First things first: I scored the fight last night between B.J. Penn and Jon Fitch for Penn. Penn clearly won the first on aggression, takedowns, back control and even some decent striking. The second round was a tougher choice, but Penn had takedowns there, again back control and while Fitch landed more strikes than he did in the first (both standing and on the ground), I didn't see that as enough to give him the nod. The third was all Fitch, but without positional advancement or Penn being on queer street, scoring that a 10-8 seems awfully misguided.
"I didn't think it was a draw," White told ESPN.com. "I looked at the scorecards and the two judges who had it a draw scored the first two rounds for Penn and the third round a 10-8 [for Fitch].
"Personally, I scored the first two rounds for Penn and had him winning the fight. There's no doubt B.J. got pounded in the third round, but that wasn't a 10-8 round."
We already know FightMetric says both White and I are wrong given Fitch's dominant third round performance.
Why bring up all of this? I think Penn's future as a fighter is not particularly bright. Penn's talent is, naturally, not a liability, nor is his gameness. His strategy last night was superb and at least on my scorecard, won him the fight. I do not bring up the scoring to skew the perception of what happened. But the reality is clear: Penn did not do enough to merit moving fully into the next chapter of his career as a fighter. He performed well, but that is not enough.
Yet, let's look at where matters are headed. Georges St. Pierre should defeat Jake Shields at UFC 129, thereby moving to middleweight and vacating the title. Rather than Penn vs. Fitch determining who the number one contender is for the title, the entire UFC 127 event sorted that out. That is, Carlos Condit is injured, so he can't contend. Chris Lytle was upset last night and it's a stretch to think Brian Ebersole will contend for a title. Diego Sanchez still has rebuilding to do and has to get past Martin Kampmann. The two top contenders for a vacant welterweight title, in other words, are B.J. Penn and Jon Fitch.
If they do rematch and if they do so for GSP's vacant strap, the next fight will be five rounds. As we saw last night, that architecture clearly serves Fitch's interests. Moreover, much of Penn's early success last night was predicated on the element of surprise. He'll be hard pressed to replicate that against Fitch in their second meeting.
I realize I'm burying a surefire UFC hall of famer before a second fight has even taken place, but here's the reality: I favor Fitch heavily in the rematch. And if that happens, the calculus for Penn changes dramatically. While Penn could be in interesting fights at either lightweight or welterweight, he'd be locked out of title contention in either.
That is significant. A fighter of Penn's caliber and accomplishment is not willing to co-main event against Martin Kampmann or Jim Miller. Moreover, there's a question about his desire:
"For me, it's the kind of things that run through your head," Penn said. "I'm 33 years old with a daughter. When am I going to stop this and go watch my daughter?
To be out of title contention after winning titles in two weight classes, already having achieved fame and earned money and facing the nagging voice in his head that beckons him to spend more time with his family creates a Penn who will likely not continue fighting.
If Penn beats Fitch in a rematch for the welterweight strap, then the contents of this post are worthless. But if Penn does lose to Fitch again or is stopped in championship rounds, the indications he gave last night post-fight make it seem very likely Penn's participation in MMA as a fighter is not long for this world.