33-year-old BJ Penn is one of the greatest fighters in UFC history. Debuting in the sport in 2001, “The Prodigy” is one of only two fighters in the UFC to hold titles in two weight classes. Training under Ralph Grace and Andre’ Pederneires, Penn became a Brazialian Jiu-Jitsu black belt in just 3 years, becoming the first non-Brazilian win the gold medal in the black belt division of the Mundial World Championships in the year 2000. BJ went on to join the UFC in May of 2001, where he quickly established that he can do more than just grapple. The Prodigy may be the most naturally talented fighter in UFC history.
There’s an old saying, “hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard”, on certain occasions, BJ’s talent wasn’t working hard enough in preparation for some of his fights, which led to notoriously limited cardio. This is a huge reason for his losses to the likes of Georges St Pierre, Matt Hughes, Nick Diaz, etc. However, when BJ Penn is motivated and trains as hard as he can, he can be the worst nightmare of whoever is standing across the cage from him. Penn’s cardio was always at it’s best when he was in the lightweight division, a division which many believe he should have stayed at since winning the lightweight strap.
BJ Penn is now entering the last week of his training camp where he will make his return to action against a 23-year-old powerhouse in Rory Macdonald. Rory has plowed through almost every opponent he’s had. We’ve seen no weaknesses in MacDonald, other than him gassing in the Carlos Condit fight. However that fight was two years ago, and Rory has had time to work on that. Needless to say, this isn’t a fight that The Prodigy can slack on. Penn needs as hard of a training camp as he’s every had. If we see a motivated, in shape, sharp BJ Penn on December 8th, then we may see a resurrection of one of the greatest UFC fighters of all time.
-BJ Penn vs. Din Thomas
Entering this fight, Thomas was a heavy favorite, having a record of 12-1 as opposed to BJ’s 1-0. Many believed Thomas to be a future star in the lightweight division, and BJ to be this kid who was “good at that Jiu-Jitsu stuff”. Penn silenced all the critics in under three minutes after landing a right knee that floored Thomas before Penn followed up with a barrage of strikes.
–BJ Penn vs. Caol Uno I
Uno is, and always has been a huge star in Japan. Coming in to his fight with BJ, Caol already had been involved in 19 pro MMA fights, whereas Penn had been in two. The fight lasted 11 seconds as Uno charged towards Penn, and BJ fed him a left and right hook before he was uppercutting the unconscious Uno.
–BJ Penn vs. Jens Pulver I & II
The first fight with Jens showed the first loss of The Prodigy’s career. Pulver won via decision for his second lightweight title defense. BJ has gone on record to say that this was the fight that changed him, that made him decide he wants to take the sport seriously, to be in it for the long run, and most importantly that he never wanted to taste defeat again.
Penn and Pulver went on to coach season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter five years later, where their blatant dislike for one another was put on display. The season finale ended with the two squaring up for a rematch in which the Hawaiian looked unstoppable in choking out Jens Pulver at the 3:12 mark of the second round. Jens and BJ have since put the hatred behind them and currently show nothing but respect for one another.
–BJ Penn vs. Matt Hughes Trilogy
Coming into the first fight with Matt Hughes The Prodigy was viewed as the young lightweight stepping up a weight class to fight the most dominant welterweight on the planet (at the time). Needless to say, Matt Hughes didn’t see Penn as much of a threat. The NCAA All American wrestler thought it would be any other title defense, where he’d viciously out-wrestle another unlucky opponent. Penn stunned Hughes in the first round, finding his back and choking Hughes out to win the UFC welterweight title and becoming the man to snap Matt Hughes’ extremely dominant winning streak. BJ was so fired up, he even proceeded to kiss the distraught Matt Hughes on the lips during his celebration.
The second fight saw BJ coming in as the challenger to Matt Hughes’ title once again. Penn’s insane flexibility and unmatched takedown defense were put on display in the first two rounds, along with superior striking and submission skills. At the end of the second round, BJ looked to have Hughes trapped in what appeared to be halfway between a triangle and armbar. Hughes stuck it out, got up and the round ended. Hughes has even went on to say that he was literally praying to get out of that submission in the second round. The third round showed Penn come out significantly slower than the first two, letting Hughes land punches and even take him down. This is where hard work in training would have paid off. Hughes pinned BJ’s arms down for a mounted crucifix position and continued to land blows until the referee stopped the fight.
The rubber match between the two was not for a title, but simply for bragging rights and a tiebreaker. Many believed both were over the hill, However Hughes entered the fight riding a three fight win streak, whereas Penn lost his previous two. Matt Hughes looked to have momentum on his side, that is, before BJ ruthlessly knocked Hughes out in 21 seconds and finishes the trilogy.
