BJ Penn will make his first walk to the Octagon since July 2014 this Sunday, as he takes on exciting 24-year-old prospect Yair Rodriguez at featherweight in the main event of "#UFC Fight Night 103" in Arizona. Penn announced his retirement from MMA in 2014 following a one-sided loss to former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, the bout was the third time the pair met, and the third time Penn lost to the New Jersey native. The two previous encounters between Penn and Edgar ended in decision, however, this time, Edgar put his stamp on the trilogy by decimating Penn before the fight was eventually stopped in the third round. After 18 months of "retirement," Penn announced at the start of 2016 his intention to return to competition.
Penn was originally slated to make his UFC return in April 2016, however, he was pulled from the card after the girlfriend of a former employee, alleged that he had sexually assaulted her (the employee had been fired prior to the allegations and the charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence). Penn was then expected to face-off against German striker Dennis Siver at UFC 199 in June. Siver later withdrew from the fight due to injury and was replaced by UFC veteran Cole Miller, however, yet again, the fight was cancelled after Penn was flagged by doping agency USADA for using a medically-administered IV drip, something which had only just recently been banned in the sport. The former UFC lightweight champion was then scheduled to fight Ricardo Lamas last October following a six-month suspension. However, this time, Penn withdrew himself from the contest due to injury.
Many questioned the UFC's decision to throw Penn in against a top contender like Lamas in the first fight of his return, so most expected that when Penn pulled out of the bout, they would correct their deemed error, and give the 38-year-old a more favorable opponent. However, what the UFC did instead was give Penn a reasonably unknown fighter, but a potential star in the making. Yair Rodriguez is just the sort of fighter the UFC owners need if they are to truly develop a homegrown star for their Mexican audience. At just 24-years-old, the Ultimate Fighter: Latin America winner has youth on his side, as well as an entertaining, unorthodox style to excite MMA audiences. Should Penn fail in his return, the UFC have made a safe bet by giving Rodriguez's style the TV exposure that it deserves. Sunday night will truly be a classic battle between the old-school and the new-school.
Vegas odds and predictions
John Moraga (+120 underdog) vs Sergio Pettis (-140 favorite)
Prediction: Moraga by decision
Ben Saunders (-115) vs Court McGhee (-105)
Prediction: McGhee decision
Marcin Held (+115 underdog) vs Joe Lauzon (-135 favorite)
Prediction: Lauzon decision
BJ Penn ( +300 underdog) vs Yair Rodriguez (-420 favorite)
Prediction: Rodriguez TKO (Round 3)
*Betting odds taken from Caesars Palace #bjpenn