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UFC 63: Matt Hughes vs. B.J. Penn

By Cliff Montgomery, ExtremeProSports.com
It's rare when an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event is discussed almost solely as a single fight; but this is indeed true of UFC 63.

UFC 63: Hughes vs. Penn is an upcoming Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) event to be held by the UFC on Saturday, September 23, 2006. The event takes place at the Arrowhead Pond, in Anaheim, California and will be broadcast live on pay-per-view in the United States and Canada.

If you remember that originally this event was subtitled "Hughes vs. St. Pierre," and was supposed to feature a UFC Welterweight Title match between champion Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre, don't worry--you're not crazy. If you recall everything, you know that this fight was first announced at a Toronto, Canada press conference on April 7, 2006.

So what happened? Simply stated, a groin injury suffered by St. Pierre"first reported in early August"was the cause of the unraveling. At first, St. Pierre sought a physiotherapist, hoping the injury would heal on its own during training; but it was simply not to be. St. Pierre had no choice but to announce that he would have to withdraw from his long-awaited title shot.

Of course, this turn of events meant that someone would have to take St. Pierre's place, someone who could still put the asses in the seats when they're going up against Matt Hughes, perhaps the UFC's most dominant fighter in any division. Enter former UFC Welterweight Champion B.J. Penn.

Penn was the last man to defeat Hughes, in a January 2004 championship match for those of you who've forgotten. Will lightening strike twice? It's entirely possible, although Penn has been having professional and personal troubles of late, and--as Hughes' many fans are quick to point out--was himself beaten by St. Pierre earlier this year.

Hughes is clearly today's dominant UFC welterweight, but he had likewise won an amazing string of victories before that loss to Penn in 2004. As for Penn, while it's true that two years is not terribly long to the rest of us, it can be a lifetime for a fighter. The only real test will come on September 23.

So who has the edge? Let's review.

Standup

The game of 'standup' is essentially boxing, so the real question is who is the better boxer. Boxing is a combination of punching power, speed, and skill. The man who best shows these three qualities will be the better boxer.

When it comes to "heavy hands," there's little doubt that Penn outstrips Hughes. Current champ Hughes does show consistently improving standup skills, but Penn has become known for being able to both take and give out massive shots.

Overall skill and speed are different factors though, and here Matt's improving standup abilities via his training in the Miletich Fighting System may shine better. Many a time a good boxer has been able to frustrate a superior hitter.

Having said that, it would probably best serve Hughes to stay away from one of Penn's top strengths, and force his opponent to a showdown of wrestling and ground-and-pound skills.

Though Hughes has much improved in this area recently, you'd probably be advised to give the nod to Penn here.

Wrestling

If punching power is Penn's realm, wrestling skill is Hughes' real ticket to the show. The champ possesses a combination of crunching takedowns, tremendous ground-and-pound abilities and a huge well of strength that he often taps to take even the best foes to the mat early in the match.

Penn won't out-wrestle him--that's a given. But he may utilize his fine takedown defense skills to stay on his feet and force Hughes to fight a standup war. Edge: Hughes.

Conditioning

No one can deny that Penn is a top UFC fighter, with the necessary conditioning and stamina any grade-A athlete needs to succeed. Having said that, it is true that when you see Penn in boxing trunks, your first thought is that this man likes his doughnuts.

Conditioning has haunted him in the past. Penn lost a close decision to St. Pierre at UFC 58 due to his relatively poor cardio system.

Matt by contrast is known for being one of the best physical specimens in the business. Edge: Hughes.

Hughes is stunningly consistent, but Penn's power and grit make him capable of amazing feats in his fights. We'll soon see who wins this time around.

Announced match-ups

Main card

* Welterweight Championship bout: Matt Hughes vs. B.J. Penn
* Middleweight bout: David Loiseau vs. Mike Swick
* Light Heavyweight bout: Rashad Evans vs. Jason Lambert
* Lightweight bout: Jens Pulver vs. Joe Lauzon
* Lightweight bout: Gabe Ruediger vs. Melvin Guillard

Preliminary card

* Lightweight bout: Roger Huerta vs. Jason Dent
* Heavyweight bout: Eddie Sanchez vs. Mario Neto
* Lightweight bout: Jorge Gurgel vs. Danny Abbadi
* Lightweight bout: Tyson Griffin vs. David Lee


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