Who Is Next For BJ Penn?

After being the fighting champion that he was, it’s acceptable that BJ Penn would like to take a step back, relax in Hawaii with his family and order the next few pay-per-views from his home. In terms of the future of his MMA career though, Penn hasn’t been clear at all if he would like to stay at lightweight after he lost the title, or if he would venture into welterweight once again. One thing is for sure, and it’s that there will be a handful of fighters in the UFC that will be ready to go one-on-one with “The Prodigy” once he makes his return.

Possible Welterweight Contender #1: Nate Diaz (13 Wins, 5 Losses)

Why He Deserves It: Nate Diaz has been nothing but impressive with his run in the UFC. During his time in the lightweight division, he submitted the likes of Melvin Guillard, Kurt Pellegrino and while on The Ultimate Fighter 5, submitted undefeated lightweight title contender Gray Maynard. After deciding to move to welterweight, Nate Diaz has continued to impress the UFC audience with a TKO victory over Rory Markham, and a dominating performance of boxing and BJJ against Marcus Davis. As long as Nate continues training with Nick Diaz on boxing and Ceaser Gracie for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Nate Diaz will only get better.

Possible Welterweight Contender #2: Jake Shields (25 Wins, 4 Losses)

Why He Deserves It: If Shields scores a victory over Martin Kampmann, that will be fifteen wins in a row for the former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion. With wins over current UFC fighters Yushin Okami and Carlos Condit, and former UFC fighters Jason “Mayhem” Miller, Dan Henderson and Paul Daley, Jake Shields has already shown that he can hang in there with elite competition. It’s not often that a fighter coming off of two consecutive losses (BJ Penn) would get the opportunity to face a fighter coming off of a main-card win (likely Jake Shields in this situation), but both men need to prove something to the UFC fans and this would be a headlining bout.

Possible Lightweight Contender #1: Evan Dunham (11 Wins, 0 Losses)

Why He Deserves It: With a victory over Sean Sherk, Evan Dunham will make his mark in the lightweight division and much like Jon Jones in the light heavyweight division, will be ready to dip his feet into the pool of elite competition. In his short time with the UFC, Dunham has already scored a decision victory over a wrestler (Tyson Griffin), a submission win against a grappler (Efrain Escudero) and a knockout victory against an eight-year veteran (Per Eklund). Having never tested himself against a practitioner of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the level of BJ Penn, this could be the next logical matchup for the lightweight prospect if he defeats “The Muscle Shark”.

Possible Lightweight Contender #2: Takanori Gomi (32 Wins, 6 Losses)

Why He Deserves It: Remember when Randy Couture and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira finally met in the octagon at UFC 102? While the debate of “Who Is the True King of the Heavyweight Division” may have been resolved by then, the fight was still highly anticipated and exciting as all hell. Maybe “Gomi vs. Penn” isn’t the next logical matchup for each fighter’s career, but seeing “The Fireball Kid” trying to knock Penn’s head off, and watching “The Prodigy” slap on a rear-naked-choke on Gomi is still something a majority of the MMA world would pay to see.

Best Situation: UFC on VERSUS 3: Penn vs. Diaz

Why This Is the Best Matchup: Nate Diaz is a hungry up-and-coming prospect in the Welterweight class that has proven that he can hang in there with the most durable of UFC fighters. BJ Penn, not only durable as they come, is also in need to prove a point: That he too is just as hungry as young Nate Diaz. Storyline wise, this fight pretty much writes itself. The fact that Nate Diaz was a contestant on Ultimate Fighter 5 and was under the tutelage of Jens Pulver (BJ Penn’s former rival) doesn’t hurt either.

On the more technical side of things, this is a match made in heaven. Nate Diaz’s unorthodox style of boxing and offense is as wild as they come… but it works. He is able to keep a sizable distance between him and his opponent and set up vicious combos with peppering jabs. The last time BJ Penn had an opponent that was more than decent with combinations was when he was picked apart by Georges St. Pierre at UFC 94. If the fight goes to the ground, Diaz would finally have a chance to test his jiu jitsu against one of the best BJJ black belts to have graced the octagon.

The UFC benefits whoever wins. If Diaz wins, then the UFC can market him as a top-contender in the division and will catapult his name into the top ten. If BJ Penn wins, then the UFC has one of their main money makers back in his groove. Having “Diaz” as a last name, we know that Nate has a passion for MMA and is willing to put time into his camp to train to fight the best BJ Penn. The question is, whether it be against Nate Diaz, a welterweight or a lightweight, is BJ Penn still willing and able to become the best he can be?

(NOTE: I know it is extremely rare that a fighter coming off of a two fight losing streak will get to fight a guy who is coming off a win, but c’mon… it’s BJ Penn. He’s still one of the UFC’s most marketable names.)

Follow Jon Kirschner on Twitter @mmakirschner or you can contact him at copakirschner@gmail.com!

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