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Why B.J. Penn will dominate Sean Sherk

icfc.jpg Normally when I write these prediction-essays, I don’t bother to do so unless I’m feeling a certain way about a fight that I know a lot of people feel differently about. Otherwise, what’s the point of going to such great lengths to outline a prediction that the vast majority supports?

For the main event of UFC 84 on May 24, going with the headline “Why B.J. Penn will beat Sean Sherk” is just too obvious. Sure, Sherk is a legit fighter and has a chance to win. It’s just that going into the fight, I haven’t spoken to too many people who believe that will actually be the case.

As such, I’ve decided to go out on a limb and make things interesting by not only predicting that Penn will beat Sherk, but that he will do it in a dominant fashion that will be reminiscent of how he beat Jens Pulver and Joe Stevenson. Meaning, B.J. not only wins, but he wins big.

The more and more I analyze this fight, I just don’t see many ways for Sherk to win. For me, I see only two areas for Penn that are of concern. The first area is quite obvious, which is Penn’s cardio. However, since dropping to ’55, Penn hasn’t rested on his laurels and his god given fighting skills. He’s spent more time in the gym because he knows he can’t take as many liberties when he has 15 additional pounds to cut.

I also believe that some of Penn’s weight and conditioning issues stemmed from the fact that at one point, fighting became too easy for him. He was such a step above his competition that it’s possible he began to cut corners. While it’s not like I spent any time in Hawaii with the guy, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say he didn’t cut corners during his training camps for Pulver and Stevenson.

I also don’t believe he cut corners for Sherk, either. We all know about the animosity that exists between the two. When Penn gets pissed, that gives him additional incentive to get to the gym and push himself. He pushed himself to prove a point vs. Pulver and I think the fight vs. Sherk is every bit as personal. Maybe he’ll bury the hatchet with Sherk like he did after his fight vs. Pulver, but until the fight is behind them, I don’t see Penn losing his edge.

Based on Sherk’s reputation for being a beast when it comes to conditioning, I just don’t see Penn trying to help an opponent he wants to beat by giving him a way to win. If you thought Penn was pumped and primed for Pulver, I think you’ll see him fight like a man possessed vs. Sherk so that he can make a statement.

The other concern for Penn is what happens if Sherk puts him on his back and uses his outstanding wrestling skills to control him on the mat? If Sherk grounds the current lightweight champ, it’s going to be very tough for Penn to score points with the judges. And while I’ve read other pundits raising this concern, I do have to wonder, is this really that big of a concern?

You hear people talk about how being in Anderson Silva’s or Frank Mir’s guard can be a dangerous place for an opponent. Well, being in Penn’s guard isn’t exactly the safest place in the world, either. In competitive grappling, allowing your opponent to have top position so that you can “play the bottom” is a commonly utilized tactic. But you rarely see it in MMA because of the striking element on the ground. So while Penn will try to avoid allowing a stronger fighter put him in top position, I don’t think it will be the end of the world if Sherk is able to take him down.

Penn’s submission skills are simply amazing. And he’s mastered jiu-jitsu from a traditional standpoint. There are a lot of schools that teach jiu-jitsu, but many instructors these days focus too much on a No-Gi style that is derived from MMA. A lot of fighters coming up learn jiu-jitsu without ever wearing a Gi and are essentially being taught submission wrestling. As such, they never really learn how to properly work off their back. If you wonder why Anderson Silva is so dangerous off his back when his wrestling isn’t the best, it’s because he was taught traditional jiu-jitsu in its purest form.

If Sherk grounds Penn, he will have to remain active in order to prevent the referee from standing them back up. So he’s either going to have to strike Penn from inside his guard, or try to pass it. And I just don’t see Sherk’s ground and pound being overly effective vs. Penn from guard. While I’ve yet to see the two stand next to each other for an extended duration, my assumption is that Penn is the taller fighter. When Penn has a low guard and controls Sherk’s hips, I am wondering if Sherk’s arms will be long enough to extend to a point where they can get enough power behind them to do damage to Penn’s face.

