B.J. Penn can’t seem to catch a break. After having his return to the Octagon postponed on two previous occasions, the mixed martial arts legend again fell to the order of the combat gods after seeing his featherweight tilt opposite Ricardo Lamas in Manila wiped off the UFC docket due to injury. With no replacement for Penn’s main event spot at UFC Fight Night 97, the promotion decided to scrap the entire card.
While somber minds will entrench themselves in the heartache and turbulent return, or lack thereof, of “The Prodigy,” it is Lamas who will suffer the most. The 34-year-old veteran was hoping to smash Penn on arrival, get back into the 145-pound win column after getting bamboozled by a red hot Max Holloway at UFC 199 and make another run at a title he failed to capture opposite Jose Aldo back at UFC 169. Instead, “The Bully” will see one of his hottest tickets to contention lick his wounds on the sidelines as he will now be tasked to dispose of the very dangerous Charles Oliveira at UFC Fight Night 98 on Nov. 5.
It was not a forgone conclusion that Lamas was going to defeat Penn at UFC Fight Night 97, but based on where the two stood in their respective careers and what sort of skill sets they brought to the table in 2016, “The Prodigy” was most likely going to fall. At the end of the day, Lamas sports an incredible chin with world-class ground-and-pound and the strength of a lightweight. Penn, who would have been fighting on Oct. 15 for the first time since losing to Frankie Edgar via TKO back in July of 2014, is undoubtedly a shell of his former self. Speculation and revamped intrigue regarding Penn’s new found training regiment can swirl all it wants, he was entering a lion’s den at UFC Fight Night 97.
More likely than not, Lamas missed out on a huge opportunity to defeat one of the most popular fighters in the history of the sport. Outside of Diego Sanchez and Cub Swanson, Lamas’ resume doesn’t sport too many high-profile wins. As a guy who desperately needs to stand out among a growing featherweight crop, punishing Penn in a main event broadcast for free on television would have been crucial heading into 2017. There was a possibility Lamas could have made a mistake and paid for it in defeat, but odds were he was going to beat Penn in his return to the cage, take advantage of the Hawaiian’s worldwide popularity and further entrench himself as a non-gatekeeper at 145 pounds.
With Penn out and Oliveira in as Lamas’ next UFC opponent, everything has shifted for “The Bully.” No longer will he have the chance to defeat a legend in a main event billing. That ship has sailed. Instead of utilizing Penn’s notoriety to his own advantage, Lamas will now have to challenge a hungry contender in Oliveira, who is coming off a disappointing, yet understandable, loss to former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis at UFC on FOX 21. Unlike Penn, Oliveira is in the prime of his career, consistently evolving at the ripe age of 26 and has served as an intricate piece to the featherweight puzzle over the past two years, especially with wins over Jeremy Stephens, Nik Lentz and Myles Jury.
However, like it is in any MMA matchup, there are a few things to gain in a pairing with Oliveira. While the Brazilian submission expert is going to present Lamas will way more danger than a 37-year-old Penn could every hope for, Oliveira does represent a bigger feather in Lamas’ cap at this point in time. He’s ranked higher in the division, has only lost to Pettis, Swanson, Holloway and Frankie Edgar since making his UFC featherweight debut in 2012 and would serve more as a resume boaster than Penn even though Oliveira’s popularity isn’t even in the same zip code.
Either way, whether it’s Penn or Oliveira, Lamas needs a victory badly entering 2017. He may have lost to only Aldo, Holloway and Chad Mendes since his UFC arrival in 2011, but Lamas is beginning to lose traction in one of the fastest growing classes in the promotion. He must defeat “do Bronx” this November to reclaim his featherweight footing.