Note to self – A battle of champions

Brian Murphy

Brian Murphy

Sadly, the majority of the country will be focused on Tampa when the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII this weekend.

I say sadly because there’s a very real chance that the game will be a letdown and the only reason folks will stay tuned for the second half is the commercials. Although I like the Cardinals in an upset, the Steelers defense is good enough to win this game without the Pittsburgh offense ever having to take the field.

That’s why I am highly suggesting to my friends and family that if they only watch one sporting event this weekend they forgo the Super Bowl and tune in to UFC 94 Saturday night. Unlike the NFL’s title game pitting a five-time Super Bowl champ versus a perennial loser (three impressive playoff wins don’t negate more than 60 years of ineptitude), this card features a main event showcasing two of the most established names in the business.

For those not familiar, UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre will square off against UFC lightweight champion BJ Penn for St-Pierre’s title Saturday night in Las Vegas. If this match lives up to the hype, then those who tune in will witness the fight of the year as two of the top names in the UFC step into the octagon for a rematch of their 2006 fight.

St-Pierre, who is originally from Quebec, Canada, has a 17-2 record in mixed martial arts fights and is basically a more bad-ass version of every character Jean-Claude Van Damme ever played. Penn is from Kailua, Hawaii, has a 13-4-1 record and is currently the number-one ranked lightweight fighter in the world.

Over his last three fights Penn has dominated his opponents, winning by knockout once and submission twice. The one noteworthy aspect of those three victories is that each came in the 155 lb. class. This fight however will be in the 170 lb. welterweight class, which hasn’t been as kind to Penn. His last two battles in that weight class were both losses – to Matt Hughes and St-Pierre back in 2006.

At UFC 58, St-Pierre defeated Penn via split decision to become the number-one contender for the welterweight title he currently holds. Penn dropped down a weight class after the loss and beat down Jens Pulver, Joe Stevenson and Sean Sherk. The Stevenson win earned Penn the lightweight belt and made Penn one of only two fighters to win a UFC title in two different weight classes. If he beats St-Pierre Saturday night, Penn will become the first champ in history to hold two different UFC belts at the same time.

St-Pierre may be soft spoken out of the octagon, but his skills in it speak for themselves. He can trade blows standing up for five rounds or he can hit the mat and make his opponent submit. At just 27-years-old, he’s easily one of the UFC’s most well-rounded fighters and yet somehow remains humble. He’s confident in his abilities, but never disrespectful.

While St-Pierre won the first matchup, a repeat isn’t automatically guaranteed. Both fighters have improved by leaps and bounds since their 2006 battle (people forget that they weren’t even the main event that night). These days, both fighters excel on the ground, whether we’re talking Jiu-Jitsu or old-school wrestling. Both fighters also possess above average abilities standing up, so it’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out.

I tend to think that St-Pierre will win by decision, mainly because he’s more comfortable at 170 lbs. But it also wouldn’t surprise me at all if Penn comes out and shows that he’s got the endurance to last five five-minute rounds against one of the best in the business. Bottom line, this is must-see TV.

And just because you don’t have 50 bucks laying around to spend on a pay-per-view doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. One of the best kept secrets is that most Hooters show the fights for free. You get great scenery, decent food and can use your money on beer instead of your cable bill. Seriously, what’s not to love?

Instead of getting your hopes up for an entertaining Super Bowl, do yourself a favor and plan your weekend around the St-Pierre-Penn fight. Even if you’re not a big-time UFC fan, you should tune in for this one. Unless the Carolina Panthers cheerleaders are in town again, it’ll provide way more action and excitement than anything happening in Tampa the following day.

Brian Murphy is an award-winning sportswriter who also goes by the name Homer McFanboy. Contact him at murf@homermcfanboy.com.

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