He also must make sure that when he tries to strike Penn from his guard that he isn’t reckless with the punches and elbows that he throws. If he starts throwing wild punches, Penn could move to a high guard and open it when Sherk chambers his punch and then go for a triangle. If Sherk misses with an elbow, Penn could potentially catch him in a head and arm choke. I’m not predicting that the fight will end in either scenario, only pointing out that those are things Sherk must be mindful of.

From my perspective, I think Sherk is going to have to try and pass Penn’s guard if he wants to do serious damage while in top position. While Sherk’s submissions are decent, I don’t consider him a jiu-jitsu master. If he tries to break Penn’s guard, he does run the risk of getting submitted. Based on the strength of Penn’s guard, I don’t think top position will be the safe haven for Sherk that is has proven to be against so many other opponents. Yes, he’s fought fighters with good jiu-jitsu before, but never anyone like Penn.

If I was Sherk, I might try to avoid leg takedowns and instead try and body lock Penn and try and take him down with an inverted slam. By putting him down horizontially, he might be able to avoid Penn’s guard and move right into side control. But I’ve never really evaluated Sherk’s Greco Roman wrestling ability so I have no idea if this is even a feasible strategy. The point I am trying to convey is that if Sherk can somehow find a way to get Penn down in a position where he sets himself up to evade his guard, then I’ll feel better about his chances.

Now, if Sherk can’t get the fight to the ground, then Penn will win the fight and he will win it easily. Sherk’s boxing is decent but his striking has never been and likely will never be his strong suit. You also have to take into account the body type of each fighter and I expect Sherk to be the shorter fighter with Penn having a good reach advantage. Combine the fact that Penn is a stronger striker with more reach, and I can easily see Sherk finding himself in a situation where he could possibly get finished early on his feet.

The Muscle Shark’s only saving grace on the feet is that Penn may have to limit his combinations and not fully commit to kicks or punches in order to limit Sherk’s ability to attack his legs and take him down. If Penn fights smart, he won’t completely open up while standing until he hurts Sherk. As such, I can see Penn being cautious and patient early on and using his reach to pick a part Sherk standing. While such a strategy might not make for the most entertaining fight, it will allow Penn to score points and set himself up to take some chances later in the fight if he’s able to hurt Sherk.

While reading this, some critics are going to accurately point out that Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre controlled Penn on the ground through superior wrestling and that Sherk is also a great wrestler. But Hughes and Sherk are legitimate welterweights and this fight is being contested at 155 pounds. It’s also uncertain just how well Penn prepared for those fights. This isn’t the same fight and this isn’t the same B.J. Penn.

I know Sherk still has his fans, but this analysis isn’t based on popularity. Taking the personal element out of it, I just don’t see very many ways for Sherk to win this fight. Sorry Sherk fans, but lay and pray for 25 minutes isn’t an option.

My breakdown isn’t based on personal politics, as I am just calling it like I see it. And I see Penn wining via TKO in the fourth round.

  • Jay says:

    good article Sam!! I’m a Sean Sherk fan and I have to admit that it will be tough for him to win this fight.

    Would I be suprised if Sean won? No.

    any idea if the UFC is planning to bring Sherk back as soon as august for a home town fight in minnesota august 9th?

  • Sam Cupitt says:

    Don’t you go Caplan Cursing Penn now.

  • Derek B. says:

    This could be a candidate for fight of the year.

  • Si says:

    quick addition to the Hughes / GSP counter argument – both struggled until Penn gassed / got injured / whatever. Yup – Hughes and St Pierre are both extremely good wrestlers, but in the first rounds of both fights, they struggled with Penn’s stand-up and weird hopping take-down defense.

