[Opinion] A Fistful Of Reality: Will UFC On Fox 5 Bring A Changing Of The Guard?
For MMA fans, Saturday night’s UFC on Fox 5 card may be another symbolic gesture to the changing of the guard in the promotion. For two of the main card fights, both pitting veterans that were both touted as being top in their weight classes just a few years ago against young, highly praised talents, some may see the new generation replace more of the grizzled veterans that the sport was built on.
BJ Penn and Mauricio Shogun Rua both will be playing the role of the once dominant veterans. Rory MacDonald and Alexander Gustafsson will serve as their young opponents. Many see Penn and Rua as the final steppingstones for both fighters who have been hyped as future challengers for titles. MacDonald has been groomed for a shot at Georges St. Pierre’s welterweight belt; Gustafsson’s developmental aim has been as a future challenger for Jon Jones and the light heavyweight title.
According to Penn, who just a few years ago was viewed as top of his weight-class, MacDonald may not realize the path to the championship is as easy as it’s been hyped to him. BJ, once seen in the same light as GSP and Anderson Silva as an unbeatable, mythological figure, has fallen on tough times in recent years. The roots of his problems may be traced to facing GSP at a higher weight and losing in dominant fashion to a greased St. Pierre. Returning to his title weight, and meeting Frankie Edgar twice, showed that his brighter days may have been behind him. A knockout of Matt Hughes showed traces of his former, brilliant skill-set, but a draw with Jon Fitch and a loss to Nick Diaz proved what many had already known: Penn’s time as a dominant fighter were over. Family life and children beckoned. Penn retired in 2011, enjoyed Hawaiian life, and the sport moved on.
It would take a challenge from a dangerous MacDonald then, to lull Penn from his ideal life and back into the Octagon. The fire that was lit under Penn’s butt has shown he is not ready to go away just yet. What will his legacy be as a fighter? One win over Rory would easily thrust him back into the upper echelons of the welterweight division; it could end up being a hurdle that Rory may never recover from. On the other hand, a loss by Penn may be the end of the road for the future member of the UFC Hall of Fame.
Parallel to the Penn vs. MacDonald narrative is the story of Shogun and Gustafsson. Once one of the most feared fighters in Pride, Shogun unleashed violence aplenty on those naive enough to step into the ring with him. Heading to the UFC after Zuffa’s purchase of their former competitor in the world of MMA, his path has been less than perfect. A loss to Forrest Griffin, and a few wins over Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell, paved the way for a title fight against Lyoto Machida. Shogun dominated the champion, but ended up losing on one of the worst decisions in recent years. A rematch with Machida was quick and violent, and Shogun was the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. All that changed in one fight when Jon Jones took the belt and made Shogun look amateur in the process. Since then, he has been on the losing end of the 2011 fight of the year with Dan Henderson and knocked out Griffin and Brandon Vera.
Gustafsson’s seven fights in the UFC have resulted in a 6-1 record and the hype that he is the fighter that may finally take the title off of Jones. The rationale for this hype is simple: he is tall, has a long reach, is a skilled striker, and is racking up wins over a variety of names in a numerous fashions. To many, he is the European version of Jones, and has definitely not taken the road less traveled during his UFC journey. With a win over Shogun, he would officially be second in line for a title fight, although with how the UFC determines things, he might end up being first, hence the placement on such a prominent card.
For his part, Shogun doesn’t plan on losing, still envisions a rematch with the champion, and believes that fight would bear much different results than the first one.
On Saturday night, at UFC on Fox 5, either the dreams of two potential future championship challengers will be realized, or former champions will take a step back into the spotlight towards what they feel is rightfully theirs: another shot at the title.