Source: UFC

The return of Hall of Famer BJ Penn is finally here! It feels like we have been waiting forever, with his initial return first announced just under a year ago. Penn’s fight with TUF Latin America winner and number 10 ranked Featherweight Yair Rodriguez is the fourth fight he has been scheduled for, with bouts against veteran Dennis Siver, Cole Miller and title contender Ricardo Lamas all cancelled for various reasons.

So let’s take a look at UFC Fight Night Phoenix, break down the main card and try to pick the winner of every fight on the card.

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Yair Rodriguez 9-1 vs BJ Penn 16-10-2

NICK: This is kind of surreal, it’s difficult to believe the ‘Phenom’ BJ Penn is back in the UFC. Every part of me wants this to be a fairy tale comeback. For whatever reason, I’m also getting this weird feeling that he may actually just pull it off. He’s back with Jason Parillo and training with Jackson-Wink, which is sure to give him the perfect preparation for this fight. If were being realistic Rodriquez is probably the easiest fight on paper that Penn has had in a very long time. That’s taking nothing away from Rodriguez who is one hell of a talent, but with Penn’s most recent record were talking Frankie Edgar, Rory MacDonald, Nick Diaz, John Fitch and Matt Hughes, all at a larger weight. Rodriguez may have the talent, but he just doesn’t have that pedigree. This is definitely the toughest test of Rodriguez’ career, with his biggest victory so far being an impressive TKO over Andre Fili. Other that he’s had two split decision victories and a comprehensive decision win over Daniel Hooker. He certainly has some very flashy striking that will definitely cause Penn some headaches – quite very literally –  but he has shown some issues in the past with fighters that pressure him and get inside the pocket. However, he always seems to find an answer and in this fight he’ll have five rounds to find it. I really want to pull the trigger on Penn and I definitely think he’s a real chance here. But I’m going to take the age and “octagon rust” into account – if that’s really a thing – and predict that Rodriquez overcomes some scary moments in the opening two rounds to find some openings and connect with a flashy kick in the later rounds for the TKO victory. PREDICTION: Yair Rodriquez via TKO in Round 4

ZAC: There is a lot of unknowns for BJ coming into this fight, particularly when he hasn’t won a fight in the octagon since 2010. In his most recent fight he was completely dominated by Frankie Edgar and finished in the third round. Penn has made a major adjustment in the lead up to his comeback, changing camps from Hawaii to Jackson-Winkeljohn in Albuquerque New Mexico. In my opinion it was a great move for BJ, it’s one of the best camps in the sport and he can focus on his own training and not coaching like he did in Hawaii. Yair Rodriguez, winner of TUF Latin America is one of the hottest prospects in the division undefeated in the UFC with two fight of the nights and one performance of the night in his five fights. As far as the match up it’s a tough one to pick, if the animal we have seen from BJ Penn in the past turns up then Yair will be in for one hell of a night. I’m not counting on that though, going from what we have seen most recently. Penn will definitely have the advantage on the ground, his Jiu-Jitsu is second to none in the Featherweight division. I think Rodriguez will be too fast and crisp in the striking exchanges and that’s where he will win the fight in my opinion. PREDICTION: Yair Rodriguez via TKO in Round 2

Joe Lauzon 26-13 vs Marcin Held 22-5

NICK: The co-main event is a really underrated fight! Styles make match-ups and this fight is pitting together too very attack minded fighters. Should it end up on the canvas both guys have some flashy submission attempts and relentless BJJ. I kind of hope it does end up there, because it will be an absolute clinic for the purists. On the feet Lauzon probably has the edge with his crisp boxing in the pocket, but Held uses his range well. I think Held is definitely better than he showed against Sanchez, but I think Lauzon is probably a bridge too far at the stage. It’ll be a very competitive fight but I think Lauzon out points Held for a UD victory. PREDICTION: Joe Lauzon via unanimous decision

ZAC: I really like this fight! Joe Lauzon is just a great guy to watch, he’s been in bloody wars, technical grappling matches and everything in between. He smoked Diego Sanchez at UFC 200, the same fighter that Held lost a decision to in his UFC debut 2 months ago. Both guys are pretty evenly matched, being both dangerous on their feet and on the ground. Lauzon has Held covered in one area that counts for a lot though and that’s UFC experience. Expect an exciting fight with two guys who will do whatever it takes to get back into the win column. My money has to been on Lauzon, he’s a true veteran of the sport and is super dangerous. PREDICTION: Joe Lauzon via unanimous decision

