After an embarrassingly one-sided beating delivered by Rory MacDonald at UFC on FOX 5, many MMA pundits have declared the career of B.J. Penn officially deceased.
Given the fact that Penn had all but made his retirement official prior to the bout with MacDonald, the assumption that the legendary Hawaiian is finished in the sport isn’t exactly mind numbing.
There’s no mistaking the fact that Penn has lost a step over the last few years. The former lightweight champion has won just one of his last six bouts, a 21 second knockout over fellow fading stud, Matt Hughes at UFC 123.
Those aren’t the kind of statistics that point to a prime fighter fit to tangle with today’s elite mixed martial artists. But when you take a close look at the majority of those six fights, one must admit that Penn’s not only been subjected to questionable judging (take a look at Fightmetric’s scoring for the first Penn versus Edgar bout at UFC 112), but he’s been competing in a weight class he’s never been built for.
B.J. Penn is and always has been a natural lightweight. Yet four of his last six outings have taken place at welterweight, where he’s noticeably out-sized, and has suffered subsequent abuse that really isn’t necessary.
The fact of the matter is, if Penn opted to return to lightweight, he may (conceivably) still be a viable threat to the division’s top contenders.
However, Penn’s motivation in recent years appears a little suspicious. The former champion rarely looks as though he’s trained enough to duke it out—full force—for 15 minutes, let alone 25, and the growing versatility of MMA’s “new breed” of fighter may be a bit too much for the 34-year-old to overcome.
All that said, watching Penn walk away from MMA after such a demoralizing defeat to MacDonald seems highly inappropriate. This is a true pioneer of the sport, and one of the first marquee figures to compete at 155 pounds. How about one final sendoff at his natural weight class?
10 years ago Penn and rising Japanese star, Takanori Gomi met in Honolulu, Hawaii at Rumble on the Rock 4. Penn earned a third-round submission victory and went on to begin his strange and random weight class fluctuations. Meanwhile, Gomi positioned himself comfortably at lightweight and reached a career peak, entering the Pride ranks and amassing an impressive 13-1-0-1 record.
Gomi’s success catapulted him to the top of the lightweight food chain, but by the time Pride had gone defunct and Gomi had made his way to the UFC. The physicality of “The Fireball Kid” seemed to diminish.
Gomi has assembled a 3-3 record for the powerhouse promotion. But he’s still a dangerous man to toe the line with, even if he has slowed considerably over the last six years.
In truth, these two share some amazing career parallels. Both are astoundingly durable fighters who have earned a reputation for being able to take a wealth of punishment before returning fire and ending competitions in sudden and violent fashion. Both held titles and “invincible auras” for the two most recognizable promotions in MMA history. Both have experienced similar career declines.
A rematch between these two won’t do much in terms of divisional relevancy, but at this point, neither man is all too likely—it's not entirely out of the question I should note—to rise to title contention. Both have seen their best days come and go.
If Penn is dedicated to departing the sport, he should do so on a high-note. A rematch with Gomi, now 10 years in the making, could be the perfect exit for the former champion.
Diminished skills accounted for, these two likely match up quite well in 2013. Both men are 34 years old, both are still able to perform at lightweight, and I’m sure Penn would love to ride off into the sunset with a final victory under his belt, while Gomi would certainly find some measure of redemption should he defeat Penn.
It’s time to offer Penn one final chance to shine inside the cage. I doubt Gomi would object to such match-making, and both men stand to gain big notoriety and one more sizable paycheck with a victory.
Don’t hang 'em up just yet Mr. Penn, lobby for a date with Gomi, and give yourself as well as the fans the proper departure!
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