The last time fight fans saw UFC lightweight champion BJ Penn, he was celebrating a submission victory over Kenny Florian in the main event of UFC 101 at the Wachovia Center in August.
Tomorrow night, Penn will make his long-awaited return to the Octagon in a title defense against the fearless Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez at UFC 107 at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn. And if any fighter had the chance to knock off Penn from his 8-year unbeaten run in the lightweight division, Sanchez arguably serves as "The Prodigy's" biggest threat.
"Five-round fights are what I have been waiting for my whole life," said Sanchez (10-2 UFC, 23-2 MMA record). "I am sure everybody has watched my fights, and come third round, I am way stronger than I am in the first round, and with me having those two losses [during three-round bouts with Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck], I would have given anything to have those two more rounds."
Known for his superior wrestling abilities, Sanchez, 27, will certainly be on the hunt to take Penn to the ground early. That is still a daunting task, considering Penn (10-4-1, 14-5-1) is one of the best sprawlers in the game, and uses his quick fists and even deadlier knees to keep opponents at bay.
And if Sanchez does take Penn to the mat?
One quick slip and he could find himself tapping out from Penn's wide array of submissions.
Just ask Kenny Florian.
"I want to finish this year off good, and I really feel that he's underestimating me," said the ever-confident Penn - who turns 31 Sunday - following a prefight workout in Las Vegas earlier this week. "In a lot of areas I know he doesn't think I have the conditioning or the stamina and those aren't the kinds of things you want to take into a fight . . . especially not against me."
Slice of history
Kevin Ferguson, aka Kimbo Slice, received a UFC contract after his time on the latest installment of Spike TV's "The Ultimate Fighter." But the big news is that Kimbo set a record in his fight against Houston Alexander as the most watched "The Ultimate Fighter" finale in franchise history.
In addition, the night played to the biggest audience for a live UFC event this year. A record 5.2 million viewers tuned in for Kimbo and roughly 4 million stayed to watch the entire 3-hour event.
The 11-bout UFC 107 card features a number of big names squaring off in undercard bouts. In the teaser bout, former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir returns to face Frenchman Cheick Kongo, who has been out of action since falling to Cain Velasquez at UFC 99 . . . Kenny Florian returns to the cage when he battles WEC-star-turned UFC rising power Clay Guida in a clash of styles. Florian is known for his technical, methodical approach; Guida has a hair-flying, bat-out-of-hell style that Florian termed "annoying" . . . "Sugar" Shane Nelson (155 pounds) and Jonny Hendricks (170), both combatants at UFC 101, are also on the card . . . UFC veterans Randy Couture and Mark Coleman are the main event for UFC 109 Feb. 6 in Las Vegas.