For Matt Brown, Rory MacDonald, and Alexander Gustafsson, it was a night to remember. However, Mike Swick, BJ Penn, and Shogun Rua all had nights to forget Saturday night, and questions remain as to what’s next for each. Three seem to be at a crossroads and one seems likely to start over at the bottom.
Mike Swick has been on a heck of a ride since his fight with Paulo Thiago back in 2010. He was on the shelf for some 30 months, rehabilitating multiple injuries, and dealing with physical ailments that left his future in the world of MMA in doubt. He fought through all of that, making a triumphant return to action in August, defeating DeMarques Johnson by knockout in the second round. For fans of Mike Swick, it was an amazing night.
Saturday night he was matched up against Matt Brown, who seemed tailor made for Swick in terms of style. What nobody knew, is that Matt has stepped his game up, in a big way. Working with Matt Hume has taken his submission game to the next level, and Matt’s standup has always been functional, if not technical. That said, he looked very sharp Saturday and looks to be ready to take the next step. For Mike Swick however, the next step is tricky. Here is what I’d like to see.
Name two fighters who have the ability to finish at a moment’s notice, and who are struggling in recent contests. One is clearly Swick, who has lost three of four. The other has dropped three in a row, but would make a tremendous opponent for Swick, and the loser would be in danger of being let go. I’d be all in for a contest between Swick and a recovering Duane Ludwig, who is currently rehabbing an injured knee. The fight would be nonstop action, and the winner would have a new footing in the Welterweight division.
BJ Penn is a legend, and anyone who doesn’t feel as such doesn’t understand the sport. That said, it is very painful to see him continue to go out like this. Dana White has been quoted as saying he feels Penn should retire on the heels of his one sided loss to Rory MacDonald, but I think there is another option. It’s a radical option mind you, but recreating BJ Penn is the only viable option he has at this point. First, no more Welterweight fights. He’s outsized, plain and simple and it’s an uphill battle for him to consistently be outweighed by some 20 plus pounds and be at a significant reach disadvantage. He needs to refocus and fight at 145 pounds. Yes, I’m suggesting a move to Featherweight for BJ Penn.
Simply dropping the weight won’t get it done; he needs to make radical changes to his camp, and those who corner him. BJ Penn doesn’t need cheerleaders in his corner; he needs advice and game planning. I know BJ is surrounded by those he loves and trusts, but those guys are not empowering him, they are simply telling him what he wants to hear, and cheering him on like fans, rather than coaches. That has to stop if he’s going to reach great heights. So, assuming he can make the move to Featherweight, who should he face?
A matchup between BJ Penn and Chad Mendes would be interesting. Mendes would struggle to take Penn down, and while Mendes is always improving, he’d be at a disadvantage standing with Penn. BJ isn’t going to start at the bottom, so this would be a great fight to gauge his abilities at 145. A win for Penn would set him up with a title eliminator, and a loss would likely signify his end in the sport. Either way, it would be a fitting fight for him to either re-launch his career or say goodbye in a fair even contest. I’d pay to see it.
Mauricio Shogun Rua is a legend, and more than that, everything that’s right about MMA. He wears his massive heart on his sleeve, and fights every single fight like he’s in the lion’s den, fighting for life or death. He doesn’t know the word quit, and never fails to bring it. That being said, he lost a fight that career wise, is devastating Saturday night against upstart Alexander Gustafsson. Shogun is 5-5 in his ten fight UFC career and finds himself very much outside the title mix at 205 after his decision loss to Gustafsson, who will fight the winner of Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen down the line.
What does Shogun need to do in order to become more consistent and once again wear UFC gold? That’s something he needs to figure out, and sooner rather than later. He trains hard, and yet seems to at times suffer from a lack of condition in the cage. He striking is sharp and heavy handed, but he doesn’t seem to land as clean as he used to. His kicks and knees are devastating, but he isn’t putting the shots together like he did back in Pride. Whatever the missing ingredient is, he needs to get in the gym and find it. He doesn’t have time to waste.
Shogun is a star, and he can’t start over at the bottom. He gets paid too much for that. He needs to face a big name, and there are two available. Ryan Bader needs to get a win, after being defeated by Lyoto Machida, and if he’s going to take the next step, perhaps he needs to step up and face someone on Shogun’s level. More likely would be a fight with Thiago Silva, who would absolutely produce a tremendous fight with Shogun. It would be a fun standup clash, where someone would get knocked out. Shogun would be the favorite in both of these matches, and he needs a win at this point in his career.
Every single time we witness a great fight in the UFC, we’re witnessing someone’s hard work and blood, sweat and tears fall short. It brings home Wide World of Sports’ old adage of the “Thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Those that lose though can reinvent themselves, and come back to reach new heights. For Mike Swick, BJ Penn, and Shogun Rua, that seems to be the necessity. All I know is I respect all three, and will be watching if and when they try again.