Once again, BJ Penn has been roughed up and run over by another legitimate welterweight, and once again we are left to ponder if such a loss will send him into retirement, perhaps permanently this time.
When looking at Penn’s performance against Rory MacDonald, we see much that has remained the same over his past few outings, and that seems to be a vast contrast to his fights at lightweight.
So, when looking at it under the microscope, so to speak, how do we think Penn did? Granted, he was in there against a rising star that enjoyed the advantages of reach, youth, strength and perhaps even hype, but in the end, Penn held his own future in his hands.
Perhaps one of the glaring holes in his showing against MacDonald is that he chose to fight the wrong fight against a man so much longer and younger than himself. Perhaps this is just a matter of hubris for a man with as much talent as Penn, but it’s clear that he’s not learning from his mistakes.
Penn didn’t use nearly as much movement as he should have. Against MacDonald, he should have been constantly circling and giving angles instead of plodding forward or backward.
He never really gave MacDonald anything other that a mainly stationary target when he should have been giving him a great deal of movement and feints. It seems obvious that he’s come to expect that he’s not going to get to land the heavy leather unless he is planted and can thus explode from there, and given the reach disadvantage he had, that simply wasn’t going to work.
Then, he didn’t respond with energy or desperation due the moment whenever he was pinned against the cage. It’s very good not to panic, but you have to get out of any spot that would be found in your opponent’s wheelhouse, and the clinch game clearly favored MacDonald.
After his last loss to Nick Diaz, this should have been obvious to Penn and he should have done damn near anything to get out of those positions, even if it looked like he was running for a moment.
Another opportunity for improvement for Penn is more defensive head movement to go along with constant circling when his opponent is at range. Penn is small for the division, and MacDonald was basically able to hit Penn with many kicks and jabs, mainly because Penn wasn’t doing enough to make himself anything other than a predictable, stationary target.
Then, of course, comes the question of commitment. Penn knew MacDonald was going to have many advantages while the bout was standing, but he didn’t commit to attacking like a man who knows it is better to give than receive.
He should have come in conditioned enough to throw at least 100 strikes per round, if not more. You can’t keep anyone on the defensive if you don’t give them anything to worry about, and Penn seemed to be either trying to keep MacDonald at bay or to play catch up on the score cards; neither of those plans speak very well for being aggressive toward the end of finishing a fight with strikes.
Lastly, it has become clear in Penn’s time at welterweight that he is slowly beginning to show his inner Quinton “Rampage” Jackson—never mixing things up with kicks and knees and elbows to go along with the punches. That simply won’t win him any fights in a division where his opponents are going to be bigger than he is, and it certainly failed him against MacDonald.
If Penn honestly wants to contend at welterweight, he must make drastic changes that include a brand-new conditioning program and a devotion to smart game plans. In short, he needs to start training with a group of fighters in a camp where he isn’t in charge; learning new things and new ways to apply them requires a student’s mindset, not that of a teacher.
He could always go back and spend some time with Randy Couture or perhaps even throw convention to the wind and train with someone like Frankie Edgar, who knows all about constant movement, effective counters and the like.
Over all, Penn’s performance was typical of the Penn that fights at welterweight, and that’s not the best Penn he can produce.