Josh Gross
Sunday December 13th, 2009's resident MMA guru Josh Gross points out five key storylines from UFC 107, highlighted by lightweight champion B.J. Penn's successful title defense against Diego Sanchez.

1. Can B.J. Penn be considered the best of all time? A similar refrain is beginning to emerge from some top mixed martial artists: The desire to be considered the best ever. As MMA moves forward and fighters of new generations find success, improve, win major titles, become stars, the sport will exist under the weight of enough history, so pundits, fans and fighters can legitimately argue placing one fighter above the rest. It's important to note MMA still hasn't seen a huge turnover in the names dominating the sport. But that time is coming soon; and when it does, the discussion will heat up.

It's safe to say a handful will always be in the discussion. Georges St. Pierre, who repeats his desire in every interview to be labeled the best of all time. Fedor Emelianenko lets much of the media do the shouting for him. Anderson Silva usually smiles and shrugs, but he's done enough to warrant consideration.

Recently, B.J. Penn injected himself into the discussion.

The question I wondered while watching Penn dismantle Sanchez Saturday in Memphis, is it too late for the 30-year-old Hawaiian to earn the distinction?

2. Penn has distanced himself from lightweight field. Bookmakers would post Penn as a solid favorite over every lightweight in the world right now, and perhaps only a few could convince the public that they'd offer a competitive challenge. There isn't a name in the UFC that jumps out as a serious contender to Penn. Gray Maynard (8-0) has plenty of tools, but he's still green. Frank Edgar (11-1) is a nice fighter, but seems undersized against Penn. Maybe Tyson Griffin? I doubt a rematch with Kenny Florian (12-4) gets anyone too excited. Same goes for Sean Sherk.

It seems the one fight for Penn at 155 that could capture people's imaginations would be against a fighter not under contract to the UFC, Japan's Shinya Aoki, ranked by many news outlets, including, as the second best lightweight in the sport.

It would be great to see, but on paper it doesn't look like much of a fight for the UFC champion. Aoki is a sublime submission fighter. Would his stuff work against Penn? Doubtful. On the feet, Penn would own a substantial edge. And he's the better overall athlete.

As far as separation of talent from No. 1 ranked fighters and their challengers, I'd rank the gap from largest to smallest like this: Anderson Silva (185); Penn (155); Georges St. Pierre (170); Fedor (heavyweight); Jose Aldo (145); Brian Bowles (135); Lyoto Machida (205).

3. Beware of Mir The Merciless. Heavyweight Frank Mir talked a mean game before his fight against Cheick Kongo. He said over and over that he intended to physically and mentally maiming the guy. Yikes. Well, thankfully, that didn't happen, though the former UFC champion didn't have any problem choking the Frenchman unconscious at 1:12 of the opening round.

Mir (13-4) has always grappled with power, and the additional 20 pounds of muscle he added since losing to Brock Lesnar in July probably amped up the crushing sensation that can come with a guillotine choke. What else it added, or took away, was difficult to determine.

I have my doubts that the size will be better for his career. Granted this all happened in 71 seconds, but Mir looked less fluid, less quick and less agile than he had in the past. Give him credit for the heavy punch that dropped Kongo (14-6-1) prior to the choke, I'm just not so sure he'd be able to keep any kind of pace past the second half of Round 2.

4. What's left in the wreckage of these wars? Outside of Jon Fitch's workmanlike unanimous decision against Mike Pierce and the quick choke of Kongo by Mir (though that was brutal in its own way), the main card for UFC 107 bore out serious beatings.

In the main event, Penn used more than 20 minutes to obliterate the left side of Sanchez's face, highlighted by the fight-ending canyon of a cut on the challenger's forehead. Clay Guida's wild hair was, yet again, matted down by blood from an ugly cut on the side of his head. Stefan Struve left a piece of one of his teeth lodged in his mouthpiece during a brawl with Paul Buentello. All told, it was a pretty rough night in a sport where that kind of thing is expected.

5. UFC 100 trumped all comers in this calendar year. The Memphis card was the 15th and final numbered bill under the UFC banner in 2009. With the quality Fight Night cards and The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV, the year was once again a big success for the UFC and mixed martial arts. So what event was the Las Vegas-based promotional company's best? Pretty easy. UFC 100. It sucked in almost all the attention in the months leading up to the summer extravaganza, which netted a reported 1.7 million pay-per-view subscriptions, and seemed to leave a hangover in the months that followed.

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