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

tough opponents.

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

moment.

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.