There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that B.J. Penn is a future UFC Hall of Famer. His mixed martial arts career began inside the Octagon at UFC 31, and over the course of his career he elevated the lightweight division to its marquee status and is one of only two men to hold UFC titles in two weight classes. A win over Frankie Edgar at the TUF 19 Finale on Sunday could add a new chapter to the legacy of “The Prodigy.”
Since losing the UFC lightweight title to Frankie Edgar in April of 2010, and the rematch that August, he ventured back up to welterweight with his 21-second starching of Matt Hughes at UFC 123. The win was thought by many to be the beginning of a career resurgence for the former champion.
He fought to a draw in his next bout against Jon Fitch at UFC 127, in a very close fight that he was competitive in. He followed that up with a decision loss to Nick Diaz, where after a surge of action in the first round, he couldn’t keep up with the blistering pace of Diaz, and by the end was doing little more than absorbing punishment. The resurgence hadn’t come, and it became clear that the days of licking his opponent’s blood off his gloves were in the past.
The loss to Diaz was an emotional one for B.J., who told Joe Rogan during his post-fight interview that it would probably be the last time we saw him in the cage, and he didn’t want to go home “looking like this” anymore. It seemed very likely that we had seen The Prodigy fight for the final time.
He returned a year later after to answer a challenge from Rory MacDonald. MacDonald picked him apart in the fight en-route to a unanimous decision, leaving Penn in a familiar spot of being badly beaten and dejected. Going into his third fight with Edgar, Penn has won just one of his last six fights.
The variable that needs to be considered is the move to featherweight that Penn will be making for the first time in his career. Those thorough beatdowns by Diaz and MacDonald occurred at 170 pounds, which despite the victories over Hughes was never a good fit for Penn.
A "motivated BJ Penn” is a saying that has almost become lore in the mixed martial arts world, similar to “Prime Chuck Liddell” or “Wanderlei in Pride.” Motivation to train has always been the biggest hurdle for Penn to get over in his career. Making the cut to 145 pounds will necessitate Penn to stay active and will push him to train hard.
Although Penn doesn’t have any personal animosity towards Edgar, a few statements made recently have gotten under his skin.
“It’s not really an emotional thing, but I’ve seen that he really wants to make me retire,” Penn said on the pre-fight conference call. “And how am I going to feed myself and feed my kids if I retire? But I’ll remember that next Sunday when we step in the ring.”
The losses to Edgar eat away at Penn, and he was willing to make the drop to featherweight to avenge them. Penn is 35 years old. He isn’t the youngest fighter in the world, but he isn’t so advanced in age that a good performance seems out of the question.
He’s got a tough task ahead against the man who took his belt, and it really will take a motivated B.J. Penn to get past Edgar. We may see Frankie Edgar come out and use his speed and footwork to outbox Penn just like he did in their first two fights. But, we may see a lean, scrappy B.J. Penn storm out of the gate looking to finish his adversary quickly and decisively.
And should he defeat the No. 3-ranked featherweight, the rest of the Top 10 is no walk in the park either. Defeating Frankie Edgar would create some seriously interesting fights in the featherweight division. Put a newly invigorated B.J. Penn against fighters like Cub Swanson or Chan Sung Jung and you have main event fights that would draw some eyeballs.
He has spent some time with the Nova Uniao team in preparation for this fight, and a win over Edgar would put him right back into the forefront of the minds of MMA fans who marveled at his destruction of the lightweight division from 2007-2009.
Penn has already earned his place as one of the pound-for-pound greats and was arguably the best lightweight fighter of all time. He’s got a chance to prove that he still has what it takes to get it done and reclaim the glory that he reveled in as one of the most feared fighters in the UFC. A victory would certainly breathe new life into his already prodigious career.