After suffering a beating at the hands of Nick Diaz in October, 2011, B.J. Penn announced his retirement from the sport of MMA.
Now here we are in October, 2012, and it's back to business as usual for "The Prodigy," who is preparing for his next bout, set for the UFC on FOX 5 card this December. Penn will be taking on rising star Rory MacDonald in what has become something of a grudge match.
Though it's hardly unprecedented for an athlete to renege on stated intentions of walking away from competition, the reversal of course invariably incites questions about the sagacity of the decision.
Looking at Penn and his decision to return to the Octagon for another kick at the can, we can't help but ask ourselves, is it the right decision, or will he end up regretting his comeback attempt?
When it comes down to it, only Penn can provide a precise answer to the question. With factors like personal motivation, monetary gain and post-career situation unbeknownst to anyone other than himself, all the rest of us can do is look at the more transparent elements of the equation and make an educated guess.
We outsiders can also evaluate the effect of the return, not on a personal level, but on a professional one—how has Penn's legacy been affected, did he show he is still a contender, what was the outcome of the match.
Though they may not paint the whole picture, these more accessible, more measurable components of Penn's return can lead us to certain conclusions. Conclusions probably not so different than those Penn himself will arrive upon.
So, with that in mind, let's revisit the question—is Penn's decision to return a smart one, or will he regret it?
When we consider the matchup he's drawn, Penn's outlook is pretty bleak. While Penn has rarely been outclassed in his career, he has been often outmuscled—especially as a welterweight—and he happens to be fighting one of the division's biggest, strongest competitors.
When we add MacDonald's penchant for putting opponents on their backs and beating them up, as well as his ability to manhandle lighter men from the clinch, it all spells out a very long night for Penn.
Sure, Penn could conceivably pull off the upset, but it seems more likely that he will receive the kind of thrashing that sent him scurrying off into retirement.
So, if that probable result factors into his own assessment of the decision to reprise his role as UFC fighter, than it is looking very much like Penn would have been better off passing up the opportunity.
Still, there is that compulsion to compete that many high-level athletes can only sate by staying active. The money will probably be nice too.
But Penn shouldn't expect an easy route back. In fact, he shouldn't expect a route back at all. UFC on FOX 5 might very well signify his second retirement, and this time the bitter taste of exiting the sport on a losing note will only have multiplied.