Why B.J Penn vs. Frankie Edgar Makes Sense At 145 And For “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 19

“He says, ‘Frankie Edgar, I can beat Frankie Edgar. Those two first fights were B.S. I want that fight again. I want to beat this guy so bad. It’s all I want.’ You know how B.J. is. I started thinking. I’m like, that fight is at 145 B.J. He’s a 145-pounder. He goes, ‘I want to move to 145, beat Frankie Edgar, and fight for that title.’ “– Dana White on UFC Tonight 9.11.13

The big announcement last night, one that lived up to the hype on Twitter from everyone involved going in, was that B.J Penn would be returning to the UFC to fight once more. He’d be returning to face off against the one opponent he couldn’t defeat in a rematch, Frankie Edgar, and would be dropping to featherweight to do so. Penn, who has fought mainly as an undersized welterweight and a decently sized lightweight, would also be signing on to coach the next season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and face Edgar at some point this summer.

Penn, who’ll mark his second stint on the show (after coaching against Jens Pulver in the fifth season), was a second option for Zuffa for this next season of the show. They wanted Edgar vs. Urijah Faber at bantamweight, or at some point between, and no common ground could be reached. Penn indicated he wanted another fight shortly thereafter and thus, serendipitously, we got “The Ultimate Fighter Season 19: Team Penn vs. Team Edgar.”

The instant feedback was something to behold, of course, as Penn looked like a shell of his old self against MacDonald (and to a lesser extent Nick Diaz) and Edgar soundly defeated him in the rematch. There isn’t a demand for a third fight between the two; Edgar dominated Penn to the point where the controversy of the first fight was rendered moot. “The Prodigy” has proved all he has to, I think, and there’s nothing else for him to accomplish. He’s stopped Matt Hughes twice and at his peak was perhaps the greatest fighter of his time on a pound for pound basis.

The B.J Penn story has been completed: he was a mercurial talent who had one great run when he truly cared about it and managed to be an elite talent without ever having to really work at inside the cage. He pissed away his prime by coasting on raw talent alone; he’ll always be a cautionary tale in many ways because he could’ve been so much more than what he was. That’s an incredible statement to ponder, considering Penn has an extraordinary list of accomplishments to his name. If there ever is an MMA hall of fame, properly, then he’ll easily be in the first class. Penn was a pioneer at 155 and accomplished enough that every time he walks away we lament at what could’ve been.

But if Penn wants to fight … a third fight with Edgar, and a TUF coaching spot, makes an immense amount of sense.

Edgar lost an insanely close fight to Jose Aldo after dropping two close ones to Benson Henderson, all for UFC titles. Edgar isn’t getting a title shot anytime in the near future, despite being a Top 3 talent in two weight classes. He needs to be rehabbed like a house with everything but a great roof; you can still sell it but not for nearly as much until you re-shingle the sucker. He needs some wins over enough opponents that the three fight losing streak is far enough in the past to warrant a title shot.

At the same time you’re not going to let him pick off potential title challengers, as well, because Jose Aldo can’t keep fighting lightweights cutting down a weight class for much longer. Edgar getting wins at 145 over established guys out of the title picture builds him back to where you want him. Another win or two and Edgar is back, knocking on the door step of the title picture. You still need to give Edgar fights and something to do; he’s an elite talent still in his prime. Thus you have to be creative, which is why Faber made a ton of sense. He’s in the same spot as Edgar, career wise, and the fight would’ve been a fun one as well.

Since the UFC doesn’t do catchweight fights all that often getting Penn to drop to 145 makes sense if Urijah doesn’t want to come up to 145 again. He wants Edgar like Benson Henderson wanted Anthony Pettis; it’s a stain on his soul he needs to scrub off. His run as a title challenger is probably effectively over at this point but he could still be a fringe Top 10 fighter at lightweight or featherweight potentially. He still has value, especially in the types of matchups that could come stylistically from the UFC roster as is.

