It was announced this week on "UFC Tonight" on FOX Sports 1 that B.J. Penn will return to Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to coach The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 19 opposite Frankie Edgar. At the end of the season the two coaches will fight for a third time.
There's just one catch: The fight will be at Featherweight.
Penn dropped the two first bouts to Edgar by decision, with the second meeting a one-sided drubbing with Edgar winning all five rounds on all three score cards. For those bouts, he appeared to be in the absolute best shape of his life.
Heck, B.J. Penn had abs!
Then after a disappointing return to Welterweight, where he went 0-2-1 in his last three, Penn walked away from the sport. In his fight against Rory MacDonald at UFC on Fox 5, he looked slow and out of shape. He was able to hang in for three rounds, but after the first, he was essentially a 170-pound heavy bag.
Conditioning has always been Penn's biggest problem. One of the most naturally gifted athletes in the sport, it's his dedication in the gym that has been called into question. Penn has stayed isolated in Hilo, opting to fly fighters in for his camps. He's used the same coaches for years, a group that are viewed as a committee of 'Yes' men.
The only time in the past five years that Penn seemed truly dedicated to his craft was in 2009 when he teamed with Marv Marinovich in preparation for his UFC 101 bout against Kenny Florian. Marinovich is known as one of the most controversial strength and conditioning coaches in sports and was able to get the absolute best out of Penn.
However, after the loss to Edgar, Marinovich and Penn parted ways. Penn went back to life in Hilo and working with the likes of Justin McCully and Troy Mandaloniz.
During his first stint on the Ultimate Fighter, Penn wasn't all that successful of a coach. The hero of that season was Jens Pulver, who came off as having a great connection with his fighters. Penn even went as far as kicking Andy Wang off his team because he didn't listen in a fight. I believe Penn said Wang was "uncoachable."
Now, after struggling to get down to lightweight and coming in out of shape for three bouts at welterweight, Penn hopes to return at featherweight against the man who bested him twice? I'm sorry but this reeks of desperation.
He's an aging fighter who has done more damage to his legacy in the last few years because of terrible habits in training looking to reinvent himself one last time. The only problem is that in order to actually get down to 145 pounds, Penn will need to rededicate himself to training.
Actually, rededicate isn't even the proper word. Penn will actually have to dedicate himself to training like he's never done in his career. Lightweight became a struggle for him towards the end of his last run at the weight class. Featherweight seems like an impossible reach.
Dana White said that Penn hopes to team up with Mike Dolce, one of the true geniuses behind proper weight cutting. Dolce truly is one of the best in the sport at nutrition and getting his clients/fighters to safely make their contracted weights. But he's not a magician. The fighter needs to put in the effort before Dolce can assist with the final pounds.
Penn may believe that he has the opportunity to become the first Triple Crown Champion in UFC history, but he's gotta get there first. And right now, there are so many that don't have faith in Penn's desire to actually put the time into the gym that his biggest obstacle may be just proving he still cares about fighting.
Penn may think the road back to the Octagon begins on TUF, but it's going to be a dead end. He'll end up being another stepping stone. An aging fighter who just didn't know when to hang 'em up. And that's the most depressing way a fighter can walk away from a fight career.