Court McGee 19-5 vs Ben Saunders 19-7-2

NICK: Definitely the least interesting fight on this main card. Evenly matched and very difficult to pick though. You’ve got McGee with his relentless wrestling and clinch pressure and Saunders with the rangey striking and dangerous submissions. Really, anything could happen here. I’m literally torn about whether McGee grinds out a boring unanimous decision,  Saunders find a flashy submission or he keeps McGee at length and gets the best of the striking exchanges. The fact that two of the three scenarios I see are Saunders victories, I’m going to have to go with him for the win. PREDICTION: Ben Saunders via unanimous decision

ZAC: This is another tough fight to pick, both these guys are well-rounded and super tough. When you put two fighters together as evenly matched as this, anything can happen. McGee probably has the grappling advantage and Saunders in the striking. In saying that though Saunders has never been submitted and McGee has only been finished once. It’s very much a case of the Irresistible Force vs the Immovable Object. Such a difficult fight to pick and whoever shows up and wants it the most on the day, will take home the W. I’m Backing McGee in this one he’s shown some flashes of brilliance in a few of his fights, so I think he will get it done. PREDICTION: Court McGee via unanimous decision

John Moraga 16-5 vs Sergio Pettis 14-2

NICK: The main card has been given a Flyweight treat to kick off proceedings. The 32-year-old Moraga has had an impressive UFC career, featuring a title shot against Demetrious Johnson and impressive victories over Justin Scoggins and Dustin Ortiz. In fact when you take out the slip up in his last fight against Mattheus Nicola, Moraga’s only losses have come at the hands of Flyweight royalty in the form of the Champ, Benavidez and Dodson. Pettis on the other hand is at the fresh end of his career. The 23-year-old is yet to secure a really big scalp, but has had impressive victories over Chris Cariaso and Chris Kelades in his seven fight UFC career. Pettis has time on his side, but this is an opportunity to ignite a surge into the top ten and push his claims for a title shot. Along with Ben Nguyen, Pettis is one of my favorite prospects in the division. He’s ultra quick, with a very high volume and exceptionally well-rounded. If there are any questions around him, it may be that lack of finishing power to put the polish on his performances. Moraga presents an interesting challenge for him. Moraga has good hands too, but his output is nowhere near that of Pettis’. I think the wrestling of both guys will cancel each other out, particularly if Pettis wants to avoid the submission danger that Moraga presents. Consequently I think this fight stays on the feet and Pettis outworks Moraga for a unanimous decision victory. PREDICTION: Sergio Pettis via unanimous decision

ZAC: Another good match up on this card, between two fighters at very different places in their careers. Pettis has won his last two fights and is looking to move up the rankings and eventually earn a title shot. On the other hand Moraga has been there and done that, but he’s lost 3 of his last 6 since facing Mighty Mouse for the title, including two consecutive losses. He will be looking to turn it around and get his career back on track in this one. He is more than capable of doing so with his experience and skill set. Again it’s hard to pick a winner of this one, but I’m backing Moraga to turn things around. PREDICTION: John Moraga via unanimous decision

Fight Night Rodriguez vs Penn

 NICKZAC
Yair Rodriguez vs BJ PennRodriguezRodriguez
Joe Lauzon vs Marcin HeldLauzonLauzon
Court McGee vs Ben SaundersSaundersMcGee
John Moraga vs Sergio PettisPettisMoraga
Devin Powell vs Drakkar KloseKloseKlose
Frankie Saenz vs Augusto MendesSaenzSaenz
Aleksei Oleinik vs Viktor PestaOleinikOleinik
Tony Martin vs Alex WhiteMartinMartin
Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger vs Nina AnsaroffAnsaroffAnsaroff
Walt Harris vs Chase ShermanHarrisSherman
Bojan Mihajlovic vs Joachim ChristensenChristensenMihajlovic
Dimitrii Smoliakov vs Cyril AskerSmoliakovSmoliakov
SCORE TALLY:6866