Canadian welterweight Rory (Ares) MacDonald used brutal body shots to batter B.J. (The Prodigy) Penn en route to a convincing decision over the former UFC champion on Saturday.
The 33-year-old Penn seemed close to folding in the second round as the blows to the body took their toll. But the undersized Hawaiian showed a huge heart and finished the fight.
MacDonald, a decade younger, was bigger and more powerful. Penn gave it his all and never stopped coming forward, but always at a cost. His lumpy, swollen face told the story and he was taken to hospital after the fight to be checked out.
There was a fractious leadup to the contest but the two shook hands briefly as the bout ended. The judges scored it 30-26, 30-26, 30-27 for the Montreal-based fighter, who established his credentials as a 170-pound contender if not a fan favourite.
“A huge role model for me ... He’s a hero for me,” MacDonald, who was booed during his post-fight interview, said of Penn.
But all that respect goes out the window when he steps into the cage, the young Canadian added.
MacDonald (14-1) ran his winning streak to four in a supporting fight that had a main event feel to it. Penn (16-9-2) has now gone 1-4-1 since the start of 2010.
In the main event of a highly entertaining televised card at KeyArena, lightweight champion Benson (Smooth) Henderson dominated Nate Diaz in a lopsided 50-43, 50-45, 50-45 decision.
It was a mature, impressive performance by the 155-pound champion, who has struggled to win respect since beating Frankie (The Answer) Edgar in two close title fights earlier this year. Henderson showed all the weapons in his arsenal, and then some. In the third round, he essentially did the splits to evade a submission attempt.
In addition to a takedown and scything kick, Henderson used his grappling to control Diaz at the fence in a first round that saw the two get in each other’s faces as the bell sounded. Diaz’s face was already showing damage and it got worse with a short elbow in the second.
Diaz raised his arm after the third round, but it was all Henderson at that point. Diaz, a good striker with a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, was never allowed to get his game going.
Perhaps surprisingly, Henderson did more damage with his fists — with his four-foot-nine mother Song Henderson loudly cheering him on from the front row.
Diaz swaggered his way to the cage, with older brother Nick in his trail. Nick Diaz is expected to fight champion Georges St-Pierre in 2013.
Henderson, who grew up in the Seattle area but now fights out of Phoenix, followed to loud cheers. The two did not touch gloves before the fight, but shook hands after.
In the co-main event, rising Swedish star Alexander (The Mauler) Gustafsson dominated former light-heavyweight champion Mauricio (Shogun) Rua to earn a shot against either current title-holder Jon (Bones) Jones or Chael Sonnen — who meet in April.
“I want the belt. I want to fight whoever has it,” said Gustafsson.
Like Penn, Rua showed courage in coming forward and absorbing a beating at the hands of a younger, bigger man.
The judges scored it 30-27, 30-27, 30-26 for Gustafsson.
The six-foot-five Swede used his speed and size to keep the Brazilian at bay and Rua (21-7) was spitting blood and sporting a welt on his chest from a knee after an action-packed first round.
The 31-year-old Rua, who has a lot of miles on his chassis, tried but had no answers for the 25-year-old Gustafsson. When he came forward, it was like charging a combine harvester and his face showed it.
Gustafsson (15-1) has won six straight and is 7-1 in the UFC. He returns home to Sweden, where he will tattoo another shark’s tooth on his arm to mark the win.
The MacDonald-Penn fight, while third on the billing, arguably stole the pre-fight show with an icy MacDonald saying he was going to hurt Penn, an MMA icon with a devoted following.