Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight and Lightweight strap-hanger, B.J. Penn, will drop down to Featherweight to avenge a pair of losses to fellow former 155-pound kingpin, Frankie Edgar, in The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 19 Finale this Sunday (July 6, 2014) at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Penn's last couple years have not been the best of his mixed martial arts (MMA) career.
After losing his title to his upcoming opponent in the Lightweight division, "The Prodigy" decided to return to the 170-pound division. A quick knockout victory over Matt Hughes -- a heated rival in the past -- made some fans hopeful, as did Penn's next bout, in which he drew with perennial bridesmaid Jon Fitch.
From there, things went bad.
Nick Diaz put a horrific beating on Penn, causing the Hawaiian's face to swell badly. A brief retirement ended with Penn attempting to take out Canadian wunderkind Rory MacDonald, who battered him nearly as badly as Diaz did. Now, Penn looks to drop two weight classes and start a career resurgence at the age of 35.
Does he still have it in him?
Let's find out:
Once called "the best boxer in MMA" by expert boxing coach Freddie Roach, Penn's hands have caused the fall of many of his opponents. A naturally aggressive fighter, Penn also developed an excellent counter striking game.
In most of his fights, Penn would be the one stalking his opponents. As he moved forward, Penn would flash the jab or occasionally step into combinations. All the while, Penn would actively feint with his punches.
When he does lead, Penn generally relies on simple two or three punch combinations, often a mix of left hooks and straight right hands. If Penn is feeling particularly aggressive, he'll grab a collar tie after his punches. With a single collar tie, Penn loves to explode into a quick flurry of uppercuts. Should he secure a full Muay Thai plum, then Penn will attack with knees.
As Penn pursued his opponent, his foe would be forced to lead or be put against the fence. Since having you back to the fence against Penn is very dangerous, due to takedowns or even a flying knee, most of his opponents would look to force Penn back with a combination.
The first couple times his opponent tried to land a combo, Penn would back off and look to get their timing down. Then, he would keep his ground and slip their shots. This is Penn at his most dangerous, as the Hawaiian is a phenomenal counter striker.
One of Penn's most frequent counters is a sharp jab. As his opponent would look to establish the jab or start a combination with one, Penn dips off to his right and snaps his head back with a jab. Throwing this type of jab has a number of benefits, the biggest being the increased impact of the punch. Since his opponent is moving into the punch while Penn has his feet planted, Penn's punch is certain to do more damage even if both men land.
This punch is also a large part of why Penn is so hard to hit. The slip down to his right side is very hard to counter, as most normal punches will rush by the space his head formerly occupied. In addition, Penn is excellent at reading his opponents, so he understands exactly when to use the strike.
Also in Penn's counter punching arsenal is the left hook. He used it less and less as his jab developed, but Penn will still mix the counter into his attack. While his opponent is throwing punches, Penn will roll under them and come up with a brutal left hook. Penn will also do something similar with an overhand right, which he will occasionally use to counter his opponent's jab.
Defensively, Penn is an excellent striker, at least when he stays inside his own weight class. In his losses at lightweight, Penn never absorbed a large amount of punishment, which shows the excellence of his head movement. However, when facing larger, longer men like Rory MacDonald and Nick Diaz, Penn's defense and cardio could not stem their offense.
Despite his phenomenal grappling game, Penn has never been the biggest pursuer of the takedown. That said, Penn usually gets the takedown if he wants it.
For the most part, Penn relied on his double leg against the fence to bring the fight to the mat. After shaking up his opponent with a quick flurry of punches, Penn would change levels and shoot. Penn's ability to get in on his opponents' hips and lock his hands quickly is quite impressive.
From there, he would lift his opponent away from the cage and slam him into the center of the mat.
Penn's ability to control his opponent from top position is excellent. As soon as he drags an opponent down, he would lace up their legs with his own. From there, he slowly creeps up his opponents body until he has secured top position. Then, he begins to use his excellent Brazilian jiu-jitsu top game.
Penn's takedown defense, at least within his proper weight class, is excellent. This is largely due to his incredible balance and flexibility, which allows him to contort his body into unusual positions that wrestlers are uncommon with. This is especially noticeable whenever his opponent attempts to land a single leg takedown.
It is also very important that Penn kept his opponent on the outside with his boxing. Though Penn did have some strong clinch attacks, he mostly pressured his opponent at range then kept him back with sharp counters. In order to close the distance, his opponent had to throw punches, but those punches often resulted in Penn landing. That led many of Penn's opponents to shoot from too far out, which just will not work against a fighter of Penn's caliber.
Though Penn rose quickly through the ranks in MMA, it was his aptitude for jiu-jitsu that earned him the moniker of "Prodigy." In just four short years, Penn earned his black belt under Andre Pederneiras. Then a few weeks later, he became the first American to ever win the Mundials at black belt, which is the highest form of gi competition.
There's a well-known story in the jiu-jitsu community of Penn's first few months training with Ralph Gracie. Dave Camarillo, a brilliant grappler and former coach at American Kickboxing Academy, was a couple years into his training and attempted to demonstrate guard passing on all of the new students. Despite his experience advantage, Camarillo could not pass the teenage Penn's guard.
This was largely because of Penn's insane flexibility, an asset that he often utilized in his MMA career as well. Penn's hips are abnormal; they can bend in ways most people can't even consider.
Off of his back, Penn has never really been a submission fighter. Instead, he looks to stand or sweep. To stand, Penn will get his feet in his opponent's hips, an easy task for him given his flexibility, and then kick his opponent off of him.
To sweep his foe, Penn will look to either roll him or escape out the back door. If Penn's opponent gets off balanced, Penn will push him around with his legs. When Penn times this correctly, it results in a sweep. Otherwise, Penn looks for underhooks, which allow him to come up into his favorite position: back mount.
Despite his incredible hips, Penn has always been a top player, even in jiu-jitsu. Once he gets on top of his foe, he quickly passes guard and begins working to the back. From that position, Penn rarely fails to finish his opponent.
While on his opponent's back, Penn does several things very well. First off, his control with his legs is excellent. Unless his opponent is an expert at defending back mount (Fitch), there is no escape. Penn controls his opponents' hips easily and constantly, making movement difficult and attempts at spinning risky.
Should his opponent reach down to fight his feet, Penn is quick to attack with the choke.
In addition, Penn distracts his opponent from the threat of the rear-naked choke very well. Between his heel kicks to the ribs, smothering his opponent's mouth with his hand, and hard punches from behind, Penn makes the threat of the rear naked seem like a a secondary threat.
Best Chance For Success
At the age of 35, Penn will need to pull off something special to defeat Edgar. Since it's a five round fight and this is Penn's first cut to featherweight, it seems unlikely that he will be able to win a decision.
Good luck knocking out Frankie Edgar.
Instead, Penn needs to rely on his submission game to earn him the victory. If he can force Edgar back to the fence and get in on his hips, there's a very good chance he can drag the New Jersey native to the mat. On top, Penn will have a huge advantage.
It's also important that Penn does not waste time. He needs to be aggressive early, as Edgar sometimes starts the fight slow. If Penn can hurt "The Answer" with punches and then drag him to the mat while fresh, he has his best chance at finishing.
Can Penn upset the 7-1 favorite (see latest betting line here) or will Edgar turn away the Hawaiian for the third time?