With his apparent retirement after a loss to Nick Diaz last night at UFC 137, B.J Penn is walking away from the sport of MMA because he can’t fight at the same level he used to. After a tough loss to Nick Diaz that exposed the same weaknesses in cardio he’s been battling with his entire career, Penn is leaving the sport with a legacy that’ll be secure for one thing: he was always among the most talented fighters in any division he’s been in.
Penn entered the UFC as a legendary Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player, the first non-Brazilian to win a world title at the World Championships after only three years of training. Coming in and stopping guys with dynamite hands, then eventually developing a wrestling game to go along with his seemingly unstoppable abilities once the fight hit the ground, Penn would stop a game (and prime) Matt Hughes for the UFC Welterweight title in what would be the first of two legendary title reigns.
His first would be known for his lack of title defenses, leaving the UFC shortly thereafter in what was a chaotic time for the company and the sport, but it’s his second run in the UFC where he would become a true legend. The longest reigning lightweight champion in the UFC’s short history, he would go on a run of legendary proportions at that weight class before succumbing to Frankie Edgar twice. One last run at welterweight, where he’d draw with #2 Welterweight Jon Fitch and stopped a past his prime Matt Hughes again, ended with a decisive loss to Nick Diaz.
The one thing that always came up with Penn was his cardio, which always seemed to escape him when he needed it the most, and as B.J walks away from the sport the one title no one can ever take away from is the title of the most talented fighter ever. It’s his ability to go up and down and be consistently amongst the top 5 or top 10 fighters in two divisions that establishes this.
No other fighter, not even Randy Couture, can really claim this. Couture’s second run as a light heavyweight would be a series of gift-wrapped fights meant to build him up for another challenger. One really can’t claim a win over a faded out Brandon Vera, a well over the hill Mark Coleman and a freak-show fight against James Toney could in any way establish Couture as a top 10 light heavyweight in the division in the last two years.
Penn went the distance twice, arguably winning the first fight, against Frankie Edgar after a reign that seemingly didn’t look like it ever would end. He gave the best lightweight in the world now everything he could handle and if he never left the division you couldn’t reasonably argue he wouldn’t be amongst the top five fighters in the division.
Moving up, he took Fitch the distance and arguably won that fight as well. Considering that Fitch’s only loss in the UFC has been to Georges St. Pierre, and he’s dismantled everyone in his path before and since, that has to be considered remarkable. Even after his loss to Nick Diaz it’s still reasonable to argue that Penn is amongst the top five welterweights in the world. Losing to Nick Diaz isn’t something you can downgrade him for; Diaz went and proved that he can legitimately be considered the best welterweight in the world that isn’t GSP.
It’s disappointing to see B.J Penn walk away after so long, especially at the top of the game. But he walks away one of the best fighters in two divisions, who went out still competitive when so many fighters soldier on for the money despite a degradation of talent.
Tags: B.J Penn, Mixed Martial Arts, UFC 137