Penn, Mir appear to only be getting better
The big winners coming out of Saturday’s UFC 107 were B.J. Penn and
Frank Mir, both of whom impressed with dominant victories over
Penn confirmed his mastery over the lightweight division with
a 22-minute dissection of Diego Sanchez while Frank Mir only needed
72 seconds to defeat dangerous striker Cheick Kongo. They were the
two fighters that everyone was talking about after the event, and
strangely much of what was being said applied to both fighters.
Firstly their victories showed the importance of genuine
boxing skills in mixed martial arts. While there are plenty of
heavy hitters in MMA and often fighters will get the crowd to their
feet by letting their hands go and just exchanging, boxing does not
come naturally to most fighters.
Many struggle to properly set up combinations with their
punch selection and footwork or protect themselves with effective
head movement. Mir and Penn showed that developing a technical
understanding of boxing can reap just as many benefits as having a
top-notch wrestling or submission game.
Regarded by many (including legendary boxing trainer Freddie
Roach) as the best boxer in MMA, Penn used his boxing to control
his fight and was able to land numerous hard uppercuts and jabs
while also avoiding the wild punches of the challenger. Mir used
his boxing to exploit the deficiencies in Kongo’s stance to hit a
devastating left hand square on the Frenchman’s chin in the opening
seconds of their contest. Both fighters showed that more than just
punching heavy can be brought into the octagon from boxing, and
other fighters would do well to learn from them.
The reaction that both Penn and Mir received shows that fans
are far from quick to write off a fighter after a bad loss. Penn
was looking to further re-establish his credibility as a genuine
contender for best pound-for-pound fighter after his overwhelming
loss at the hands of Georges St-Pierre in January while Mir was
fighting for the first time since being dismantled by Brock Lesnar
at UFC 100.
And yet despite the setbacks they were both treated as
superstars by the Memphis crowd. The reactions to both Mir and Penn
once again showed that thanks to the UFC’s policy of making
competitive matches and its emphasis on the theme of redemption
that a fighter can retain fan interest and an elite status even
after a bad loss.
Above all, the renewed success of Penn and Mir showed that
all the talent in the world will only be fulfilled with a lot of
hard work. Both fighters were for years cited as underachievers
with suspect dedication in training causing them to lose matches to
less gifted fighters. When Mir returned to the octagon after his
motorcycle accident he gained a reputation for being gym-shy after
turning up to fights visibly out of condition. That’s not a charge
that could be made as he entered the octagon on Saturday as he’d
successfully added 20 pounds of muscle after an intensive weight
lifting regime designed to help him match the size and power of
superheavyweights such as Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin.
And that extra strength helped him apply and maintain a tight
guillotine on the powerful Kongo.
For Penn, his stamina had always been held up as the one
weakness in his game with many believing that if you could take the
fight to the later rounds then fatigue would make him make a big
mistake. Having implemented a new cardio training regime in his
past two training camps, the improvements in Penn’s stamina are
clearly evident. Penn was able to go five rounds without tiring and
when he went to finish the fight early in the fifth round he had
enough energy to increase the pace of the fight at the crucial
Whether it’s Penn fighting for his legacy or Mir fighting for
revenge, they both finally have the ambition they’ve always needed
to ensure that they stay focused and committed. With both fighters
finally putting in the hard work to make the most of their immense
talents, 2010 should be bring more success for Mir and Penn.