Respect? I've searched all over Mania, near and far, yet I still can't find a damn ounce of respect for BJ Penn. Over and over, all I see people talk about are his shortcomings. His lack of motivation. The lazy Hawaiian doughboy. Surrounded by yes-men. Spoiled because he comes from a wealthy family. Won't cut weight. King cardio-collapse, etc. You know the routine. And I won't ask why. We all know it stems from BJ not fulfilling his enormous potential. The thing is that his attitude and approach are part of who BJ is, just as much as every other innate part of his persona. We all wanted to see "The Prodigy" accomplish so many great things in the sport. The thing is, we did.
Despite his critics, BJ's career has been nothing short of astonishing. After becoming a Jiu-Jitsu black belt faster than anyone else in the world, Penn went on in that sport to become the first non-Brazilian to win the World Championship. Fast forward one year and it was time to witness the beginning of a legendary career in MMA.
With virtually no formal training in striking, BJ signed with the UFC. He then successively sent his first 3 opponents to the blacklands, never leaving the first round. Although he came up short in a decision at his first UFC championship bid, this would certainly not be the last time he fought for a belt. Next fight, knockout. Next fight, he schools a future WW champion in Matt Serra. Then he draws with an in-his-prime Caol Uno for the UFC LW belt. Subs future Pride LW champ Gomi for ROTR LW belt.
Back in the UFC, the baby Kahuna is hungry for an old fashioned country breakfast. He wastes little time and chokes out the most dominant champ of all time, Matt Hughes. Holy shit! This accomplishment was monumental. It was crazy that this feisty little hawaiian even had the balls to challenge Hughes. For those that don't remember, at this time, Matt Hughes was THE MAN in the UFC. Not Chuck, not Randy, not Tito or Franklin or anybody else, it was all Hughes. Then BJ Penn came along, jumped a weight class, slaps on his favorite sub, and less than 5 minutes later rides off into the sunset with the belt.
That is the type of bullshit that Disney makes movies about. A real life glory story.
Only it didn't end there. Over the next two years, BJ bounced around the Pacific racking up 3 more wins with 2 of them coming over Gracies. He also took Future UFC LHW Champ, Lyoto Machida, to the wire in a defeat. Albeit, it should be noted Penn chose to take the fight despite being nearly 35 lbs smaller than the Dragon. I'm not making an excuse here, just stating the facts. Seriously though, what other lightweight would even think about doing such things. Cajones, man.
In his return to the Octagon, BJ lost a split decision. He also sent now pound-for-pound #2 GSP, to the hospital that night. Although he lost the decision, BJ went out for drinks afterwards. In his next dance, BJ would suffer the first ass-whooping of his life. Hughes wanted redemption and BJ gassed. That's when I remember the chatter about his lack of training/cardio really start spreading like wildfire.
Once again, The Prodigy wasn't fininshed just yet. He came back at his natural weight class and, after avenging his early career loss to Jens Pulver, went on to have the most successful UFC lightweight title reign of all time. Ever the game fighter, BJ even gave GSP another shot. This time around, BJ contributed to his growing reputation. Totally outclassed and out of gas, he never emerged after the 4th round. I still refuse to call BJ a quitter though. He was just beat.
Completing his trilogy with Hughes, the two geriatric pugilists went at it one more time. If you went to grab another beer you might've missed it. Twenty one seconds and Hughes was seeing stars. Next up was unarguably the #2 welterweight in the world. All the smart money was on Jon Fitch. Afterall, he had defeated every fighter he had ever faced in the UFC sans GSP. Once again, BJ pulled a rabbit out of his...hat, and took Fitch to a draw. Once again, BJ faded hard in the last round. We all heard the buzz.
Along comes Nick Diaz. Mr. "I don't give a f*#<" in the flesh. A past Strikeforce, WEC, and IFC welterweight champ. Was actually the #1 contender, but got stage fright. That fight was recent enough that I don't need to recap it here, but what I will say is that, if you're honest, it was alot closer than anybody is giving BJ credit for. Admittedly, BJ took more punishment than I've ever seen, but he also gave Diaz all he wanted. Diaz always talks alot of crap about going toe to toe and scrapping and in this fight he did a whole lot of holding and clenching the smaller man. I don't think Penn even attempted a takedown, but Diaz did. And when he did, the scrambles were great and very even. I think a rematch would be an even closer affair with BJ knowing Diaz's tactics, but that is neither here nor there. The point here is that many fans and pundits alike fancy Diaz as a top 5er and against BJ it was no walk in the park.
In review, BJ has had one of the most successful careers in mma, period. There is no question he will be in the UFC Hall of Fame. His only losses have come to 6 former champs, and very good ones at that. Think about those names: Hughes, St. Pierre, Pulver, Machida, Edgar, and Diaz. Does Rory Mac have what it takes to join those ranks? I guess we'll find out.
After all he's done, it's still "Hey BJ, what have you done for me lately?" Our memories may be short, but let's not make them be erroneous. BJ gives anybody in the world a hell of a matchup, at least give him that much respect. He's never been KO'd or submitted, and BJ Penn isn't taking this fight just because he wants a pay day.
Maybe BJ can work his magic and conclude such a storied career in illustrious fashion. Perhaps we'll see The Prodigy licking the blood off his gloves one last time.