  • Mikee says:

    I agree 100%. During his commentary at UFC 80 when Sherk replied to Rogan and Goldberg saying that his boxing was better than Penn’s I was thinking to myself, “what else is this guy on other than steroids?!? He has got to be smoking something to make himself that dillusional.” Penn also had incredible takedown defense vs. Hughes and GSP, until his cardio ran out of course. Cardio hasn’t been an issue for him since coaching TUF 5 and will (hopefully) not be a factor in this match. One question I have been entertaining myself with though is with Sherk’s strength, extremely short arms, and gorilla like neck, what submissions will Penn be most likely looking for and realistically obtainable for him? I am predicting round 1 submission, rear naked choke.

  • ufcfan says:

    thanks sam for writing this…i am the biggest bj penn fan out there and need nice posts like this to remind that the bj is indeed the fav.

    but then again…you were also certain hendo would beat silva

    so this makes me nervous…


  • Kelvin says:

    Nice article.

  • Well said.

    Though the subject is right along there with an article on why cola tastes better than NyQuil.

  • Shaun says:

    bottom penn comes out top.
    sherk will be a game opponent but he’s getting an l.

    also you gotta do gi and no-gi to be a real ground specialist in my opinion.

  • calzaghe_ko says:

    good article. whilst i agree that penns cardio looks better than when he was at WW he hasnt been into round three in his two fights at LW, and lets not forget that many see sean sherk as setting the bar with his workouts, so improved cardio v arguably the best cardio in mma means it could still be an issue in a 5 round fight.

    also just to clear it up; penns coming in with a three inch height advantage at 5′ 9″

  • KOB says:

    I think everyone forgets BJ’s takedown defense. It is seriously amazing to watch. Hughes, who is a better wrestler than Sherk, had to really work to get him down.

    Even though Hughes won the 2nd fight after Penn gassed, he was almost submitted at the end of the first round. Everyone is quick to jump on BJ gassing early, with good reason. But I don’t think that happens at 155.

    Sherk’s also got to deal w/ ring rust and not having anything illegal in his system for this fight. That is also going to be a major hurdle in this fight.

    We are going to yet again see an incredible performance this year.

  • Ian says:

    Sam, you hit it dead on when you talk about Gi/No Gi BJJ. Big Nog is also another example of someone who obviously trained out of a Gi. So methodical and patient, and is never concerned about being on his back, and actually probably prefers it. Even in an mma fight.

    I feel much the same in terms of outcome. I think B.J. takes it in the first 2 rounds, completely dominating and controlling the action, but if this ends up going 3 or more, B.J. could fall victim to some nasty LnP, and just be completely empty for the 5th round.

    Sherk not having his “supplements” will take away some of his edge both mentally and physically, so I’m not too worried.

    B.J. will win for all that is righteous.

  • Fujin says:

    Nice article.

    Honestly, I don’t see Sherk being able to take down Penn. At least not being able to avoid getting his bell rung with an uppercut while he tries to shoot on BJ.

  • MMA SKOOL™ says:

    …If Sherk can even take him down in the first place.

  • ctownhood says:

    BJ Penn is the best pure fighter in the world (when motivated) in my honest opinion. He has too many skills for the Roid Shark, and really the only factor is his conditioning/cardio. He comes in this fight in shape, he wins.

  • OCD says:

    I agree with Ctownhood about BJ’s skill level. He is my favorite fighter.

    But, BJ’s conditioning is not MMA conditioning, and that is his problem. Even in shape he gets tired (he doesn’t train the right energy systems, phoso-creatine and fast and slow glycotic). He is in better shape, no doubt in the last few fights, but any serious exertion puts him under proving my point. Sherk’s is MMA conditioning, training the proper energy systems, and that will be the difference if the fight goes into later rounds.

    The roid factor is overblown with Sherk. What is not is his skill level, it’s just not BJ’s, but then again, who’s is? Matt Hughes showed us all that simply by outlasting BJ you can win. BJ beats himself.

  • Rich S. says:

    lay off the kool-aid guys…
    BJ Penn’s good..
    But Sean Sherk’s BIG..
    i know the point of JJ is to eliminate the struggles that the opponent’s size gives you.. but.. Sherk seems to override that every time..

