On Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, Matt Hughes and BJ Penn will face off for the third time at UFC 123 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Splitting the two previous fights, these legendary forces within the welterweight division will close the book on their storied rivalry.

At 37 years old, UFC Hall-of-Fame welterweight Matt Hughes started fighting during the Clinton era of Presidency. Twelve years later, Hughes has accumulated an eye-popping 45-7 MMA record with 16 hard-fought victories within the UFC to only four defeats.

Earning victories over Sean Sherk, Chris Lytle, Matt Serra, Georges St. Pierre and fellow Hall-of-Fame fighter Royce Gracie, just to name a few, Matt Hughes was once the most dominant champion within the UFC welterweight division, holding that coveted crown on two separate occasions while defending his title belt a record seven times.

As a two time All-American wrestler at Eastern Illinois University, Hughes transitioned his wrestling background into the octagon. Improving his stand-up striking, Matt’s tremendous work ethic, phenomenal strength and power, and amazing cardiovascular conditioning were the foundation for his success as a mixed martial artist.

Accomplishing more than most fighters have even dreamed, Matt Hughes is continually improving on his fighting legacy. Quoting Hughes from his blog, he has spent time with Jeremy Horn in Salt Lake City, Utah in preparation for BJ Penn’s tremendous ground game. “Jeremy is one of the great grapplers when it comes to fighting. I really believe that my body’s ready both physically and mentally for this fight.”[i]

In addition to improving on his jiu jitsu skills, Hughes will need to elevate his stand-up game to battle a very effective striker in BJ Penn. Suffering two losses in his last five fights because of an ineffective stand-up arsenal, Matt understands the importance of keeping this fight with Penn on his feet.

As a former professional fighter whose foundation is wrestling, I can relate with Hughes’ game plan. Possessing a solid stand-up game opens up the take downs exploiting an opponent on the ground.

As a proven ground-and-pound striker with a high level jiu jitsu game, Matt will try to wear down BJ Penn, who possesses suspect cardiovascular conditioning. On the mat, Hughes will attempt to deliver explosive elbows with tactical precision, all while mitigating Penn’s jiu jitsu.

BJ “The Prodigy” Penn stormed onto the UFC scene in May of 2001 at the ripe age of 22. The first non-Brazilian winner of the World Jiu Jitsu Championship in the black belt category, BJ’s ground game is legendary. Effective off of his back in any position, Penn developed a tremendous striking arsenal to complement his feared jiu jitsu.

With explosive hands, “The Prodigy” uses the dynamite in his punches to open up a lethal arsenal of submissions. Earning victories over some of MMA’s elite including Sean Sherk, Diego Sanchez, Renzo Gracie and Kenny Florian, Penn has the well-rounded fighting skills necessary to once again defeat Matt Hughes.

This Saturday’s rubber match between two UFC welterweight legends should be a classic. Both fighters are very familiar with each other and no surprises should exist. Hughes will attempt to stand up and strike with BJ, ultimately securing a take down and delivering skull-rattling elbows from the ground, all while taxing Penn’s conditioning.

Conversely, BJ Penn’s game plan will be to out-strike Matt Hughes with a variety of punches, kicks and knees. Once grounded, BJ will attempt to secure a submission utilizing his world class jiu jitsu and put an end to Hughes’s current win streak.

The ultimate variable here, which is typically the Achilles heel for BJ Penn, will be Penn’s conditioning level. BJ states that his conditioning is on par for a fight of this caliber. “I started running again, doing road work, and trying to push my different energy systems and do a lot of things,”[ii] Penn says.

Believing his statement is like believing a statement from the government. You are never quite confident in the whole truth. Penn’s lack of conditioning has cost him victories in huge fights in the past including two recent losses to current lightweight champion Frankie Edgar.

Since Matt Hughes’s conditioning is his foundation and he prides himself on the ability to force a fast pace for the entire fight, I believe his hand will be raised in victory after Saturday night. Earning a second win over BJ Penn will be the icing on the cake for an illustrious career. With age no longer on his side, Matt’s time within the UFC will be concluding shortly.

Is he still a title contender? Probably not. But is this current UFC Hall-of-Fame welterweight still a champion? That answer is a resounding yes. And this second victory over BJ Penn will ensure his legacy as one of the greatest welterweight fighters of all time.

[i] http://www.matt-hughes.com/blog1/?cat=4, November 18, 2010.

[ii] http://bleacherreport.com/articles/5...s-rubber-match, November 18, 2010.