BJ Penn is back in the headlines this week following reports that he is considering a return to the UFC. Although a final decision is likely to be at least a couple of months away, the former two-division UFC champion is already back in training and says that if he does return, it will be at 155 pounds.
UFC President Dana White has made it clear that he believes it’s time for BJ to hang up his gloves, but the proud Hawaii native has never been one to let others control his destiny. In fact, Penn’s determination to go his own way has proven, for better or worse, to be a defining part of his character. For instance, BJ got his start training under Ralph Gracie of the legendary Gracie family, only to turn around and fight against the Gracies in MMA a few years later. After upsetting longtime champion Matt Hughes to win the UFC welterweight title, he gave up the belt and went to sign with K-1. He even fought an open-weight match against Lyoto Machida, despite giving up 30 pounds in weight to the future UFC light-heavyweight champion. These actions may seem foolish, wrong, or outright silly to most people… but most people aren’t BJ Penn.
Regardless, at this point in his career, it’s hard to know how much of Penn’s uncanny natural ability is left intact. At 34 years old, he’s a 12 year veteran of the sport and is coming off a pair of bad beatings courtesy of Nick Diaz and Rory MacDonald. One may be tempted to conclude that Penn’s stint as a world-class fighter has come and gone, but it’s possible that his recent performances in the Octagon are not all that indicative of how much (or how little) gas he has left in the tank. The truth is, BJ is not big enough to fight at welterweight and he never has been. Even a fighter as talented as “the Prodigy” is in for a tough climb when his opponent outweighs him by 15-20 pounds on fight night. A younger version of Penn was probably athletic enough to bridge much of the gap, but that luxury has faded over time. Lightweight is where Penn once dominated, and it’s where he belongs now if he wants to keep fighting.
It’s good to hear the Penn camp echoing this sentiment. We never know what the future holds, but if BJ’s competitive spirit is still strong and he’s willing to put in the training hours, a contendership at 155 pounds may not be out of the question. Nothing beats a “motivated” Penn, it’s often been said. I hope we can see that maxim put to the test one last time before BJ steps away for good.