BJ Penn will prove he is still elite by beating Rory MacDonald this weekend, and the reason why is very clear: motivation.
The odds are completely against him and he is being counted out. He has also been disrespected by a less accomplished, rising fighter and he is mad as hell.
When BJ Penn is counted out and faces a seemingly unbeatable foe, he is always motivated to shock the world and prove the doubters wrong. Battling the big man against all odds has always been Penn's greatest motivation, and it has always been said that a motivated Penn is a dangerous one. The stars are all aligned in his universe for him to shine.
Along with the fact that Penn takes immense pleasure from beating a bigger foe, MacDonald has fuelled his fire by completely disrespecting the accomplished legend. It has been a while since we have seen Penn this aggravated and motivated, and it is when he is at his best.
To many of the "old school" fighters in the UFC, this is still a fight and not a sport, and they need to hate their opponent to really be at their best when they step in the Octagon. It's not about the sport and competition or making a living to fighters like Nick Diaz, Nate Diaz, Frank Mir or BJ Penn. It's about beating a guy up, and Penn is more motivated than ever to do that to MacDonald.
If you take a quick look at the struggles of his last five fights, Penn wasn't really motivated for any of them. He wasn't really amped to defend his title against the smaller, classy Edgar (he still won the first fight in my books). Edgar never said a bad word about Penn leading up to either of their fights. Penn clearly looked less motivated in the rematch that followed.
He was then slightly motivated by a return to welterweight, and he knew he could defeat a declining Hughes easily. No one wants the type of fight that Jon Fitch brings and Penn didn't train properly and simply got through it. Penn and Nick Diaz had a mutual respect and admiration for each other and Nick was better at putting that aside to do what was needed in that fight.
The point is that Penn was not really motivated in any of those fights like he is to smash MacDonald. His buttons weren't pushed and he was never written off. The real fire of BJ Penn was nowhere to be found.
MacDonald lit that fuse, created the perfect motivational storm and now he is going to pay for it, in what will be Penn's fiery last stand in the UFC.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report UFC and regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca's UFC section. Follow him on Twitter @wakafightermma.