By Adam Martin
This weekend at UFC Fight Night 103, highly-ranked featherweight prospect Yair Rodriguez gets the toughest test of his career to date when he faces the legend BJ Penn in the card’s main event.
Most observers of the sport expect Rodriguez to win this fight, and to win it in impressive fashion. After all, he's just 24, is already a perfect 5-0 in the UFC, and looks like he's well on his way to being a future title contender; a win over Penn would put him on the right path towards that. Compare Rodriguez's situation to Penn's, who is 38 and who hasn't won a fight since 2010, and it's easy to see why Rodriguez is a sizable favorite heading into the fight.
But most haven't considered the other scenario: What if Penn wins this fight?
Of course, even with a win over Rodriguez, it doesn't seem likely Penn would move past higher-ranked featherweights like Frankie Edgar or Ricardo Lamas, never mind the interim champ Max Holloway or the official champion Jose Aldo. But the UFC today is all about selling PPVs, and Penn is still a huge name in the sport. Even if he's not as deserving as another contender, it wouldn't be a total shock if the UFC were to choose him over some of the division's more deserving fighters for a title shot and a chance to make history. But of course he needs to get by Rodriguez first, and that's easier said than done.
best win is Alex Caceres? With the age gap and with Penn's decline, plus his long layoff, it doesn't seem likely, but then again, when you look closer, Penn has only lost to elite, championship-level fighters, and perhaps the long break from the sport did him some good. Plus he's now training with Greg Jackson, a coach who has revived many fighters from the dead, and, in a strange twist, Rodriguez's former coach.
As unlikely as it may seem, if Penn can beat Rodriguez, he will immediately emerge as a featherweight contender. The comparison to Dan Henderson, who got a title shot at age 46 after pulling off a huge upset win over Hector Lombard, is a fair one, and Henderson nearly beat Michael Bisping to win the title. MMA is a crazy sport, and while it's far more likely that Rodriguez smashes Penn and sends him back into retirement, imagine he wins? It's fun to think about.