B.J. Penn: Nothing to Prove


At UFC 101, B.J. Penn is stepping into the octagon with millions of doubters peering over his shoulder. After losing to Georges St. Pierre at UFC 94 and due to the controversy that ensued, UFC fans feel that Penn has a statement to make. It seems as if Penn always has something to prove before every fight. Whether if it’s backing up his talk about being the best or proving whether or not he’s been dedicated to his training program, UFC Countdown is never a pleasant time for Penn. People seem to forget that he is not stepping into the cage against Georges St. Pierre, nor is he going up against a welterweight. Penn is returning to a weight class he has dominated since 2001: the lightweight division. As the reigning and defending UFC Lightweight Champion, B.J. Penn has nothing left to prove.

B.J. Penn’s dedication to the sport of mixed martial arts is the greatest enigma in the sport today. In the beginning of his career, Penn fought for the UFC just for the fun of fighting. After his loss against Matt Hughes at UFC 63, he took a step back and realized that he had the potential to become one of the greatest fighters of all time.

Since his re-dedication to living like a champion, he dominated Jens Pulver, beat Joe “Daddy” Stevenson and embarrassed Sean Sherk, becoming the Undisputed UFC Lightweight Champion in the process. The new B.J. Penn looked flawless as he improved every aspect of his game, including a drastic change in cardio. His preparation for UFC 94 was labeled as “questionable” though, when he would rather have spent time lounging at the beach rather than training.

I’m a big B.J. Penn fan, but even I had to doubt his dedication to the fight when he decided to make a DVD called “90 Days” documenting his preparation for the St. Pierre fight. I don’t know about B.J., but if I had the biggest challenge in my road to becoming the best fighter ever in front of me, the last thing I would do is make a DVD putting myself over.

Despite that saga, B.J. seems to be back on track and is in amazing shape. Recent videos show Penn in the best shape of his life physically, and by the way he’s talking and keeping himself composed, mentally. All of this hard work has left him with no questions to answer about preparation, win or lose.

When it comes to losing, Penn is the king of excuses. If you don’t see a reason why he lost the fight, he will make sure the world hears his side of the story in various interviews. The two most recent cases that come to mind is his fight with Matt Hughes at UFC 63 and, of course, his loss against Georges St. Pierre at UFC 94.

At UFC 63, Penn was completely gassed by the time the third round started. Hughes’ was never known for his cardio conditioning, but against Penn he looked world-class. Despite it being clearly visual that Penn lost the fight due to pure exhaustion, Penn decided to blame it on the “rib injury” he sustained during the second round. He didn’t make it into a big controversy like he did with the Grease Gate, but he made sure people heard his excuse.

As for the UFC 94 debacle, that got blown out of proportion. I have yet to choose a side, and I likely never will. I’ll agree that it looked peculiar how St. Pierre was easily escaping Penn’s defense, but I also think St. Pierre would have defeated Penn either way.

His fight with St. Pierre at UFC 94 was mind-boggling, confusing and yet extremely entertaining. In the first round, Penn was in complete control in all aspects of the fight. St. Pierre, who is about 80% successful in takedowns, couldn’t take Penn down in the first round if his life depended on it. When it came to striking, every shot St. Pierre connected with Penn would trade one right back. For some odd reason, when the fight went to the ground in Round Two, St. Pierre kept popping out of Penn’s rubber-guard like he was a Whack-a-Mole. He repeatedly slipped in and out of Penn’s rubber-guard and when Penn tried to lock him in again, St. Pierre would just slip right back out!

Whether it was due to St. Pierre greasing or B.J. Penn not putting 100% into the transitions, you could slowly see the fight drain from Penn’s eyes as the bout went on. I have a strong feeling that with or without grease, Georges St. Pierre would have outclassed and beaten Penn. The fight disappointed tons of UFC fans to the point where they fell off the B.J. Penn bandwagon and now, just because he lost to St. Pierre,  believe he has to show he’s still a worthy UFC Lightweight Champion! B.J. Penn should not be shunned at all in his loss against St. Pierre, and he has nothing to prove going into his fight against Kenny Florian.

When B.J. Penn faces another welterweight, then he will have something to prove. The fact of the matter is B.J. Penn has wrecked everyone he crossed paths with in the lightweight division. He made Joe Stevenson and Jens Pulver submit, and knocked Sean Sherk out with a series of brutal strikes. Penn’s win against Sherk is something he can boast about to Florian, as Sherk bested Florian for the UFC Lightweight Title back in 2006. As far as I’m concerned, Kenny Florian has something to prove to B.J. Penn.

B.J. Penn has been training like a champion, living like a champion and fighting like a champion. He may have caused a ruckus in the courtroom or during interviews, but that has nothing to do with his performance in the octagon at UFC 101. Mixed Martial Arts is the most unpredictable sport in the world, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that Kenny Florian should be more than well prepared on August 8th because B.J. Penn has nothing to prove.

Jon Kirschner is a young writer from New Jersey who watches mixed martial arts and kickboxing from around the world. Kirschner has been following MMA since 1998 and has been writing about it for 5 years. His work has appeared on Fox Sports and in SCRAPP! Fight Magazine.