UFC 94 fallout -- What's next for Penn and St. Pierre
Outside of the controversy surrounding the main event, UFC 94 was a solid card. Really, with a main event like that (on paper), it’s hard to find fault with the rest of the card. I expected more out of Nate Diaz and was very impressed with Lyoto Machida. He has to be the next in line for a title shot at light heavyweight (after Rampage, apparently), and while he’s not as terrifying as Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva or B.J. Penn, I think Machida could put together a decent run as champion. I like his chances better than the rest of the light heavyweight crop, at least. If he gets by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (who will get the first title shot after beating Keith Jardine in March), then Machida could string together a few successful title defenses.
Regardless of what happened, the main event was going to be great because it was going to tell us a lot about both fighters. We saw St. Pierre at the top of his game, proving Penn simply doesn’t belong at welterweight. Years ago, Penn could’ve been on top in both divisions but he’s at his best at lightweight and Penn will likely never get another shot at the welterweight title. Both fighters are in their prime, and fans expected a fight similar to their first match -- a very close and entertaining bout. Instead, what we got was an absolute rout.
St. Pierre now has a stake in the claim for top pound-for-pound fighter. It was Anderson Silva’s title for the past year, and some would argue he's still at the top. Fedor Emelianenko has made his claim with brutal wins over Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski, and now St. Pierre has made his case with a dominating win over Penn. It’s hard to ignore St. Pierre’s stake because of the way he dominated Penn, who was also considered a top 5 pound-for-pound fighter. In the biggest fight of his career, St. Pierre delivered. In the biggest fight of his career, Penn disappointed.
What’s most interesting to me is what’s next for both fighters. SI.com is reporting that Penn may be considering retirement. That type of talk isn’t uncommon after a loss, so I think it’s likely we’ll see Penn fight again. Still, it’s not like there’s a plethora of challenges for Penn at lightweight. Unless the UFC can sign more of the top lightweights in the world, I wouldn’t rule out retirement for Penn in the next few years. Penn is still a great fighter and the best lightweight in the world though, and as the sport continues to grow over the next few years, he would be foolish to retire at this point.
If he does, how will it affect Penn's legacy? He was poised to become one of the all-time greats in the sport if he had defeated St. Pierre and held both titles at the same time. Now, after the brutal loss, Penn is still one of the greatest lightweight fighters of all-time. His legacy definitely takes a hit though, but probably takes a much bigger hit if he doesn’t fight again. It wouldn't be good for new fans of the sport to remember Penn just from what they saw on the UFC Primetime shows and from this fight.
St. Pierre’s next title defense will be against Thiago Alves. I’m excited for this fight as I think Alves is the best challenge for St. Pierre right now. Alves is a huge welterweight and can match St. Pierre’s athleticism. Obviously, St. Pierre will be a huge favorite, but this could be a very entertaining fight. After Alves, it’s rumored St. Pierre could move up to middleweight. The logical move would be to put together a St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva superfight, as that would be one of the biggest fights in the sport’s history. Both St. Pierre and Silva have a title defense to get through first, but when this fight is put together (late this year or early next would be my guess), it will be incredible.