–BJ Penn vs. Joe Stevenson
Also known to many as “one of the bloodiest fights ever”. Penn and Stevenson fighting for the vacant lightweight title after Sean Sherk was stripped of the belt due to a failed drug test. Penn controlled the entire first round, cutting Stevenson’s forehead with a right elbow about 30 seconds before the round ended. The cut itself wasn’t horrible, but it bled like a busted sprinkler. The second round was very much like the first, however BJ was able to find Stevenson’s back and choke him until the ref pulled him off.
–BJ Penn vs. Sean Sherk
Sean “The Muscle Shark” Sherk won the lightweight title by defeating Kenny Florian, and defended it one time. Sean was stripped of the title after failing an anabolic steroid test. BJ won the title and his first defense was against Sherk. The build up for this fight put BJ’s trash talk on display, taking verbal jabs at Sherk when he could, saying he “needs steroids to be good”. This infuriated Sherk, and had him coming into the fight very emotional. When it came to fight night, it was more or less a boxing match, with two or three kicks thrown in. The first three rounds showed Sherk swinging and missing, and BJ landing effective blows. In the last 5 seconds or so in the third round, Penn backed Sherk up with a combination that sent him against the cage. Sherk was trapped, and Penn landed a flush flying knee, and followed up with punches to the hardly-conscious Sherk. The bell rang to signify the end of the round and Sean Sherk could not get up to return to his corner, ruling the fight a TKO win for The Prodigy.
–BJ Penn vs. Diego Sanchez
This fight scared many BJ Penn fans. Diego was known for having great cardio, and BJ was known for gassing in the later rounds. Sanchez fans thought Diego would tire BJ out in the earlier rounds, take him down in the later rounds, and beat him up until the fifth round ended. BJ was aware of this, so he called in Marv Marinovich, a well known former football player and sports trainer who was notorious for pushing guys very hard in training. BJ dropped Diego thirty seconds into the first round, and looked as if he would finish the fight right there, however Diego stuck it out and managed to recover. The rest of the fight showed Penn out boxing Sanchez, as Sanchez kept–unsuccessfully– looking for the takedown. Penn stuffed every one of Diego Sanchez’s 27 takedown attempts. Going into the fifth, The Prodigy had a crazy look in his eyes, one that said he was ready to finish the fight in this round. Two minutes into the fifth, BJ did something very rarely seen of him, he threw a head kick, one that landed right in the middle of Sanchez’s forehead and split him open with a cut so deep you could eat cereal out of it. The cut was too severe for the fight to continue, ruling the fight another TKO for The Prodigy. Before Bruce Buffer announced BJ the winner, Joe Rogan summed up the fight by saying, “that, ladies and gentlemen, is the greatest lightweight in the history of the sport”.
–BJ Penn vs. Georges St Pierre I & II
The first fight happened before Georges was “GSP”, before he was a household name, and before he won the title. This fight was actually to decide who would challenge Matt Hughes for the welterweight strap. BJ outstruck Georges in the first round, breaking St Pierre’s nose in the process. The second round showed Georges begin to work his wrestling, whereas the third round is what makes this decision disputable. Georges clearly was able to outwrestle BJ, however Penn came closer to finishing with submission attempts. The nod went to GSP, although BJ Penn fans can make their case that he deserved the win.
The Second fight was when both men were the most popular they had ever been. BJ, the Light weight champion, stepping up in weight to face Georges St Pierre, the welterweight champion. There are very few times we see Champion vs. Champion matches in the UFC, especially ones as dominant as Penn and St Pierre. The first round proved to be a stalemate, neither man seeming to get the edge in any area. However the next three rounds showed St Pierre dominating The Prodigy. Going into the fifth round, BJ’s corner decided to throw in the towel, declaring GSP the winner once again.
Side Note: Georges St. Pierre was accused of cheating by greasing himself before the fight, but in this video, GSP admits to cheating, just not in the way everybody thought. Video Link.
-BJ Penn vs. Frankie Edgar I& II
Many people didn’t view Edgar as a threat to BJ’s title, including The Prodigy himself. Edgar didn’t talk trash or show any disrespect before the fight. So many people even forgot this fight was even happening, being the co-main event to Anderson Silva. On fight night in Abu Dhabi, Penn looked slower than usual, he didn’t look very motivated, and he seemed to just be a half-step off with everything he tried. There weren’t many dominant rounds for either man, every round ending in Penn fans saying BJ won, and Edgar fans saying Frankie won. After 5 rounds, Edgar was announced the winner, and The UFC decided the fight was close enough for a rematch.
The hype for the rematch was reminiscent of the build up for the first fight, not a lot of trash talk, not a lot of disrespect. However the fight was extremely different the second time. Edgar was dominant in every round against Penn, leaving no room for dispute. Edgar proved that he deserved the UFC Undisputed championship. By beating the best lightweight in the world twice, sending BJ Penn back to welterweight, where he has stayed since.