    Yes… Penn did look way better conditioned in his fight with stevenson.. but Sherk’s more experienced than Stevenson.. and that only went to the second round.. We’ll see how good BJ’s conditioning is after he’s laid on by a 180lb 155’er for a few rounds..

    these guys have alot in common:
    Sherk’s only 2 losses are to 2 of the best WW’s in UFC history..
    Penn’s losses are from the same 2 WW’s as Sherk, 1 of the best LW’s in UFC history, and one of the best LHW’s right now..

    these guys only lose to the best..
    and right now, each of them are the best.. soo.. this one will be good.. but.. i think people are giving Penn way too much credit [i’m gonna take some major abuse for that line]

  • Sam Caplan says:

    Sherk more experienced than Stevenson? I know Joe is young, but he’s been fighting for a long time now and has a lot of fights under his belt.

  • Smokes says:

    Good article, a good deal of points that do prove Penn is the choice to win this. I do believe Sherk can do a body lock to take down Penn and it will reduce his ablility to sprawl and stop Sherk. Also I don’t see Penn having to many options for submission. Of course he could get into the hold but a RnC is a tough pull for someone who has a neck like Sherk. Not to mention I think alot of his sheer strength will prevent Penn for taking control of the fight. With Penn standing I think if he gets excited when he rocks Sherk could be a bad move. Sherk can get rocked but he also comes out of it quick and usually reacts by taking you down when your going all out offense. Bottom line? Sherk is still an underdog, but I don’t think is victory is unreasonable.

  • alex says:

    good article, but keep in mind the fact that Sherk did test positive for steriods. Getting off of the roids and then cutting weight has a HUGE effect on conditioning. Theres a huge chance that not only will Sherk get dominated, but will gas out.

  • Trevor says:

    I think it’s actually worse for Sherk than you make it out to be. He’s not a “great” wrestler, he’s a decent wrestler.

  • bjjdenver says:

    Don’t put to much stock in Sherk’s appearance. BJ is well known to have amazing strength and power, despite not having a bodybuilder physique.

    I don’t see Sherk overpowering BJ, I don’t see him outstriking him and I surely do not see him subbing him.

    Anything can happen in a fight, but i give the edge to BJ in all areas except conditioning, and I think even that will be satisfactory.

    I am anticipating this fight more than any in recent memory! Can’t wait!

  • Cobra Kai says:

    I don’t see why training without a gi makes you not like being on your back. I have only trained without a gi and I prefer to be on my back.

  • pr0cs says:

    I don’t really care who wins, I just want to see a good fight but I think a LOT of people are writing off Sherk and I think they may regret that decision (if they go into the fight unbiased to begin with).
    This will likely be the best Sherk people have ever seen (he was already a cardio monster to begin with). and he has a lot to prove so I expect him to just survive the storm the first rounds and drag Penn into deep water where he has always strugged in the past and where Sherk lives and excells.
    I’m not a fan of Sherk’s style but I have no doubt he’s going to do everything to frustrate Penn (and his fans) by grinding him out for the first 3 rounds and then putting on pressure to steal the fight from Penn in the 4th or 5th.

    Either way I’m excited for the fight, the 24th seems like a long ways away.

  • Owen says:

    Penn by TKO in the FOURTH?! i dont see anyway penn can win outside of the third round. yes he looks to be in shape at 155 but some ppl just naturally have better cardio then others. i believe that Penn can only last for 3 rounds tops. That being said, Penn by RNC in 2nd

  • Jye says:

    I also don’t think that Penn will win if the fight goes outside the third round, no offence but he never has proven once that he has good cardio. And there is a difference between saying that you have good cardio and dealing with Sean Sherk’s pace for 4+ rounds.

    I think the biggest problem for Sherk is going to be if he can’t get the takedowns consistently, Matt Hughes had a lot of troubles getting Penn down in their second fight and I consider Hughes the better and stronger wrestler. For Sherk to gas Penn out he needs to constantly force transitions as they take up the most energy.

