“I only want to be known as the best ever. Is that too much to ask?”—B.J. Penn
The recent career of B.J. Penn has been mired in adversity and surrounded with questions.
Penn has seen many peaks and many valleys from his vantage point in this sport. Lately though the man has found a bit of a rut compared to the highest peaks he is most familiar with.
When you talk about Penn's career you are talking about a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu pedigree that simply baffles, a striking game that boxing aficionados have called the best in the sport.
You are talking about a man who has fought around the world from 155 to 191 pounds.
His resume includes fights with Takanori Gomi, Matt Hughes, Lyoto Machida, Renzo Gracie, Frankie Edgar and Georges St. Pierre—just to name a few.
You are talking about a man who has fought 11 of his 25 total fights for UFC titles. For those of you without a calculator that is 44 percent of his career has been at the championship level.
He has held titles in two UFC weight divisions and is one of two men to have ever done that. The other being Randy Couture.
For all the glory and pride Penn has found inside the cage, he has tasted gut wrenching defeat at times as well. Even his losses were spectacles that only B.J. Penn could be a part of.
His dedication and motivation have been called into question in one breath, only to hear his legend proclaimed the next.
This one-of-a-kind fingerprint has played a very unique tune in the orchestra that is MMA.
His contributions to the sport will be celebrated historically as the long term legends of this sport are separated from the pack.
But Penn is clearly nearing—if not actively living within—the twilight of his historic career.
When he lost his second fight with Georges St. Pierre, the devastation left Penn contemplating retirement, if not simply questioning his future.
That was over two years ago. Penn then returned to his home at 155 pounds and continued to decimate the field.
As everyone this side of the moon knows, he then hit the brick wall known simply as “The Answer”.
Frankie Edgar found a way to crack the code of a man that many to this day consider the greatest lightweight in the history of the sport. Frankie took Penn's title, and immediately defended it against him in an almost instant rematch.
The career of B.J. Penn had taken a hard turn down a road that posed more questions than answers.
For a man talking retirement two years prior, the pain of those events must have been a shock to the system of such a proud champion.
At that moment though, it was sadly apparent that with Frankie Edgar holding that title, Penn's lightweight options had been exhausted.
For Penn and the UFC, the only answer was a move back to the place that made him question his future when he last fought there: welterweight.
Penn agreed to round out his trilogy with Matt Hughes, a once bitter rival who had now gained his respect and admiration.
For all questions that surrounded Penn's return to welterweight, he had only one answer. That answer was a 21-second smashing knockout victory over Hughes.
While it was one of the single most impressive knockouts of his career against one of his greatest rivals, 21 seconds is a small sample size for a man who has been competing 15 pounds lighter for almost two years, no matter how devastating.
So the UFC gave Penn one of the greatest tests of his career in Jon Fitch. In an outstanding match between two of the sports premier fighters, Penn and Fitch fought to a majority draw.
MMA fans were both stunned and divided on the outcome, but one thing was clear: Penn could still hang at this weight.
But in the end Penn stated that if he had lost this fight he intended to reconsider his future, and again indicated he might retire. But since he was awarded this draw he may return to fight again. He did agree to fight again in a rematch with Fitch.
That rematch has fallen through due to an injury to Fitch.
But what if Fitch had not been injured? What if the fight had taken place?
Assuming Penn won, and no one in their right mind would ever simply assume, but for conversation's sake say he won. Then what?
The only thing waiting for B.J. Penn after Jon Fitch is a man who has beat Penn twice in GSP, and a man who has not lost a fight in five years in Jake Shields.
Somewhere out there is former middleweight Nate Marquardt looking to throw his hat in the welterweight argument, too.
For a man who weighs in to 170-pound fights with his jeans on, maybe the ever deepening welterweight division is not the place for him to chase the greatness he is looking for.
While Penn has made a career swimming in deep waters with dangerous sharks, perhaps chasing that welterweight unicorn is not the way he should be heading.
Remember, he has won that title, it is noted clearly on his legacy.
If Penn has set the goal of becoming the best ever, is it possible his destiny could lie in the featherweight division?
Could a final run in the newly established UFC featherweight division be the path to another chapter in Penn's career?
Opening the door to another title opportunity, another UFC title, that is something that would prove to be quite a feather in Penn's cap.
Not only would a run at that title put him on a historic path, but it would also further broaden the spectrum of weight that Penn has competed at.
The thought of B.J. Penn standing across the cage from Jose Aldo sends chills down a fight fan's spine.
The idea that Penn could conceivably become the first man to ever win titles across three weight divisions, not only in the UFC but all of MMA, is staggering.
The idea of B.J. Penn fighting at welterweight and running for his former title holds a lot of weight; the story line there is inspirational and would be classic if it even remotely played out as Penn might like.
But when placed on a scale with the idea that Penn could drop down 10 pounds instead of trying to compensate for 15, dropping down makes much more sense.
Think back to the domination Penn enforced on the UFC lightweight division. Imagine what he would do at featherweight.
Right here, right now, B.J. Penn is considered an all time great.
As time passes by and the Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez types make their mark, Penn's legacy could pale in comparison.
Over time, what once was considered great may become overshadowed by future greatness.
So if long term historical recognition of greatness is what he seeks, he must make a mark on the history of the sport that goes beyond wins and losses.
Think Dan Henderson historical. No one will ever be able to accomplish what Hendo has, winning titles in the UFC, Pride, and Strikeforce.
It is not every fighter who can fight across a forty-pound spectrum. That is one of the many tools and talents B.J. Penn holds in his belt.
The man can fight well at many different weights, whereas many fighters simply cannot function effectively if not fighting at a prime weight.
Look at what happened when Brandon Vera moved from heavyweight to light heavyweight.
Penn can do it and do it well. Why not use that as part of the amazing legacy he has already created? Why not seize this opportunity that really was never on the table before? The UFC absorbed the WEC divisions only as recently as December.
This option has not been available for that long, and it is one that needs to be considered.
It could rejuvenate the career of an active legend and provide an extremely unique opportunity for both B.J. Penn and the fans off MMA.
To see a man secure his third title in his third weight class in our lifetime has never happened. It is a few impressive performances just 10 pounds south of where “The Prodigy” started his legend so many years ago.
If Penn were to retire today, the final impression would not seem appropriate or do his career justice.
If we are indeed seeing the final years of Penn in this sport, it would seem a path with a higher opportunity for success would be more logical.
The phone is sitting right there on the table Joe Silva, why don't you give B.J. Penn a call?
Tell him Hurtsbad MMA has an idea we want to run by him.
And tell him to get his running shoes on.
This article originally featured at Hurtsbad MMA.
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