Former champion B.J. Penn (11-4-1 MMA, 7-3-1 UFC) and “The Ultimate Fighter 2” winner Joe Stevenson (28-7 MMA, 5-1 UFC) will fight for the interim UFC lightweight championship at UFC 80 in January. Today’s news comes from Kevin Iole at Yahoo! Sports. Additionally, MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) has confirmed that at least one of the fighters was notified of the bout earlier this week.
According to Iole’s report, UFC President Dana White opted to book the fight — which will be the night’s main event in Newcastle, England — after being “fed up” with the California State Athletic Commission’s handling of Sean Sherk’s appeal.
Sherk, the UFC’s current lightweight champion, tested positive for elevated testosterone levels and an anabolic agent after a successful title defense over Hermes Franca in July. He was subsequently suspended one year and fined $2,500. After securing the services of accomplished doping lawyer Howard Jacobs, Sherk was granted an extension for his appeal hearing, which took place earlier this week on Oct. 31. However, key paperwork submitted by Jacobs was not distributed to commission members prior to the hearing, and the commission opted to delay the hearing an additional two weeks.
White had previously stated he would strip Sherk of the title if his appeal is upheld, but according to Iole, White will now let Sherk keep the title regardless of the commission’s decision.
That means Sherk will retain the title — but depending on the commission’s decision, he could return anytime from January (if his suspension is reduced to six months) to July (if the original 12-month suspension is upheld). With the interim championionship, though, the UFC can assure the division remains active and marketable. It also sets up a potential mega champion vs. champion fight between Sherk and the interim champion sometime in 2008.
In addition to Penn vs. Stevenson, UFC 80 will feature a co-main event of Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Fabricio Werdum.
As for an event date, MMAjunkie.com today confirmed that UFC 80 will take place Jan. 19. (Previously, the event was rumored to take place either Jan. 12 or Jan. 19.)
Penn, a former UFC welterweight champ, recently appeared as a coach on “The Ultimate Fighter 5” and defeated rival Jens Pulver in the show’s live finale. Penn was originally scheduled to face Sherk in a November title fight prior to the drug suspension.
Stevenson, who won the welterweight division of “The Ultimate Fighter 2,” ultimately dropped to 155 pounds and has posted a 5-1 record (including four straight victories) in the UFC since his time on the show. He last defeated Kurt Pellegrino at UFC 74 but suffered a broken nose in the unanimous-decision victory. However, he quickly returned to training full-time training and has been cleared to fight.
For the interim strap, apparently Dana is now going to let Sherk hold onto the belt regardless of what the CSAC rules.