Goran Reljic (7-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC)
Wilson made his UFC debut against Keith Jardine, clearly winning the first round but dropping rounds two and three leading to a unanimous decision loss. Since then he has reeled off a quiet for-fight win streak culminating with an impressive knockout over well-regarded fellow light heavyweight Jason Lambert.
Wilson has slick submissions with strong striking skills and heavy hands, both of which have been on display in his four UFC victories ... two by submission and two by knockout or TKO.
Although Reljic is making his Octagon debut, he comes into the fight on the heels of signing a multi-fight contract with the UFC and his undefeated in his 7-fight career. The UFC signing a fighter to a multi-fight deal before they have their first fight with the promotion is usually a sign that they have high expectations for the fighter.
Goran trains with the Roger Gracie Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy in London, England and holds a purple belt. He has won five of his seven fights by submission, which could make this fight interesting if it ends up on the ground with the American Top Team's Wilson, a BJJ black belt.