For BJ Penn, Welterweight Division Holds Greatest Career Opportunities


Few professional mixed martial artists, whether they fight in the UFC, Strikeforce, WEC, or any other promotion, are considered unbeatable. Mixed martial arts is a sport where almost anything can happen in any fight.

However, coming off his complete destruction of Diego Sanchez at UFC 107 in Memphis, at 155 pounds BJ Penn has garnered the reputation of unbeatable, unstoppable, and untouchable.

The Hawaii native first won the UFC lightweight belt at UFC 80 after failing to do so on two separate occasions earlier in his career. After gaining the gold following an obliteration of Joe “Daddy” Stevenson, which is still one of the bloodiest beat downs in UFC history, Penn destroyed Sean Sherk at the very end of the very end of the third round after landing an enormous knee, followed by several vicious blows to his delirious opponent.

The technical knockout over Sherk at UFC 84 led to the decision by Penn to venture back into the UFC welterweight division, where he had once been champion. Looking to avenge his loss to Georges St. Pierre at UFC 58, Penn entered the welterweight championship bout with the 170-pound title on his mind.

However, St. Pierre outclassed Penn, which led to the challenger’s corner stopping the fight prior to the fifth and final round.

Penn plunged back into the lightweight division, where top contender Kenny Florian awaited his return for a championship bout at UFC 101. Penn finished “Ken-Flo” with a rear naked choke in the fourth round, and another contender was put down by the champion.

Just over four months later, Penn met Diego Sanchez at UFC 107. Anybody who saw the fight knows exactly why Penn is now viewed as an unstoppable force in the lightweight division. Penn brutalized Sanchez for four and one half rounds before a technical knockout was issued after a doctor saw Sanchez unfit to continue.

Penn has not lost a fight at lightweight since 2002, when he lost to Jens “Lil’ Evil” Pulver at UFC 35. Since winning the belt in 2008, “The Prodigy” has not looked back, pummeling challenger after challenger, leaving Dana White and Joe Silva with a problem on their hands.

Who do they match up with Penn for his next title defense?

At this point, the top of the lightweight division includes the likes of Frank Edgar, Gray Maynard, and Tyson Griffin.

However, none of the three finish fights consistently. In fact, they rarely finish their opponents ever. If you can’t finish your opponents while working your way up to a title shot, how on earth do they plan on winning a five round fight against BJ Penn.

It is hard to imagine that White and Silva are really sold on putting any of the three up against Penn, considering their track records for unexciting, wrestling-based fights.

However, Dana White has been quoted saying that Penn is one victory away from earning another shot at the welterweight division, along with being one fight away from clearing out the lightweight division entirely.

With the recent and continued success of “The Prodigy”, it seems to be only a matter of time before he sees another run in the 170-pound division as the challenge he needs because the lightweight division is running out of ways to challenge, or attempt to challenge the 155-pound champion.

Another go around in the welterweight division would hold a much greater opportunity for Penn than the lightweight division can offer. With Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre still ranked above him on the pound for pound list, Penn needs to do something dynamic to make all of that change.

While he is the only man out of the three to hold a title in two divisions, Penn still falls behind “Rush” and “The Spider”. It seems that his two losses to St. Pierre will forever doom him in the pound for pound rankings, unless he can make another run at 170.

If Penn is willing to commit to a run at welterweight and put on the weight necessary to go up against some of the monsters of the division, “The Prodigy” could finally make a jump past St. Pierre on the pound for pound rankings. After all, St. Pierre is yet to test waters outside of the UFC welterweight division, while Penn fought successfully at welterweight and even fought against a Lyoto Machida outside of the UFC, where he lost via decision.

However, the most beautiful part of a move back to welterweight for Penn is the possible completion of the Penn-St. Pierre trilogy. Though many people say they would not really care for the fight, St. Pierre, like Penn, is running out of contenders in his division, and the pay-per-view would do enormous numbers in the books.

If Penn was somehow able to defeat St. Pierre, or even push the champion to limits no one has been able to in recent years, the UFC lightweight champion could make a push on the pound for pound rankings and surpass the Canadians after years of falling just one or two spots behind him.

While Penn could hang around the lightweight division and continue to dominate opponent after opponent for many fights to come, another run at the welterweight division holds many more advantages than the 155-pound weight class can offer the champion.

A step up in competition, another opportunity to work for the welterweight title, and possibly even the completion of a trilogy with Georges St. Pierre is exactly what is necessary for Penn to further solidify his greatness as a mixed martial artist and finally break past George St. Pierre on the pound for pound rankings.