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UFC 101:

Quite an encore

B.J. Penn wasn’t about to let Anderson Silva steal all of the spotlight

Image

Alejandro A. Alvarez / Philadelphia Daily News

BJ Penn puts Kenny Florian in a rear-naked choke during their lightweight championship fight on Aug. 8, 2009. Penn retained the title with a submission victory.

A Declaration of Dominance

The UFC made its Philadelphia debut Saturday with UFC 101, which saw two headlining fights live up to their billing thanks to a first-round knockout by Anderson Silva and a fourth-round submission by B.J. Penn.

UFC 101: Declaration

BJ Penn clocks opponent Kenny Florian during their main event bout Aug. 8, 2009, at the Wachovia Center. Penn went on to win, retaining his championship belt. Launch slideshow »

Sun Expanded Coverage

He didn't say it, but B.J. Penn was probably less than thrilled when he heard the roar of the Philadelphia crowd from his locker room bathroom Saturday night before watching Anderson Silva saunter in.

As if there wasn't enough pressure on Penn already -- following a miserable loss in his last fight with George St. Pierre, and facing an opponent as hot as Kenny Florian -- now he had to follow the Silva Show.

Thanks Anderson.

"When Silva started fighting I walked into the bathroom because I didn't want to see what was happening. I wanted to stay focused," Penn said. "But then I heard the crowd and the next thing I see is Anderson walking in and he goes, 'Now it's your turn.'

"That's a tough act to follow, huh?"

Penn may not have finished Florian in the first round as Silva was able to do with Forrest Griffin in the co-main event of the UFC's first-ever show in Pennsylvania, but his performance Saturday at the Wachovia Center was nearly as impressive. In a fight many fans expected to be close, Penn dominated for three rounds before decisively finishing off his Boston-based opponent in the fourth.

Even with Silva highlights still playing in everyone's head, Penn had no trouble bringing the crowd to its feet when he slipped behind Florian and worked for the rear-naked choke that ended the fight.

"B.J. Penn and Anderson Silva are two guys that when they don't do what I think they should do, I'm going to let them know about it," said UFC President Dana White. "Well, tonight I'm going to let them know that, 'Wow. I am blown away by both of their performances tonight.'"

While Silva entered the weekend under scrutiny as he wasn't living up to his fight-finishing talent, Penn stepped into the Octagon needing to prove he still had some.

After being physically and mentally broken down by GSP in January, it seemed that fans had forgotten that Penn had won nine out of his past 11 fights in the lightweight division.

"This fight was very important in that aspect," said Penn, who improved to 14-5-1 in MMA. "After you get a loss like I had it's very important to come back. I wasn't used to going places and hearing fans booing. I wanted to come back and show everybody that I am still a fighter. Fighting is my life."

Although the loss to St. Pierre threw Penn into what he admitted was a deep depression, it may end up turning him into the best fighter he's ever been.

Critics and Penn fans alike blamed Penn's performance, at least in part, to his lazy training schedule.

After bringing in new trainer Marv Marinovich for this fight, Penn never looked tired. He showed quite the endurance, defending a countless number of takedown attempts that Florian continued to pursue despite never successfully completing one throughout the fight.

"Kenny's confidence stayed pretty strong throughout the fight actually, he wanted to win tonight," Penn said. "I was kind of surprised that he was going to use that tactic (of attempting takedowns). He's not a Matt Hughes, he's not a GSP. I guess he was up there training with Georges so maybe that's the tactic he came up with, but I didn't think that was the best strategy for him."

Not only did Penn show incredible takedown defense, he remained patient throughout the fight — emulating the confidence of a fighter who knew it was only a matter of time before the fight would be ready for a finish.

"My brother (J.D.) actually told me before the fourth round, 'Let's go, let's give him another look, let's take him down,'" Penn said. "We kind of felt that if we got him down, that would be the beginning of the end for him. I just didn't want to go for that takedown too early and get tired. But before the fourth round my brother decided let's take him down this round and put him away."

Penn may not have the same options in the welterweight division he used to, given the emergence of a nearly unbeatable champion in St. Pierre, who has the potential to rule the division for a long time to come.

He does, however, have the opportunity to display the same dominance in his own division, presumably starting with a third title defense against Diego Sanchez (White announced in the post-fight press conference Sanchez was likely next in line).

At 30 years old, Penn proved he had more in the gas tank than a lot of people were giving him credit for.

"I believe so, without a doubt," said Penn, on whether he would continue to fight at the level he did Saturday. "I need to keep moving forward. One thing about being in this sport is that for so long you see these young guys are passing you by. I have to stay on the cutting edge."

Maybe that was Silva's plan the entire time — add that little bit of extra pressure to a fighter he knew would respond to the challenge.

"I think B.J. went out and proved that there's nobody in the world that can beat him," Silva said. "He did a job well done and I'm a big fan of B.J."

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or [email protected].

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