Endings are hard. Just ask any writer or – for that matter – BJ Penn.
For two rounds on Saturday night at UFC 127, Penn effectively flipped the script on Jon Fitch. In the last chapter however, the smaller Penn couldn’t write himself a triumphant final scene and when the pair’s main event bout came out as a disappointing majority draw, it left the future of the welterweight division in need of a significant rewrite.
Through 10 minutes, it seemed like Penn was going to pull off the upset. The former multidivisional UFC champ came out of his corner with the one game plan no one else had even considered against the one-time captain of the Purdue wrestling team: Take Fitch down. Penn seemed to surprise his larger opponent by pressuring him against the fence, warding off Fitch’s takedown attempts with his own out-of-this-world defense.
When the fight did go to the ground during the first two rounds, it was at Penn’s behest. In both of the opening stanzas he managed to put Fitch on the mat and take his back, threatening with rear naked choke attempts that proved unsuccessful in finishing the fight, but earned Penn the edge on two of the three scorecards headed to the final round.
Unfortunately, the last five minutes were all Fitch. The American Kickboxing Academy product took Penn down in the early going and then blitzed him with an impressive onslaught of ground and pound strikes. It was so lopsided that two of the judges awarded Fitch a 10-8 round, thereby pushing the fight even.
The finish surprised Fitch (who thought he won) and Penn (who thought he lost) and left the 170-pound division at loose ends. The UFC no doubt still hopes that champion Georges St. Pierre will be able to trump newcomer Jake Shields at UFC 129 in April and then will vacate the title to chase a superfight against Anderson Silva. If he does that, it was thought the Penn-Fitch winner would vault into a fight for the vacant crown, possibly against whomever emerges victorious from next week’s Diego Sanchez vs. Martin Kampmann fight at UFC Live.
As it turned out, however, there was no winner. So if GSP does leave the welterweight division behind, does that put Kampmann or Sanchez in the driver’s seat? Or does it leave the UFC with the opportunity to book a rematch between Penn and Fitch, this time for the welterweight title?
Maybe the latter, maybe not. UFC President Dana White did not sound thrilled with Fitch’s performance and told the media following the event that he thought Penn won the fight. He also didn’t sound impressed that Fitch expressed some disappointment at not getting a title shot following UFC 127.
“He just fought a 155-pound guy and went to a draw with him and in my opinion, he lost the first two rounds – and he’s crying for a title shot?” White said. That doesn’t sound like a man who’s going to give Fitch a shot at the belt any time soon.
Whatever White’ mood however, a decision will have to be made soon. If GSP slips by Shields and gives up the belt, the 170-pound class can’t afford to sit rudderless for long.
Chad Dundas writes about MMA for Crave Online, Versus.com and CagePotato.com. He lives in Missoula, MT.