UFC Fight Night Phoenix Preview – The Prodigy Returns

The UFC has started off with a bang already, and a full calendar year of fights is going to rock us throughout 2017. To kick things off with gusto, Dana White and company are bringing us the highly anticipated return of BJ Penn at UFC Fight Night Phoenix. It's a decent card worth filling up your Saturday night with. This event will come to you live from the Talking Stick Resort Arena in Arizona this Saturday, January 15th beginning around 9pm EST.

BJ Penn +350 over Yair Rodriguez -500
I happen to hold a very unpopular opinion of BJ Penn. While I have a certain amount of reverence for what he's done in the sport of MMA, I don't consider him one of the best of all time. His three losses to Frankie Edgar severely dented his aura as the best lightweight fighter in my mind, despite however controversial you think some of those decisions were. I also thought that he was a whiny baby after losing to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 94.

There's just a lot of weird chatter that comes out of his corner during losses, and there are a lot of losses on this guy's track record. At 16-10-2, Penn has gone 1-5-1 in his last 7 fights before retiring in 2014. He ended his career in a dark place, which is understandable given that he rose to the top during a time in the UFC when competition wasn't the caliber it's become today. Penn was undoubtedly one of the best at the time, but the rest of field caught up to him pretty quick.

I'm not really here to say that Penn is "this" or "that". Everyone's allowed to have their preferences, and he's just not within mine. So why am I backing him at UFC Fight Night Phoenix against Yair Rodriguez?

At 24-years-old, Rodriguez is a menace in the making. His 8-1 record over 9 fights doesn't really have a marquee name on it yet. He's also coming off a split decision against Alex Caceres from August 2016 that has somewhat hitched his momentum. By all accounts, Rodriguez deserves to be favored in this fight. He's young, talented, hitting his prime and ready for the big stage.

However, I have two main issues with Rodriguez. He's fought in the UFC five times, and while he remains undefeated during that run Rodriguez has earned two split decisions. Two others have been unanimous and another was earned via TKO, but a fighter who can't decisively prove that he's won a fight against second tier competition is not truly worth investing in from my standpoint.

And for all the Penn bashing and hating you might think I have festered inside of me, I absolutely love it when veterans come back to the sport to see what they have left. Penn is a legend, regardless of what I think of him, and I'm willing to walk on the wild side one more time with him. Rodriguez is a talented prospect, but he has a lot to prove before he steps up in the ranks. The favorite looks like a lock from the odds, but he's far from it.

Got to bat with Penn one more time just for the hell of it.

Marcin Held +105 JOE LAUZON -135
The 24-year-old Marcin Held is a Bellator prospect who debuted (but was not a part of) TUF: Latin America 3 Finale before losing to Diego Sanchez. He's an interesting fighter, and someone that's perfect for Lauzon to measure. Either Held gets evaporated by Lauzon's ground game the same way he couldn't match Sanchez, or he's learned from his mistakes and gives the veteran favorite a run for his money.

I'm willing to wager on the dark horse of this card and bank on his potential. Held has seemed more than competent and is a rigorous grappler that can go toe-to-toe with someone like Lauzon. You have to imagine that he's benefited from the loss to Sanchez in some sort of cerebral capacity.

Ben Saunders -120 over Court McGee -110
Saunders is matchup nightmare for McGee and the UFC Fight Night Phoenix odds are close enough that you can take the younger fighter over the veteran. At 6-foot-3 and a solid reach advantage over the 5-foot-11 McGee, Saunders can use the distance to control the match and keep it from going to the ground. McGee is tough as nails, but Saunders will get enough points to earn the decision.

Augusto Mendes +120 over Frankie Saenz -150
Augusto Mendes is a complete unknown in the UFC, relatively speaking. But I hate the proposition of betting on Frankie Saenz.  The 36-year-old is coming off of two losses to Eddie Wineland and Urijah Faber and doesn't have anything really notable in his arsenal to warrant a wager. Kick off your UFC Fight Night Phoenix betting with a take on Mendes.