Penn retains MMA 155-pound belt

May 25, 2008 - 6:03 AM Anthony Malakian Special to PA SportsTicker

LAS VEGAS (Ticker) - Even though B.J. Penn was in full possession of the UFC lightweight belt, there were those who doubted the legitimacy of his reign. After Saturday, Penn left no doubt who is the best 155-pounder in the sport.

In what resembled more of a boxing match than a mixed martial arts contest, the 29-year-old Penn was the better pugilist and battered former lightweight champ Sean Sherk before stopping him at the end of the third round at UFC 84 from the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Penn (14-4-1) was brilliant on his feet, deftly mixing jabs and straight rights to keep Sherk at bay the whole night. Penn's jab busted up Sherk's face, leaving the Minnesotan bloodied under both eyes.

After two fast-paced rounds, Penn, who lives in Hilo, Hawaii, was in control. In the third, the 34-year-old Sherk (35-3-1) started to effectively mix in some leg kicks.

But with less than a minute left in the round, Penn landed a left hook-right uppercut-left hook combination that forced Sherk into the cage.

Sherk propelled off the fence directly into a left knee from Penn that crumpled him to the ground. Penn landed several follow-up blows, but the horn to end the round sounded.

There was some confusion as to whether the fight was over. It was.

Sherk could not continue and the fight was waved off between rounds, giving Penn his first successful defense of the 155-pound title.

"I was like, it's got to be finished; I don't want to keep doing that," Penn said after the fight, referring to the damage he had inflicted on "The Muscle Shark."

Prior to the bout, there was a lot of animosity between the two fighters. Sherk had never lost his title in the ring, and in his mind it was his belt that was around Penn's waist.

At UFC 73 last July, Sherk defeated Hermes Franca to retain the lightweight title, which he had won from Kenny Florian the previous year. But after the Franca fight, Sherk's urine sample showed traces of the anabolic steroid nandrolone.

After an appeal to the California State Athletic Commission, Sherk had his suspension cut from one year to six months, but his title was gone.

Penn kept reminding Sherk that the belt was in his hands because of Sherk's positive test for steroids. Much rancor built up between the two, but Penn said that he would shake Sherk's hand after the fight - which he did.

"Sean, I always respect you," Penn said. "Sean, he was mad at me, but I told him I was going to create the biggest fight in history and I shook his hand after the fight like I said."

Sherk, who was still shaken after the battle, accepted Penn's embrace after the fight and thanked those who stayed by his side through his ordeal.

"All the fans that supported me over the last 10 months, thank you," he said.

It's no secret that Penn hates cutting down to 155 pounds, even though he was in phenomenal shape and, in fact, had better stamina Saturday than Sherk.

When asked if he would continue to stay at lightweight, and possibly defend against the winner of the August fight between Kenny Florian and Roger Huerta, Penn had bigger ideas.

Penn asked the crowd if they would like to see him fight welterweight champ (and former conqueror) Georges St. Pierre. The crowd approved.

St. Pierre, though, will face Jon Fitch in August. So, for the time being, Penn will have to be content as a lightweight.

In the co-feature, Wanderlei Silva finally got a much-needed win following three straight defeats. The "Axe Murder" destroyed Keith Jardine - who holds wins over Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin - by stopping him 36 seconds into the opening round.

It was a right-left combination that originally staggered Jardine. Silva jumped on his hurt opponent, grabbed him by the throat with his left hand and landed rights until Jardine finally went limp, causing the referee to stop the fight.

In other action, Lyoto Machida won a lackluster unanimous decision over Tito Ortiz on the undercard.

In what might be Ortiz's last fight in the Octagon, Machida ran around the ring but managed to land a brutal knee to Ortiz's body at the end of the third round, which dropped Ortiz to take the decision.