June 24, 2017

UFC Fight Night 112: Three Former Champions Fight At UFC OKC

By Adam Martin

If I told you three former UFC champions will compete at UFC Fight Night 112, which takes place at Chesapeake Energy Center in Oklahoma City, would you be able to name them all? Odds are you didn't even realize it because this card is flying under the radar, but either way, this storyline of three former champs looking to get back on track is hardly going noticed.

To be fair, with Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor and Bellator NYC dominating headlines, UFC Fight Night 112 wasn't expected to get too much love, especially since it's on a Sunday night. But I feel like there's been barely any buzz at all for this card, and a lot of that blame should be on the UFC for failing the promote the narrative of three former champs trying to get their careers going again. Former UFC Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks, former welterweight and lightweight champion BJ Penn, and former UFC Women's Strawweight Champion Carla Esparza will all compete on Sunday night, and since the UFC isn't giving these three fighters any love by burying them on the undercard, I figure this is a great opportunity to write about them and give them their due.

Let's start with Hendricks. The former OSU wrestler returns to his old stomping grounds when he takes on Tim Boetsch in the co-main event. Despite being the co-headliner, this fight is barely being talked about, and it probably should, as both Hendricks and Boetsch have been known for putting on some great performances inside the Octagon.

After flaming out as a welterweight and struggling badly to make weight, Hendricks was forced to move up to 185, and he looked very good at his new weight class with a decision win over Hector Lombard in his debut. He's a top-15 middleweight at this point, and while I do believe his size will ultimately hold him back against the division's elite, I think he still has a few bullets left in his clip.

Against Hendricks will be Boetsch, who has been bouncing around at 185 and 205 with minimal success as of late. He's coming off of a submission loss to Ronaldo Souza, but with his KO power he's always an interesting guy to watch. Hendricks will want to do everything to win in his native Oklahoma, while Boetsch needs a win to save his job. It should make for an excellent fight, and it will be interesting to see if Hendricks can get back to the form he had when he beat Robbie Lawler (and arguably Georges St-Pierre) and was at the top of the welterweight division.

Next up is Penn, who fights Dennis Siver in a featherweight bout that opens up the main card. The fact Penn is opening the show is surprising, considering he usually is the main event. But then again, he's coming off of four straight losses, and at 38 years old his chin has finally been compromised, as he was knocked out by Frankie Edgar and Yair Rodriguez in his last two fights. Penn is a legend and one of the greatest to ever compete in MMA, but it's hard to see him take all this damage. The fact is, Penn hasn't won a fight since a 2010 KO win over Matt Hughes. He's likely only in the UFC at this point because they don't want to let him go fight in Bellator, but the fact remains, Penn needs a win.

Fortunately for Penn, the UFC has finally booked him a favorable matchup for the first time in years, as he takes on Siver, who is also 38 and who is coming off of a two-year layoff. Siver hasn't looked like the same guy since he popped for PEDs a few years ago, and his chin is definitely questionable. He can also be outwrestled. At this point it's hard to pick Penn against anyone, but against a guy the same age who hasn't fought in this long, Penn has a good chance to finally collect his first win in seven years.

The last former champion who competes is Esparza, who takes on Maryna Moroz on the preliminary card. Esparza won The Ultimate Fighter 20: Tournament Of Champions with a submission win over Rose Namajunas to become the first-ever strawweight champion in UFC history, but it's been all downhill since then. She was brutally TKO'd by Joanna Jedrzejczyk to lose the belt in her first title defense, then sat out a year with injuries before bouncing back with a decision win over Juliana Lima. Esparza then missed nearly another year as she had issues with fighter pay and the UFC's matchmaking, and when she finally came back earlier this year she lost a split decision to Randa Markos. She's a better fighter than this, and she badly needs a win against Moroz this weekend.

Moroz is a surprising 3-1 in the UFC and is actually coming off of two straight wins, so it's kind of strange the UFC would match her up with Esparza considering the former champ lost her last fight. But perhaps the UFC is using this matchup as not only a barometer of where Esparza is now, but also where Moroz is, because a win over Esparza would be huge for her resume, and could instantly make her a title contender in the shallow weight class that's 115. Either way, this is a big fight for Esparza, and she'll need to win in impressive fashion if she wants to reassert herself as a top fighter again. Think about it -- she was a top-15 pound-for-pound fighter in the world just a few years ago.

Hendricks, Penn, and Esparza all have big fights this weekend. For Hendricks, he needs to show the UFC he can compete against a big middleweight like Boetsch. For Penn, he needs to show the UFC he can win a fight. And for Esparza, she needs to show the UFC she can still compete. Despite a lack of promotion for this card and for these three fights in general, these are three very intriguing matchups on a card full of them, and hardcore fans especially would be wise to take a close look at these matchups.

UFC Fight Night 112: Chiesa vs. Lee takes place June 25, 2017 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

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