Penn has value and a motivated, game Penn fighting guys his own size for once could give him a late career run of some note. Penn has always been undersized, even at 155, and it was most apparent when Rory MacDonald looked like a middleweight fighting a featherweight during their bout at UFC on Fox 5. The great weight-cutting specialist Mike Dolce remarked that Penn should be at 145 based on the size of UFC featherweights these days, as well, so 145 makes an awful lot of sense as well.

Penn is walking around at 165 these days, thus making 145 a tough weight cut but one that’s definitely possible. He’ll still be bigger than Edgar, who walks around roughly 10 pounds lighter, but a Penn at 145 could be a deadly proposition. He doesn’t have enough left to fight bigger men, we know that, but in his natural weight class he could have something. What it is, we don’t know, but Penn at 145 has a plethora of matchups that make sense.

He’d also only be a win or two away from a title shot against Jose Aldo, as well, as that’d be a matchup easy to sell. Penn, on a two fight winning streak, would be a game opponent for Aldo and one that could help develop the Brazilian’s drawing power on PPV. The one thing Penn has always done well is add PPV buys and viewers to any card he’s on. BJ Penn in a title fight is always good for business; he just needs to earn it first. And a good season of TUF followed by what I imagine would be considered an upset win over Frankie Edgar vaults him into title contention and potentially an early 2015 title shot.

It’s an easy story to sell, as well. Penn would be in the right weight class once again, revitalized by the time off and trying to make one last run. The UFC did the same thing with Randy Couture once upon a time at 205, his career ending with the Machida fight. The formula remains the same, though, and Penn in a bankable fight is a good thing. If we can get excited for a welterweight Penn “with abs,” making us think the BJ of yesteryear was back and was going to lick Rory MacDonald’s blood off his gloves, we can get more excited for a featherweight B.J “with abs” potentially licking Edgar’s blood off his gloves.

As much as we want to go “oh, we don’t care” I will guarantee that if B.J Penn destroys Edgar and licks Frankie’s blood off his gloves the MMA community en masse will lose their collective minds for at least an hour.

B.J Penn is still a fighter that can stir the casual fan because there’s always hope that he’ll transform back into the fighter he once was. And that’s what this run at 145 could really represent: hope. We want to see Penn as the blood-licking psychopath threatening to murder people after fights the same way we want to see Wanderlei Silva as this wild brawling badass who takes a couple licks to light someone up. Instead of a couple weeks of hype from Penn we’d have a couple months, seeing him coach and interact with Edgar as they mentor middleweights and light heavyweights who made it onto the show.

We want to believe that the Penn who dreamed about being the best fighter to ever step into a cage can return … and TUF is the best possible vehicle. The UFC loses absolutely nothing by placing two fighters in it that won’t be relevant for a title anytime soon but carry a high enough profile for their fight to genuinely mean something.

Edgar/Penn 3 may not be needed from a trilogy standpoint but it makes sense from a historical perspective.

This is about historical legacy, something Penn is keenly aware of in the twilight of his career. He knows, deep in his heart, that he’s better than Frankie and wants to test his mettle and his manhood one more time with the New Jersey wrestler. It’s the one thing on his record he can’t accept. He can accept losing to Nick Diaz, who outfought him. He can accept losing to Rory MacDonald, who mauled him. He can accept losing to Georges St. Pierre, who out-classed him at his peak.

He can’t accept the Edgar losses … and they’re enough for him to come back for one more run inside the cage.

The story of B.J Penn, the prodigal talent that could’ve been (but never got all the way there) has been written as well. But a final chapter, one in which Penn put it all together and ended his career close to being the killer talent he was when he debuted, is still possible. Why waste another title, and hold up a division, when a perfectly acceptable matchup like Penn/Edgar would make for an interesting season of “The Ultimate Fighter” after back to back seasons of championship divisions being on hold?

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