Longtime mixed martial arts (MMA) fans — including myself — were very excited to see the legend, B.J. Penn (16-11-2), return to The Octagon last night at UFC Fight Night 103 in Phoenix, Arizona (full results here).
By that same token, his fans were surely disappointed in the result.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Latin America” winner and one of the hottest rising stars in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) — especially after last night — Yair Rodriguez (11-1), ended “The Prodigy’s” night very early in the second round of their fight.
While Penn was motivated and in-shape — both difficult to come by when he was in his prime — he had no answer for Father Time, as the 24-year-old Rodriguez proved that Penn was no match for him. Yair tee’d off on Penn from the outside with a wide array and variety of kicks and punches. Penn was able to get inside on Rodriguez only a few times, as he landed just four significant strikes throughout the bout compared to Yair’s whopping 55. With flashy kicking techniques coming from all angles, it only seemed like a matter of time before Penn dropped, which he finally did.
It only took a UFC record 1,034 significant strikes absorbed over a career to finally knock down “The Prodigy.” Rodriguez dropped Penn seconds into the second round with a front kick landing flush to the face followed by a right hand behind it. Once Penn was down, Rodriguez swarmed him with a barrage of punches on the floor before Big John McCarthy finally saw enough. While Penn was upset at the stoppage, enough was enough. Penn’s comeback fight lasted a mere 24 seconds into the second round.
“I was ready to die to win tonight, and thanks God, I won against a legend, B.J. Penn,” Rodriguez said post-fight. “I talked to him after the fight and he said, ‘hey man, no disrespect, this is part of the game. I just said all that stuff because it’s part of the strategy, no disrespect.’ I told him, hey man, listen, I know it’s part of the strategy. We all do the same thing in different way, so I’m not mad at you, he’s not mad at me. I respect him even more right now, now that I’ve fought him. I know he’s a legend. He’s a powerful guy, and I’m pretty happy to have the victory tonight.”
While the majority of the MMA community was likely gutted by the beatdown Penn took yet again — considering he has posted a record of just 1-6-1 over his last eight fights — the focus should begin shifting towards the bright future for “Pantera.”
“I was trying to feel it out, because I knew he probably could catch me when I threw some kicks with a big punch, so I was trying to be careful, feel him out, read him, read his movements. You put something in your mind, but sometimes it doesn’t go the way that you want, so you have to be careful, start reading him, his movements, and start your strategy from there.
“So, my coach told me: ‘Be careful. I know you touched him a little bit, but be careful,” Rodriguez said. “Don’t pressure him too much. Don’t go for him, because he’s a legend. He knows what he’s doing and he can take advantage of that. So just be careful, respect him a little, and then he’s going to be there. Just believe in your kicks.’ And that’s what I did. I believed in my kicks.”
And boy, did Rodriguez believe in his kicks. Of the 56 strikes landed by Rodriguez, 55 were significant. Yair put a clinic on full display for any young martial artists who were watching.
Even though Rodriguez possessed all of the limelight last night, he refused to call out anybody or demand a title shot.
“For me, personally, it means a lot beating a legend like B.J. Penn. But I don’t know where this fight is going to put me. I’m going to wait and see what the UFC wants to bring next. I’m not the kind of fighter who’s going to ask for a guy next. I’m just not that kind of guy. I’m different, a different kind of animal. So, whatever the UFC wants to bring next, I’ll be ready for it. I’ll always prepare myself to fight the best in the world, so whatever they want to bring next, I’ll be ready.”
While “El Pantera” may not know who his next opponent is, we can all do the brainstorming for him — looks like Cub Swanson is a popular choice right now — but as for B.J. Penn’s next opponent, will there even be one? Rodriguez gave his take on that topic as well.
“I don’t know, man. I cannot say that,” said Yair. “I cannot be the one picking that up. It’s part of his life and his career. It’s up to what he wants to do. I felt him, he’s strong. But it’s up to him, it’s up to him what he wants to do.”
I can say from a fan’s perspective that Penn should probably hang them up. Being 1-6-1 in your last eight fights doesn’t bode well, especially when you’re beloved amongst the community and they don’t want to see you get beaten up.
However, like Yair said, it’s “The Prodigy’s” decision, not ours. If it is the end however, we thank B.J. Penn for all the years of incredible fights and memories, and we very much look forward to what Rodriguez has to bring to the table from here forth.