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Dublin: 9°C Saturday 17 April 2021

A fresh featherweight contender emerged last night at the expense of a UFC legend

Yair Rodriguez enhanced his reputation with a resoundingly comprehensive victory over BJ Penn in Phoenix.

UFC 197 Mixed Martial Arts Yair Rodriguez (file pic). Source: John Locher

BJ PENN’S STATUS as a mixed martial arts pioneer and legend was secured a long time ago.

When he declared that “kicking ass is timeless” at Saturday’s weigh-ins for UFC Fight Night 103, it briefly convinced some fans that perhaps there’s life in the old dog yet. But last night in Phoenix, Yair Rodriguez turned the dream into a nightmare for the 38-year-old Hawaiian.

Two-and-a-half years had passed since BJ Penn most recently set foot in the octagon prior to last night’s first UFC main event of 2017. Frankie Edgar dominated Penn en route to a third-round TKO victory in July 2014, but Rodriguez’s destruction of the former lightweight and welterweight champion was even more comprehensive — and difficult to watch.

UFC on FOX Mixed Martial Arts BJ Penn (file pic). Source: Gregory Payan

Rodriguez took Penn apart in the first round, as it quickly became clear that ‘The Prodigy’ had no business sharing the octagon with the 24-year-old Mexican featherweight. The fight was over after 24 seconds of the second round but referee John McCarthy could — and probably should — have halted it sooner.

Penn looked laboured and lethargic against a very impressive young athlete who appears to be destined to challenge at the top of the 145lbs division. Rodriguez, who made a name for himself with big wins over Andre Fili and Alex Caceres in 2016, is now 6-0 in the UFC and 10-1 for his professional career, with a bump up the rankings from 10th place now imminent.

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Last night’s bout offered a glimpse of the UFC’s past and future, and BJ Penn has achieved far too much in his time to be treated as a gatekeeper. Over six years since his last win — against Matt Hughes at UFC 123 — perhaps Penn merely craved one last taste of victory, but it seems likely that he’ll have to be content with the knowledge that many of those who are now setting the standards were driven to do so by him.

As one of only three fighters to have been a champion in two separate UFC weight classes, BJ Penn can retire with his head held high. He blazed a trail and inspired more young fighters than he’ll probably ever realise. However, the game has moved on and — for his own sake — the time for Penn to hang up the gloves and reflect on what he has achieved has come.

Elsewhere on last night’s card, Joe Lauzon — despite insisting afterwards that he didn’t deserve the win — defeated Marcin Held via split decision in the co-main event. Meanwhile, 39-year-old heavyweight Oleksiy Oliynyk made a little bit of history by becoming the first fighter to win via an ezekiel choke in the UFC at the expense of Viktor Pesta.

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UFC Fight Night 103 results

  • Yair Rodriguez def. BJ Penn via TKO (punches) after 0:24 of round two
  • Joe Lauzon def. Marcin Held via split decision (29-28, 29-28, 27-30)
  • Ben Saunders def. Court McGee via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
  • Sergio Pettis def. John Moraga via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
  • Drakkar Klose def. Devin Powell via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
  • Augusto Mendes def. Frankie Saenz via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
  • Oleksiy Oliynyk def. Viktor Pesta via submission (ezekiel choke) after 2:57 of round one
  • Tony Martin def. Alex White via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
  • Nina Ansaroff def. Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger via submission (rear-naked choke) after 3:39 of round three
  • Walt Harris def. Chase Sherman via KO (knee and punches) after 2:41 of round two
  • Joachim Christensen def. Bojan Mihajlovic via TKO (punches) after 2:05 of round three
  • Cyril Asker def. Dmitri Smoliakov via TKO (punches and elbows) after 2:41 of round one

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Paul Dollery

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