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Dear UFC: Is BJ Penn’s longevity tied to immediate success upon return?

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(Marc Sanchez/Icon Sportswire)

Will Marcin Held be a Bellator bust if he loses to Joe Lauzon? 

Though he didn’t have the hype behind him like Eddie Alvarez or Will Brooks, ex-Bellator lightweight Marcin Held was expected to have a fruitful career inside the Octagon shortly after signing with the UFC in 2016. His first opponent, a 35-year-old Diego Sanchez who was only a few months removed from the first true TKO defeat of his long career, seemed the perfect opponent to welcome Held into the cage. Not only because Sanchez had proven to be beatable in the past, but also because he carried enough name value to help boost Held’s stock in a potential win.

Held didn’t pass the test, falling far short of earning a decision victory against “The Nightmare.” It’s only Held’s second defeat since mid 2013, but it was perhaps the most telling loss of his career. If he couldn’t handle a shopworn, unranked UFC lightweight, would he ever make it even close to a potential title shot?

We’re bound to get a more rounded answer at UFC Fight Night 103, when Held takes on longtime UFC veteran Joe Lauzon. Lauzon is a talented entertainer, but he’s never been one to inch too closely to the throne. If Held struggles again, it’s safe to question his true potential in the UFC.

Will B.J. Penn’s return be cut short if he doesn’t win his first fight back?

Much has been made of B.J. Penn’s attempts to return to the Octagon. What was expected to take place in early 2016 has now been delayed to the start of 2017. All that said, Penn is no longer dealing with the legal issues or the injuries that prevented him from gracing the cage last year, making his return — now just a few days away — as guaranteed as it’s ever been.

That said, you also have to wonder how long this return is destined to last. Where Penn’s original return was set to come against beatable opponents in Dennis Siver and Cole Miller, he’s since been booked against Ricardo Lamas and Yair Rodriguez. The first two would have made for a nice way to start his return. The latter two would not.

Penn is currently pegged as a 3-to-1 underdog against the rising Mexican striker. In essence, he’s not expected to win. Betting odds aside, a mere glance at how Penn looked 18 months ago would lead one to believe that he stands a slim chance at defeating a faster, younger, more efficient opponent. Not at 145 pounds, and not in 2017.

But does one loss effectively put Penn back into retirement or is he poised to continue his career no matter the outcome Sunday night? A loss puts him at 1-6-1 since 2010, and 0-4-1 since 2011. Only time or Penn will tell what “The Prodigy’s” future holds.

Will Sunday mark the first real chapter of Yair Rodriguez’s rise to popularity?

Yair Rodriguez is a perfect 5-0 in the UFC. While he’s only captured one stoppage victory during that stretch, his propensity to excite fans with a wild array of strikes from every limb and angle imaginable makes him a fighter to watch each and every time out. This marks the second time Rodriguez will be tasked with headlining a UFC event, though this time he’ll be getting a bit of help in the form of former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion B.J. Penn.

What’s more, Rodriguez’s headliner takes place on a Sunday, not the traditional Saturday. What this does is allow the UFC to, as it’s done for the past few years now, promote the FOX Sports event in front a guaranteed audience tuning into the NFC divisional playoffs on big FOX. There’s no telling how many viewers they’ll get, but the crafty marketing plan almost guarantees Rodriguez and Penn a few extra set of eyes.

A larger-than-usual audience coupled with the potential of authoring a fan-friendly victory over arguably the most legendary fighter in the history of MMA’s lighter weight classes could ensure Rodriguez with all he needs to continue his steadfast rise to the top of the division.

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