    I still think that Penn will win but I’ll be going for Sherk. I don’t know why there’s so much hate for him and so much love for Penn when BJ comes across so arrogantly and Sherk seems like the much more honest, hard working, family man ( i know that’s ironic considering he got done for roids, but I’m one of those people that believes his side of the story)

  • MAJ3STIC says:

    Mahalo for the Awesome article! I believe Penn will win this fight with ease. Everyone talks about Penn gassing out on the 2nd Matt Hughes fight, but tend to forget that Penn injured his ribs in the 2nd round, and Rogan & Goldberg commented about BJ being in the best shape they’ve seen before the fight. He basically dominated Matt throughout the first round and after the injury in the 2nd started to fade. He lost fair and square but not because if him gassing! Now you take BJ at the top of his game, Steriods Shrek will definitely lose. It’ll be like when BJ Penn was a white belt beating black belts in a Jiu-Jitsu tournament years back (The video is on google). Anyhow great article and BJ Penn dominates! Hawaii Pride! Aloha!!

  • in four words yes…

  • Mikee says:

    Jye, never say never. “never proven once to have good cardio?” Are you kidding? I guess before you wrote that you neglected to remember that he went an entire 5 rounds with Pulver before and with Caol Uno! Both fights went the entire 5 rounds. In more recent bouts of his the majority of them went the entire 3 rounds against fighters such as Lyoto Machida, Renzo and Rodrigo Gracie. All three of those fights went the entire time and if you watch them he doesn’t look in bad shape at the end either. Those bouts were K-1 and Rumble on the Rock. He admitted himself that before returning to the UFC he had gotten lazy and didn’t train like he should’ve and that is why we saw conditioning problems and him strugggle because of those. With a fresh rededicated Penn we should expect nothing less than total preperation and him showing up able to finish this fight in whatever round it ends up going to.

  • kroyer says:

    i’m a huge penn fan and i guess you can say i’m a sherk fan, i don’t have any dislike for him. i feel penn wins within 2 similiar to the stevenson fight. penn’s talent is head and shoulders over the rest and i believe he is finally training like he want to be a champion. if he is training the way i believe he is i don’t see anyone beating him at 155 – period! the fans are truly going to be the winner here as well, this fight will probably a strong candidate for fight of the year.

  • dice says:

    # 18 Sam Caplan Says:
    May 12th, 2008 at 12:09 pm
    “Sherk more experienced than Stevenson? I know Joe is young, but he’s been fighting for a long time now and has a lot of fights under his belt.”

    I personally don’t care how many fights you have under your belt, I look at how many quality opponents you have faced. While you are correct that Joe Daddy is not a newcomer; his experience in big fights against high level competition is not even comparable to Sherks. Sherk has fought (and beaten) some of the best: Diaz, GSP, Hughes, Karo. Stevensons record (excluding Penn of course) is filled with zero elite fighters.

    I can’t think of a more under rated fighter than Sherk. I know he is not the most exciting guy out there, but he is tough as nails. His victory over Florian is looking more and more impressive, since Ken Flo is now cleaning out the division. He stopped (not litterally) a red hot Franca (yes while on roids) who had finished his last 8 opponents (some of names on that list you might recognize: Ryan Schultz, Nate Diaz, Spencer Fisher).

    I know Penn is infinitely more popular than sherk (and a lot more fun to watch). But Sherk is pissed. And I think those who think that Penn is going to run through him have another thing coming. Penn is probably more talented than sherk, and will win a round of two. But Sherk will be pushing him the whole fight and will eventually break him.

  • Sam Caplan says:

    Any experience advantage that Sherk might have over Stevenson is marginal, at best.

  • Derek B. says:

    “I personally don’t care how many fights you have under your belt, I look at how many quality opponents you have faced.”

    Yea, but I don’t think that Sherk can dominate Stevenson in a fight. I haven’t seen a really dominating performance from Sherk since 2005 when he fought Joel Blanton who’s record is a embarrassing 8-8.

    Sherks last 3 wins in the UFC were all decision. I don’t think he’s able to give that crowd pleasing finish like he use to. He’s fighting top competition and I think its exposing alot of his weaker sides in him.

