Typically when we talk about trilogies, the context is usually the movies. Die Hard, Mad Max, and The Godfather are popular answers, or perhaps you loved watching the epic saga of Revenge of the Nerds. Whatever your taste is in movies, you'll also probably agree that some trilogies are better left on the shelf.
In the world of mixed martial arts, trilogies have had the same acclaim and ridicule as movies. Many fans loved the Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva trio of battles while we've recently heard rumblings that a Frank Mir vs. Brock Lesnar rubber match would likely receive a lot of criticism from the expansive fanbase. Regardless of how you feel about trilogies in this sport, the UFC has put together a very intriguing third match-up between UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes (45-7, 18-5 UFC) and former UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn (15-7-1, 11-6 UFC) on Saturday night at UFC 123, and it's hard to imagine anyone being disappointed in this showdown at this point in both fighters' careers.
Snowden has an overview of their first match-up at UFC 46 in January of 2004 that is must-read if you want some perspective on where this showdown sits in the history of mixed martial arts. Their rematch at UFC 63 went very similarly as Hughes lost the first two rounds of the bout, but an uppercut followed by a takedown in the third round secured Hughes the victory after he clamped down a crucifix position. As Snowden points out in his article, Hughes took the first bout very lightly, to the point in which he actually admitted that he was bored in the moments before the fight began. The second showdown was a more prepared affair for Hughes, but even with that mentality -- Penn was able to definitively win the first two rounds, nearly submitting Hughes at the end of the second.
That history leads to the question as to whether Hughes can implement the type of gameplan that can down Penn and punish him on the ground. Obviously, Penn is a much more seasoned striker than Hughes, and he's proven that his speed and deceptive power can work to win almost any fight despite his extensive credentials in the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
The intrigue in this third match-up is the performances that both fighters have had since UFC 63. Penn amassed a 5-1 record in 6 appearances, finishing all of his opponents that he defeated while winning the UFC Lightweight crown. He eventually lost a pair of decisions to current champion Frankie Edgar, a trend that Matt Hughes experienced in losing to current UFC Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre at UFC 65 and UFC 79. The notable difference, however, is that Penn has been fighting at the apex of the division consistently while Hughes dropped into the mid-echelon of the division and has worked his way back into the fold despite criticism that his age has affected his skills.
Those claims are a bit unwarranted due to Hughes' recent success, but he'll now face a highly-skilled, elite fighter in B.J. Penn. Penn's size is obviously an issue coming into this fight, and there is some question surrounding whether he can handle the added strength that Hughes will have in combination with his wrestling ability. While I tend to agree with that questioning, I think this fight will once again showcase why Penn has been one of the toughest opponents, at any weight class, for any fighter. Penn's takedown defense will need to be excellent in this fight, and if that happens -- Penn will win definitively. I'll bank on that happening on Saturday night, but it's far from a guarantee.