BJ Penn: Reflecting on a Legend's Career
After a rich and storied career, which was contested in both the lightweight and welterweight divisions, BJ Penn has solidified himself as one of the true legends of the sport.
The Hawaiian was recently bested in a dominant performance turned in by the surging Nick Diaz, and a frustrated Penn afterwards announced his retirement.
Whether or not Penn chooses to remain on the sidelines, at this point in his career, he has left behind a legacy that speaks for itself.
Knockout Victories over Caol Uno and Din Thomas
In May of 2001, Penn made an impressive debut inside the Octagon when he defeated Joey Gilbert via first-round TKO at UFC 31. From there, "The Prodigy" was on the fast track.
The following month, Penn then met with Din Thomas, a touted submission specialist who had recently defeated then UFC champion Jens Pulver in a regional promotion. Many believed that Penn was being fed to the sharks in just his second outing, however the Hawaiian spoiled the rise of Thomas by knocking him out in a little under three minutes.
Soon after, Penn took on perennial contender Caol Uno, a former title challenger and a world ranked fighter who had an impressive grappling acumen. Penn needed just 11 seconds to dispatch the lauded Japanese fighter.
Having gone 3-0 in his first six months as a pro, Penn would later challenge for his first world title, garnering him the fastest rise of any man inside the Octagon.
Defeating Matt Hughes for the Welterweight Title
After going 0-1-1 in lightweight championship bouts, the organization would eventually do away with the 155-pound class for a few years, making several fighters obsolete inside the Octagon.
However, Penn remained, and the higher-ups granted him an immediate shot at the welterweight title in 2004, where he would be taking on then pound-for-pound great Matt Hughes.
Penn was a decided underdog heading into the bout, but you could never tell.
At UFC 46, Penn swiftly dominated Hughes, first by taking advantage of a sloppy takedown from Hughes, ending up on top and slamming home a huge right hand to the head, which had the champion stunned.
Penn settled in half guard and eventually worked to take the Illinois native's back, submitting the powerhouse wrestler inside of the first round, crowning him the new champion in the process.
The victory was considered a huge upset, though Penn would later assert himself as a top dog in the division, uncontested.
The Gracie Rivalry
A falling-out with the UFC moved Penn from the Octagon to the ring, once he signed with rival promotion K-1.
Once removed from the "big leagues," Penn went on a whirlwind tour involving several promotions—including the family owned Rumble on the Rock organization, where he challenged Rodrigo Gracie in a middleweight affair.
It was considered a huge lack of respect amongst the Gracies, considering Penn had an established background with Ralph Gracie, who had trained the Hawaiian in his earlier years in the Jiu-Jitsu circuit, where Penn became a world champion in just three years of training.
In his bout with Rodrigo, Penn dominated the Brazilian both on the feet and on the ground, taking home a lopsided decision victory. Next, Renzo Gracie challenged Penn, this time under the K-1 lights in a huge fight taking place in Penn's backyard of Honolulu, Hawaii.
The June 2005 match took on a life of its own, with Penn garnering a tremendous amount of support from the crowd in attendance.
Also contested in the 185-pound class, Penn would take home a clear-cut decision over the legendary Pride veteran Renzo, calling an end to the rivalry in the process and giving the family all the praise they deserved.
Defeating Takanori Gomi
Takanori Gomi was a man on the rise in the Japanese circuit, having a record of 14-1 in his first 15 fights. His lone loss came to future Dream champion Joachim Hansen, who took home a close decision victory.
Later, Penn would meet with the surging lightweight under the Rumble on the Rock promotion, just after his disappointing five-round draw with Caol Uno under the UFC banner for the vacant lightweight title.
Penn wasted little time in bringing Gomi to the canvas, where he dominated the wrestler with ground and pound blows, bludgeoning his face before he settled for a rear-naked choke.
At the time, the victory may not have meant much, but just two years later, Gomi would be recognized as the best lightweight fighter in the world after earning the Pride 155-pound belt after besting a field of eight men, including Tatsuya Kawajiri, Luiz Azeredo and Hayato Sakurai.
Exacting Revenge on Jens Pulver
In his first world title bout, Penn was pitted against then champion Jens Pulver.
"The Prodigy" was fast-tracked toward the championship in less than one year's time, and it was a case of too much too soon. The Miletich product would later take home an uncontested decision victory over Penn, albeit a close one.
The two lightweight pioneers would meet again six years later, this time after the culmination of the highly entertaining fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter. This time, it was all Penn, who eventually cinched up a rear-naked choke finish in the second round of their lightweight tussle.
