It's long been a given that BJ Penn is one of the greatest fighters of all time. We hear it from Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan every time he fights in the Octagon and he's a multiple time world champion in two weight classes. But after losing two in a row, is it time to reevaluate where Penn stands in the annals of MMA history? Jonathan Snowden, who wrote a book about the history of MMA, thinks so:
The raw numbers stand out like a sore thumb. In title fights, BJ Penn is a pedestrian 5-5-1. For every big fight he wins, he loses one in turn. The true greats of the sport, your Georges St. Pierres, your Matt Hughes, your Frank Shamrocks, your Fedor Emelianenkos, are defined by rising to the occasion. When the fights get tougher, these men only get better. Not so with BJ Penn.
BJ Penn is a front runner. We learned that for the first time against Jens Pulver at UFC 35. Crowned as champion before even stepping into the cage, Penn had no answer for Pulver's heart and determination. When the fight got to the point where it demanded each man expose his very soul to walk away the winner, Penn faltered. Pulver stepped forward. That was the difference.
Sports Illustrated's Josh Gross agrees:
About that "best ever" tag that follows Penn wherever he goes, it needs to be reconsidered. Most talented? Hard to argue he wouldn't qualify. But did he get the most out of his gifts? I don't think so. And you don't need to look further than Penn's career and the choices he made to understand why.
For starters, he was fast-tracked. In just his fourth fight, Penn was given a title shot against Jens Pulver. He lost. There was no grooming the Hawaiian. Then, in his seventh fight, he received another title shot. This time a draw against Caol Uno. Two fights later -- after defeating Takanori Gomi in what remains his biggest win in the lightweight division -- Penn moved up a class to fight top welterweight Matt Hughes. That victory may have been the worst thing that happened to Penn. It fed into an obsession resulting in his multi-weight excursion. Two fights later he was at 185. Next, a bout at light heavyweight versus Lyoto Machida. Back to middleweight and then a return to 170, where he lost consecutively to Georges St. Pierre and Matt Hughes.