"Rematch" by Chris Rini
On January 31, 2009, rivals Georges St. Pierre and BJ Penn met for the second time, this time for GSP's welterweight belt. Their first fight, three years earlier, had ended in a split-decision victory for GSP and the beginning of a heated rivalry.
By this point, Penn's legacy had already been cemented. The first non-Brazilian to win the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship, UFC title holder in two weight classes, and unbeaten at lightweight for seven years, Penn was one of the last remaining members of a bygone era. His fighting style was to finish, whether by submission, knockout, or TKO, and he gave no regard to weight class, competing at 155, 170, 185, and even 205 pounds.
St. Pierre, by comparison, was just entering the first year of his current title run. His fight with Penn showcased the next-generation athlete who would go on to dominate the welterweight division for half a decade and redefine the mainstream commercial viability of mixed martial artists. It would also mark the beginning of the end for Penn.
In the opening round, St. Pierre was unable to land a takedown, but his unrelenting attack impeded Penn's offense. Penn was able to showcase his speed and would dip in to land strikes, but midway through the second round, St. Pierre took Penn down. The image of him smothering Penn, while simultaneously landing hard shots, tells the story of this fight and of St. Pierre’s career ever since. For four rounds, GSP demoralized the challenger. The execution of this game plan caused Penn's corner to request a stoppage between the fourth and fifth rounds, handing Penn only the second TKO loss of his career.
I wanted to show the contrast in the fighters' experience that night through their physical composure. Here, Penn's famous grappling guard is in pure defensive mode. His striking has been neutralized, and his questionable cardio is being tested. He is a mass of angles and bent limbs. He was never able to dictate the fight's tempo and spent much of it grasping for some kind of control. St. Pierre's demeanor, by comparison, is nearly serene. His fists are devoid of detail -- they are bludgeons, wearing away at his opponent's will to go on. Gone was any memory of their first fight, gone was any chance of a trilogy. One year later, BJ Penn would lose his lightweight belt and his greatest accomplishments would be in the past. The era of GSP was beginning.