The first fight card of 2017 is upon us; Fight Night 103 is live from Phoenix, Arizona. Headlining this event will be the return of “The Prodigy” B.J Penn who last competed nearly three years ago. Penn retired in 2012 before staging an unsuccessful return two years later. He again attempted a comeback late last year but the infamous Fight Night 97 card was scrapped at short notice and now “The Prodigy” will make that ring walk once again. But at 38 years of age and not tasting victory since 2010, Penn will have his hands full against the up and coming; Yair Rodriquez. “El Pantera” is currently riding a six fight win streak and a win over Penn would be his biggest scalp to date, not to mention help to continue his rise up the rankings. In the co-main event, UFC vet Joe Lauzon will take on “The Polish Prodigy” Marcin Held who will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing showing in his Octagon debut late last year. Elsewhere on the card, there are interesting scraps between John Moraga and Sergio Pettis, Oleksiy Oliynyk and Viktor Pesta and Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger and Nina Ansaroff, to name but a few. This isn’t the UFC’s most stacked card to kick of the year but a fascinating one nonetheless and remember it is live on Monday morning here in Europe, not the usual Saturday/Sunday slot. So be sure to be tuned in, so you don’t miss out.
As always, I will now break down all the main card fights, give my predictions and of course, put my own “Armchair Expert” title on the line.
YAIR RODRIQUEZ vs. B.J PENN
“The Prodigy” is back and hoping for a return to winning ways, having only won once in his last seven. That is in stark contrast to his opponent, “El Pantera” who has only tasted defeat once in his ten fight career. Penn is an experienced practitioner and in his day he was one of the best; claiming the lightweight and welterweight titles along the way but life outside the Octagon hasn’t served the proud Hawaiian well. Yair Rodriquez has begun to rapidly grow as a mixed martial artist, with each victory he has gained new confidence and demonstrates it in each contest. Rodriquez is so loose on his feet and his spectacular kicks often catch opponents off guard; I’m sure he will aim to keep the distance between him and Penn and exploit Penn’s octagon rust with another pin point body shot. Penn hasn’t looked the same fighter he once was for a long time and although he is taking training more seriously this time around, joining up with the renowned Jackson-Winkeljohn camp, I still don’t think he will have enough in his arsenal to stop Rodriquez. I would love to see “The Prodigy” of old come back but I think the versatility of Rodriquez gets him the win and perhaps even a late stoppage.
Rodriquez by knockout.
JOE LAUZON vs. MARCIN HELD
Joe Lauzon rolled back the clock at UFC 200 when stopping Diego Sanchez; who beat Marcin Held on his debut, in the first round, Lauzon then followed that up with a disappointing decision loss to Jim Miller. “J-Lau” is a veteran of 38 fights, 26-12; he is a skilled submission expert with a strong wrestling game that he uses to tie opponents up into dangerous positions. This kind of game plan will suit Marcin Held, who is another submission specialist, Held is comfortable when the fight takes place on the mat and will thrive in this environment. The one chink in Held’s armour that was displayed in his loss to Sanchez was when the takedown was stuffed, he seemed to have no Plan B and he wasn’t able to hold his own on his feet, something Lauzon might try to exploit. Although I believe this will turn into a grappling match, I feel Held is slightly better in the scramble and should do enough to get the victory.
Held by decision.
COURT McGEE vs. BEN SAUNDERS
Court McGee has gone 4-2 since making the move to welterweight four years ago and in that timeframe he managed an impressive victory over Robert Whittaker. McGee last lost to vicious striker Santiago Ponzinibbio but bounced back by dominating Dominique Steele last time out. “The Crusher” has a solid stand up, perfected by John Hackleman and training partner Chuck Liddell and also a less appreciated ground game that has helped him gain seven submission victories. Ben Saunders joined the promotion in 2014 and quickly gained three consecutive victories before stumbling to Patrick Cote but most recently bounced back by submitting Jacob Volkmann. Saunders has legit power in his hands, knocking out 9 opponents and he is a black belt in BJJ. “Killa B” will come into this fight with a slight two inch reach advantage but I think the openings he leaves will play to McGee’s strengths and “The Crushers” volume and counter punching will see him over the line.
McGee by decision.
JOHN MORAGA vs. SERGIO PETTIS
John Moraga is currently on a two fight skid; suffering back to back losses for the first time in his career. After building up a record of 13-1 he then faced the champion Demetrious Johnson but was defeated by submission, since that loss he has gone 3-3 and began talking about retirement. Moraga is dangerous on the ground and has a strong set of skills on the feet but he never managed to evolve them into a solid all round game. Sergio Pettis, younger brother of former lightweight champion Anthony, is a top prospect at flyweight. Pettis had gone 10-0 before being choked out by Alex Caceres in a bantamweight bout; he then bounced back from that loss with a pair of wins before another disappointing loss to Ryan Benoit on his return to flyweight. “The Phenom” has started to show progress in his last two contests and is starting to live up to his potential; this is a huge opportunity for the young Roufusport protégé. If Pettis can avoid the takedown and clinch of Moraga he could really impress in this fight, Pettis will look to keep the distance and pick Moraga off. This probably goes to a decision and I think Pettis will have done enough to get the nod from the judges.
Pettis by decision.
Best of the Rest.
Frankie Saenz vs. Augusto Mendes
Saenz to win.
Oleksiy Oliynyk vs. Viktor Pesta
Oliynyk to win.
Alex White vs. Tony Martin
Martin to win.
Walt Harris vs. Chase Sherman
Harris to win.
Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger vs. Nina Ansaroff
Ansaroff to win.
Devin Powell vs. Drakkar Klose
Klose to win.
Joachim Christensen vs. Bojan Mihajlovic
Christensen to win.
Dmitri Smoliakov vs. Cyril Asker
Smoliakov to win.
Bet of the Day.
The adventurous bet: all 12 predictions in an accumulator is about 416/1.
The inbetweener bet: Oliynyk to win by submission is 12/5.
The conservative bet: Court McGee to win by KO or submission is 7/2.
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