We have not seen BJ Penn inside the Octagon since he walked out of the cage at UFC 137 a beaten, bloodied and bruised man. That night, Nick Diaz used his distinctive fighting style to pick apart the former UFC champion, landing a record 178 significant strikes during the fight.
Those strikes led an emotional Penn to tell Joe Rogan after the fight, "Joe, this is probably the last time you see me in here. I want to perform at the top level. … I've got a daughter. I've got another daughter on the way. I don't want to go home looking like this."
For a while it seemed as if Penn would stay retired; in May, he rejected an offer to face Josh Koscheck. After turning that fight down, it seemed as if Penn would remain retired, that is until up-and-coming welterweight Rory MacDonald appeared on The MMA Hour in early June and offered the following:
It's more of the idea that he may be retiring, so how many opportunities am l going to get to fight a guy like BJ after he’s gone? I think it'd be a great fight. I know I’m going to fight all these guys in the top 10 eventually. I’m a young guy and these guys are going to be around for a long time and I know I’m going to get my shot against all these guys, and maybe I’ll be missing my opportunity if I wait too long with B.J.
To which, Penn replied, “Rory, I accept your challenge!” and just like that, Penn’s retirement ended.
The MacDonald vs. Penn bout was booked for UFC 152, which is set to take place on Sept. 22 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Unfortunately a training injury has knocked MacDonald from the card.
MacDonald detailed the injury via twitter, “i was cut at sparring i needed 3 layers of stitching in total i needed 38 stitches i'm very sad right now that i willl not be healed in time to fight sept 22 I am hoping that @bjpenndotcom will agree to have the fight on a later date in november.”
The injury to MacDonald has left Penn without an opponent for UFC 152, but that doesn’t mean the 33-year-old Penn has been without suitors.
Siyar Bahadurzada got things rolling by tweeting that he would gladly step in to face Penn and donate his purse to charity:
The only reason I wanna fight @bjpenndotcom is to test my will and warrior spirit vs his. I'm not fighting for money! I'm willing to donate my fight purse to a charity to prove that it's not for financial reasons & will take VADA tests! @UFC @danawhite
Sean Sherk, a fighter that we haven’t seen in the Octagon since September 2010, came out of the woodwork to call Penn out:
And finally, Jon Fitch, a fighter that already has a fight booked for UFC 153 in Rio asked to face Penn on that card. Perhaps he is forgetting that he is scheduled to face Erick Silva that night?
He should fight me in Rio RT @arielhelwani: Dana doesn't know if BJ will remain on the 152 card yet.— Jon Fitch (@jonfitchdotnet) August 5, 2012
These call outs all seem to point in one direction. Why would a fighter who has one UFC fight to his name, a former champion who has not fought in almost two years and a fighter that has a fight booked look to call out Penn?
The answer is simple, they see themselves as predators and Penn as a wounded animal. What better way to advance a career, resuscitate a career or get your name back in the mix with a victory over a future UFC Hall of Famer?
It’s not that hard to see the logic here and no one can blame the three fighters for looking for a fight with Penn, but Penn’s been down this road before and it would be very surprising to see him accept any of these fights, as there’s no benefit in any of them to Penn.
Penn gains nothing from any of those fights, Bahadurzada's name recognition isn't there yet for him to be matched up with Penn, and I doubt you'll find many fans screaming for Penn to face Sherk or Fitch at this point.
An intriguing bout has become possible for Penn as Jake Ellenberger has found himself without an opponent. Ellenberger had been booked to face Josh Koscheck at UFC 151, but a bulging disk has knocked Koscheck from the bout.
Ellenberger, like MacDonald, is a highly ranked welterweight and he may be enough to keep Penn on the UFC 152 card.
At this point, it's pure speculation and maybe wishful thinking to imagine Penn versus Ellenberger, but it's probably more realistic than a fight with Bahadurzada, Sherk or Fitch.
All we know for certain is that for now, Penn is back on the shelf.