The years-long rivalry was finally extinguished, with Penn coming out on top.
Claiming the Lightweight Title
Penn was always destined for lightweight infamy.
In his third attempt at the 155-pound title, Penn finally claimed gold when he took on then top contender Joe Stevenson. In January of 2008, the duo battled for the vacant title at UFC 80, with Penn dominating Stevenson in the early goings, dropping him in the first few seconds of the bout.
Later, Penn sliced open Stevenson with a powerful elbow to the head.
Eventually, the Hawaiian settled for the rear-naked choke finish, garnering "Submission of the Night" for his efforts in the decidedly one-sided beating.
Penn had finally claimed what was his and would later go on a dominant run.
In the process, Penn became only the second man in the Octagon to become a champion in two different weight classes, with Randy Couture also earning the honor after cinching both the light heavyweight and heavyweight belts.
Sean Sherk: The Biggest Lightweight Title Fight in UFC History
After claiming the vacant title, Penn was later called to return to action in May of 2008 when he took on former champion Sean Sherk.
"The Muscle Shark" was stripped of his title after alleged steroid usage, having been popped by the California State Athletic Commission after his title defense against Hermes Franca.
The bout was billed as "The Biggest Lightweight Title Fight in UFC History," and rightfully so. Sherk was a former title challenger in the welterweight division before dropping down to 155 pounds, where he soon became champion in a dominant performance against Kenny Florian.
Penn vs. Sherk took place at UFC 84, where the duo took main event honors. The early goings of the bout were contested solely on the feet, with Penn getting the better of Sherk with his stabbing jab, battering his face into a bloody mess.
Eventually, Penn turned on the heat in the waning moments of the third round, connecting on a flying knee which sent Sherk to the canvas.
Subsequent blows sent the Minnesota native reeling against the cage, where he was eventually deemed unable to continue, and Penn deftly defended his world title against a very credible opponent.
Title Defenses Against Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez
At UFC 101, Penn took on rising contender and season one finalist of The Ultimate Fighter, Kenny Florian. The bout was especially pivotal for Penn, who was coming off of a fourth-round TKO loss to Georges St-Pierre in his previous outing.
Florian proved game in the early goings of the fight, though he employed a questionable strategy of pressing Penn against the cage. Every time Florian would move in, Penn would rock him with a heavy array of hooks.
Eventually, Penn took control of the bout when he decided to take down Florian to the canvas in the fourth round, delivering some ground-and-pound blows which eventually opened him up for a rear-naked choke finish in a little under four minutes—making him the only man to finish Florian after his TUF finale run.
Next, Penn took on fellow season one TUF vet Diego Sanchez, who was coming off of a rousing performance against Clay Guida in a "Fight of the Year" scrap. Penn met Sanchez in December of 2009, where he dominated the touted fighter for every round.
Known to have a limitless gas tank, Penn went tit-for-tat with Sanchez, dropping him in the early goings of the bout and subsequently rocking him several times after. In the fifth round, Penn threw a high kick which connected—hard.
A huge gash opened up on Sanchez and the fight was called, making Penn the winner by TKO—the only man to have finished the durable Sanchez before the final bell.
Matt Hughes Rubber Match
After dropping two title bouts to current champion Frankie Edgar, Penn moved back to the welterweight division to settle a score with rival Matt Hughes, who bested the Hawaiian in their second outing with a third-round TKO.
Penn and Hughes completed their trilogy at UFC 123 in November of last year, where the two took co-main event honors. There, Penn needed little time in sending Hughes to the mat, after catching him with a sweeping right hand.
Subsequent ground-and-pound blows followed, with Penn needing just 21 seconds to knock out the UFC Hall of Famer, garnering "Knockout of the Night" honors.
Passing of the Torch
Recently, Penn took to the cage against former Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz.
The Stockton fighter was originally set to face Georges St-Pierre for the title, however after a slew of re-bookings and a subsequent injury suffered by the Canadian, Diaz was later pitted against Penn.
The duo took main event honors at UFC 137 a few weeks ago, in a highly anticipated welterweight affair, with the consensus being that the bout would be an early "Fight of the Night" candidate.
The two did not fail to disappoint, as Diaz and Penn went toe-to-toe for the full 15 minutes.
Though, it was the Strikeforce transplant who took the lead in the bout, dominating Penn en route to a clear-cut decision victory that netted both men their coveted "Fight of the Night" bonus.
Penn would later announce his retirement after the frustrating performance he turned in, essentially passing the torch to the ballyhooed Diaz, calling an end to an illustrious career.