1st Triple Crown UFC Fighter?
The recent announcement on FS1 of BJ Penn’s return to action comes as a surprise to some. He has been thoroughly beaten in his last three out of five outings (Nick Diaz, Rory MacDonald, Frankie Edgar) sandwiched in between a quick Matt Hughes KO at 170lbs and a draw with Jon Fitch at the same weight. BJ has been "retired" and out of action since his last loss at the hands of Rory MacDonald which was a "post-retirement" fight that took place December 8, 2012. BJ’s only fight that year. Prior to that loss he fought twice in 2011. A draw to Jon Fitch followed by a loss to Nick Diaz at UFC 137 (he retired in his post fight interview/presser).
BJ has obviously been bitten by the bug again and he believes he can still compete at the highest level. He’s walking into a fight against a man that has beaten him on two separate occasions. Albeit, both of those fights took place 10lbs higher than this current bout is set for. Nevertheless, Frankie beat BJ once in a hotly contested fight at UFC 112 and a second time in a clear, distinct victory at UFC 118. In both fights we saw that a smaller, quicker fighter posed numerous problems for BJ. Frankie’s boxing was clean and very crisp in both fights. Rarely at 55 was BJ beaten to the punch but we saw it both times in his fights against Frankie. Frankie’s quickness and level changes seemed to confuse BJ and Frankie was almost able to take BJ down "at-will" in the second fight. The frequent takedowns executed by Frankie were something that had never really been done with much frequency to BJ at 155lbs. Let’s not forget Frankie’s far superior cardio either. Many thought that "this version" of BJ at Lightweight was the best BJ had been in years. Especially since it appeared he was finally motivated and "in-shape". He was also fighting in what most experts considered his proper weight class.
BJ’s expectations (perceived cockiness? lack of dedication?) of himself often overshadowed his motivation.Many would argue from a pure talent perspective that BJ has somewhat squandered what he has (not to suggest that he hasn’t worked hard for what he has, or that he doesn’t work hard). He started his career as mainly a pure BJJ type grappler and over time evolved into what we saw at the height of his greatness during his reign as the lightweight kingpin. He controlled every aspect of his fights against Pulver, Joe Stevenson, Sherk,Florian, and Sanchez.
BJ’s return to action (though Dana publicly disagrees, he has repeatedly said he wants BJ to retire) has to be seen as a huge bonus for the lighter weight classes. When BJ burst onto the scene he immediately injected life into the 155lb weight division. Fans are drawn to charisma, personality, aggressivefighting styles, finishes etc. BJ had all of that and according to Dana "BJ built the 155lb division". Unfortunately for the UFC once he was unseated by Frankie Edgar the UFC lost a lot of star power and drawing power in terms of PPV buys at anything below 170lbs.
UFC 80 BJ v Joe Stevenson; 225,000 buys (won vacant LW belt)
UFC 84 BJ v Sherk; 475,000 buys (Wand v Jardine, Ortiz v Machida definitely helped buy rate)
UFC 94 BJ v GSP 2; 920,000 buys (added this fight because it was huge in terms of popularity, prior to UFC 100 this was arguably the UFC’s 4thstrongest buy rate. Top 3 priors were all headlined by LHW or above)
UFC 101 BJ v Florian; 850,000 buys (Anderson Silva v Griffin)
UFC 107 BJ v Sanchez; 620,000 buys (Mir v Kongo)
UFC 112 Silva v Maia (BJ v Edgar); 500,000 buys
UFC 118 BJ v Frankie 2; 535,000 buys (Couture v Toney)
UFC 125 Frankie v Gray; 260,000 (Stann v Leben)
UFC 136 Fankie v Gray 2; 225,000 buys (Florian v Aldo-FW Title)
UFC 144 Bendo v Frankie; 325,000 buys (Rampage v Bader, Hunt vKongo)
UFC 150 Frankie v Bendo 2; 190,000 buys
Bendo v Diaz UFC on Fox 5
Bendo v Gil UFC on Fox 7
UFC 164 Bendo v Pettis??
All PPV stats taken from: http://mmapayout.com/blue-book/pay-per-view/
Aside from a few guys at 155lbs (Pettis could potentially change that. Too soon to tell, but he’s seen as a finisher, has no problems being vocal or calling people out, and his back story is tremendous) and even fewer at 145lbs (Aldo and Edgar are really only two proven PPV type draws at 145) or below the UFC doesn’t have many fighters that truly move the needle in terms of PPV buys or headlining a PPV card. Recently, ConorMcGregor comes to mind but he’s just 2-0 in the UFC and hasn’t had to face a top 10 guy yet. He boasts unique precision striking and good BJJ but does he have what it takes to grapple or defend takedowns from the division’s elite wrestlers/grapplers?
Does Dana owe BJ a Hawaii card? This is a very real possibility. Dana has been asked this question before and has haphazardly suggested that the UFC would like to do an event in Hawaii. Hawaii has a very strong MMA scene and BJ is a Superstar in every sense of the word to Hawaiians. Much the same way Conor McGregor claims that he has a whole nation backing him I think this is true when speaking of BJ’s popularity amongst Hawaiians. I wouldn’t be surprised to see BJ headline a UFC event in Hawaii as his final fight. Perhaps that is part of the deal and why BJ is coming back once again. Win or lose there is no question about his popularity. He still remains one of the most polarizing MMA figures of all time and by far the most popular fighter below 170lbs.
Could we possibly be witnessing the first UFC fighter to be a champion in three separate weight classes (separated by an astounding 25lbs)? It’s doubtful. I personally believe Frankie is one of the worst 145lb matchups BJ could encounter (Mendes,Aldo and Lamas are the others) in his first foray into the division. Cub Swanson or Dustin Poirier would have gladly welcomed BJ to the Bantamweight division. A fight with theKorean Zombie would likely be a spectacular bout, but BJ is going after a guy he still thinks he can beat and who comes with much greater name recognition. Perhaps he’s still trying to get back those two GSP losses by trying to get past a GSP affiliate in Frankie Edgar, whatever is the case I hope that he comes into the fight focused and in amazing shape so that his fans can be left with a small glimpse of what an amazing fighter he truly is.
Written by self-admitted BJ Penn Fan-boy, @duffanesepisd