September 20, 2006

by Mick Hammond – MMAWeekly.com
It’s been two and a half years since Matt Hughes and BJ Penn first met in a UFC Welterweight Championship match. And while much has changed for the sport and the fighters since then, the rematch this weekend at UFC 63 has a strikingly reminiscing feel to it.

Heading into their last meeting both fighters were in much the same position there are in going into this weekend.

For Matt Hughes it’s been business as usual. Since recapturing the belt in December of ’04, Matt has been on a three-fight title defense winning streak in typical Hughes dominating fashion. Much like it was in 2004 when he was riding high on a winning streak in which he was only truly tested once.

Solid first-round victories over Frank Trigg, Joe Riggs and Royce Gracie during his second reign as champion have further cemented Matt’s standing as the best 170lb fighter in the world and continues to cement his legacy as one of the all-time greats.

Penn on the other hand is once again coming into a match against Hughes as an underdog and with an aura of malcontent.

Going into his initial meeting with Matt, BJ had come of an extremely disappointing draw with Caol Uno in a UFC Lightweight Championship match. Feeling fed up with the whole process of things Penn decided to move up in weight and challenge Hughes for the title as a last-ditch effort to gain the belt he’d always wanted and many felt he deserved.

Fast forward to 2006 and BJ is again facing Hughes with a championship sized chip on his shoulder.

A loss in his last fight against Georges St. Pierre in which Penn clearly dominated and broke the French-Canadian in the first round then inexplicably laid off the remaining two rounds, giving St. Pierre the win, has led many to question whether BJ’s heart.

So now with the sport occupying a much larger foothold in the mainstream community and each fighter having changed for better or worse, the feeling of déjà vu heading into this weekend’s rematch between Matt Hughes and BJ Penn is strikingly prevalent.

Should history repeat itself it would definitely go a long way in validating Penn’s status as one of the best in the world and finally lay to rest any doubts of just how truly good he has been and continues to be.

If the outcome this time around change and Hughes retain the title, he will await his eventual rematch with currently injured Georges St. Pierre and if proven successful there, perhaps conquest in another weight class is all that would remain for the arguably the greatest 170lb fighter ever.

Either way this rematch will have great bearing on the future of the UFC welterweight division. Where it goes and what path it goes through will be up to Hughes and Penn. But first things first, they have an old score to settle in the new era of MMA.