    Just look at when he fought Franca…he didn’t even come close to dominating the fight if you ask me…and Franca didn’t even train to 100% for his fight and was suffering from an injury during the fight.

    If Sherk loses to Penn you can bet that Silva will be interested in setting up a fight between him and Stevenson.

  • dice says:

    Nice post Sam. Really cleared things up. Sherks experience is only marginally (at best) than stevenson, despite what each of their records tells us?

    The knock on Stevenson when he was going to fight Penn was that he had yet to face a top tier opponent. Yet Sherk goes into this fight having fought some of the best in the world. I don’t understand how this isn’t trivial. If maybe you could elaborate on why Stevenson and Sherk have comparable experience please go ahead and do so. While Sherk was fighting the “most dominant welterweight of all time”, Joe Daddy was in GC and KOTC, fighting mid level opponents. Excluding Penn, has Joe daddy even fought anyone on the same level as franca or Florian (I have 6 guys on Sherks list of opponents who are about a level or 2 above anyone Joe daddy fought before Penn)?

    Derek B. , your reply barely merits a response. Just because a guy wins by decisions doesn’t mean that he is not dominating. Does anyone say that Fedor didn’t dominate Nog twice because he won by decision both times?

    The facts directly dispute your claim that sherk has not been dominating lately.

    His last 3 fights have been against guys who are in or around the Top 10 (diaz, franca, florian). How many unanimous rounds have these guys won against Sherk? Zero. Yes you read that right, the guy who “didn’t even come close to dominating” hasn’t lost a unanimous round in his last 3 fights. He swept Diaz on all 3 score cards, lost 1 round on 2 scorecards to Florian and lost 1 round on 1 scorecard to Franca.

    I knew as soon as I read this statement “I don’t think he’s able to give that crowd pleasing finish like he use to.” that you were not being serious. When has sherk ever been known to give “crowd pleasing finishes”? He is known as a ground and pound guy who doesn’t knock people out standing up.

  • true mma fan says:

    ok dice i can see how you think you have some valed points but i am wondering if you were watching the same fights i was cause first of all sherks lay and pray tactics are not dominating 2nd for the franca fight in most maybe not all franca won 2 rounds and maybe more you can’t base your conclusion off of what the judges think cause i can point out a few fights where judges were completley wrong in all aspects of the fight. 3rd bj has a total different style that sherk has never and will never be able to prepare for. 4th joe stevenson al although you may not agree with but he has dominated in all of the fights that he has had and dominated in quick fashion and you are saying sherk beat gsp matt hughs thats a laugh cause from what i remember hughs who was never a pounder dominated sherk and also gsp mutilated sherk and stopped him in beautiful fashion enough for sherk to be scared and go down in weight . how can you say that sherk can even come close to the skill set of bj cause from a true mma fan stand point just the 2 fighters that i just mentioned sherk lost to and lost to badley and bj dominated both of them in the beginning of all 3 fights. bj beat matt hughs and sherk couldn’t even come close he brutilized gsp for the beginning and gassed but never gave up and sherk just got humiliated by gsp. tell me this who else in the fairy world you live in has ever been able to go up to 205 from 155 and take a take a great fighter on and not get their ass beat it would never be sherk cause he got his ass handed to him in his own weight division so lets try to beat up on people who are smaller then me oooh yeah and cheat w(steroids) i am not a bj penn fan and not a sherk hater but i am just a mma fan i have been watching this shit from the beginning and i’m not talking about the dana white era i saw #1 live and i bet you didn’t even know about this stuff till dana white and the tuf show came out i understand sorta where you are coming from on the stevenson thing but look at it this way dana white has 250 ppl under contract always and none of the guys in the ufc are slouches wec is a smaller franchise with fighter that all want to be in ufc but i bet you put uriah faber in the ring with sherk and faber would win

  • Sean Paul Entertainment…

    I Googled for something completely different, but found your page?and have to say thanks. nice read?…


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