The big winners coming out of UFC 107 were BJ Penn and Frank Mir, both of whom impressed with dominant victories over tough opponents. BJ Penn confirmed his mastery over the lightweight division with a twenty-two minute dissection of Diego Sanchez while Frank Mir only needed 72 seconds to defeat dangerous striker Cheick Kongo. They were the two fighters that everyone was talking about after the event, and strangely much of what was being said applied to both fighters.
Firstly their victories showed the importance of genuine boxing skills in mixed martial arts. While there are plenty of heavy hitters in MMA and often fighters will get the crowd to their feet by letting their hands go and just exchanging boxing does not come naturally to most fighters. Many struggle to properly set up combinations with their punch-selection and footwork or protect themselves with effective head movement. Frank Mir and BJ Penn showed that developing a technical understanding of boxing can reap just as many benefits as having a top-notch wrestling or submission game. Regarded by many (including legendary boxing trainer Freddie Roach) as the best boxer in MMA, BJ Penn used his boxing to control his fight and was able to land numerous hard uppercuts and jabs while also avoiding the wild punches of the challenger. Frank Mir used his boxing to exploit the deficiencies in Cheick Kongo’s stance to hit a devastating left hand square on the Frenchman’s chin in the opening seconds of their contest. Both fighters showed that more than just punching heavy can be brought into the Octagon from boxing, and other fighters would do well to learn from them.
The reaction that both BJ Penn and Frank Mir received shows that fans are far from quick to write off a fighter after a bad loss. BJ Penn was looking to further re-establish his credibility as a genuine contender for Best Pound for Pound Fighter after his overwhelming loss at the hands of George St Pierre in January while Mir was fighting for the first time since being dismantled by Brock Lesnar at UFC 100. And yet despite the setbacks they were both treated as superstars by the Memphis crowd with Frank Mir having done much to build interest in the event with his baiting of Kongo and BJ Penn being a heavy crowd favorite. The reactions to both Mir and Penn once again showed that thanks to the UFC’s policy of making competitive matches and its emphasis on the theme of redemption that a fighter can retain fan interest and an elite status even after a bad loss.
Above all, the renewed success of BJ Penn and Frank Mir showed that all the talent in the world will only be fulfilled with a lot of hard work. Both fighters were for years cited as underachievers with suspect dedication in training causing them to lose matches to less gifted fighters as a result of poor conditioning. When Mir returned to the Octagon after his motorcycle accident he gained a reputation for being gym-shy after turning up to fights visibly out of condition. That’s not a charge that could be made as he entered the Octagon on Saturday as he’d successfully added 20Ibs of muscle after an intensive weight lifting regime designed to help him match the size and power of superheavyweights such as Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin. And that extra strength helped him apply and maintain a tight guillotine on the powerful Cheick Kongo. For BJ Penn, his stamina had always been held up as the one weakness in his game with many believing that if you could take the fight to the later rounds then his tiredness would create openings by forcing Penn to make a mistake. Having implemented a new cardio training regime in his past two training camps the improvements in Penn’s stamina were self evident. Penn was able to go five rounds without tiring and when he went to finish the fight early in the fifth round he had enough energy to increase the pace of the fight at the crucial moment.
At the heart of this renewed dedicated is the concentration and determination that comes with burning ambition. BJ Penn feels that he was disrespected in the build-up and aftermath of the Georges St Pierre fight and wants to ensure that he is recognized as not only the greatest lightweight fighter of all time but a genuine contender for the title ‘Best Pound for Pound Fighter’. Frank Mir is determined to secure a third match with the currently injured Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar and so have the opportunity to avenge the loss he suffered in July. Whether its Penn fighting for his legacy or Mir fighting for revenge, they both finally have the ambition they’ve always needed to ensure that they stay focused and committed. With both fighters finally putting in the hard work to make the most of their immense talents 2010 should be bring more success for Frank Mir and BJ Penn.