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Was BJ Penn better than Khabib? ‘Prodigy’ has surprising take on UFC legacy

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Who was the greatest UFC lightweight of all time?
BJ Penn photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images (L). Khabib Nurmagomedov photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images (R).

Who was the greatest lightweight of all time?

Two names that are usually at the top of the list are BJ Penn and Khabib Nurmagomedov, though I think it’s fair to say “The Prodigy” and “The Eagle” were at their fighting primes in two different eras, so it’s difficult to compare their respective careers.

That said, Penn is going to give it the ol’ college try.

“I enjoy watching Khabib fight, I cannot see Khabib saying he is No. 1 of lightweight of all time because that does not seem like his style,” Penn wrote on Instagram. “I will give my opinion on what I thought of Khabib’s career. Me, Khabib and Benson (Henderson) all had three title defenses. Me and Khabib had three finishes in the three title defenses. I did finish Joe Stevenson to win the UFC lightweight belt and Khabib won unanimous decision over (Al) Iaquinta to win the lightweight belt. That’s four finishes me and three finishes him in title fights. These are just numbers not important to fighting. I do feel that it is the champion’s duty to the sport and fellow fighters to make sure the next world champion is the greatest world champion to step into the ring. I do believe Khabib walked away too early in that respect.”

He probably would have stayed if UFC rubber-stamped this fight.

Penn (16-14-2) defeated Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, and Diego Sanchez during his reign as lightweight champion. Khabib (29-0) stopped Conor McGregor, Dustin Poirier, and Justin Gaethje before retiring from combat sports. Since I was around to cover both eras, I can say with some degree of certainty that Nurmagomedov fought the tougher competition.

That’s not Penn’s fault, he faced the best fighters the promotion had to offer at the time.

“There are fighters and sportsmen,” Penn continued. “All I ever wanted to do was fight everyone. I was 25 and in my fighting prime when I went up to 170 pounds and won the belt from Matt Hughes. I cannot blame Khabib for not going up and fighting (Kamaru) Usman for the belt and then sparking a greater conversation of who was the best of the two fighters who won the 170 and 155 belts. The fighters today get fame and don’t want to lose. I will fight anytime until the day I die. I went to Japan and Hawaii and fought in K-1 and Rumble on the Rock at 170, 185, and heavyweight. After years of fighting top fighters and champions I went back to the UFC and took the lightweight belt and the rest is MMA history. I don’t know who is the GOAT lightweight, I was just here to fight.”

If the 32 year-old Nurmagomedov walked away too early, then Penn walked away too late. The Hawaiian bounced around several different weight classes and was eventually forced to retire at the age of 40 after losing seven straight and nine of his last 12.

Former opponent, Diego Sanchez, already cast his vote.

“The guy I fought Dec. 12, 2009, was the most in shape, most motivated BJ Penn and was a true GOAT of the industry that defended his title and licked my blood off of his gloves like a savage Hawaiian King reincarnate,” Sanchez added. “That BJ could have beat any of the greats: GSP, Khabib, Anderson Silva and Conor (McGregor) as well would have fallen to BJ’s supreme BJJ and ‘Prodigy’ athleticism, timing, and reflexes! He still is the GOAT even if he ghosts me?”

Sorry Diego, but getting ghosted is the new trend at 155 pounds.