BJ Penn, a prodigy at UFC 127
Coming up from Australia on Saturday is UFC 127, featuring one of my all-time fave fighters who has had some very entertaining bouts over the years, against someone who has gotten a lot of criticism for his perceived “boring” style: BJ Penn vs. Jon Fitch. Apparently, UFC President Dana White has made the winner of this bout the Number 1 contender for the Welterweight title, which will be defended next at UFC 130 when champion Georges St-Pierre takes on challenger Jake Shields. We all know how lightly we should take these on-the-spot, next-in-line-for-title-shot fights (see “Fitch, Jon” previously, and “Okami, Yushin”), but it does add a certain intrigue to an already interesting match-up. Especially for BJ, who just last year was counted out by many people after being beaten soundly by Frankie Edgar.
Nicknamed “The Prodigy” for his unbelievable potential, BJ (stand for Baby Jay, being one of many Penns named Jay Dee; gotta separate them somehow, right?) started training BJJ at the age of 17. Three years later, he was a black belt and had won the Mundial World Championships in that category, the first non-Brazilian ever to do that. Comparably, it takes most people 10 years to even reach the level of black belt in this sport!
MMA and the UFC came calling in 2001, where he debuted and won against Joey Gilbert at UFC 31: Locked And Loaded on May 4th. This was followed by two more victories, scoring him a title fight against Jens Pulver less than a year later. He lost that one on Majority Decision, but came back with six straight wins and one draw (Caol Uno at UFC 41: Onslaught). BJ, a natural 170-180 pounder, fought Lyoto Machida at heavyweight (BJ weighed 191 lbs, Machida 220) in Japan before returning to the UFC in 2006, which makes his recent lightweight run all the more impressive.
I particularly enjoyed watching him coach his team against Jens Pulver on TUF 5 back in 2007, where we got an insight as to who the real BJ is. Reading his book (Why I Fight: The belt is just an accessory, HarperCollins 2009) also provided me with a look at what kind of persona BJ has. Growing up in Hawaii, he seems to have a very relaxed look at the world, and basically just wants to enjoy life as it comes to him. I can relate to that very much, as I have a similar outlook on life: I want to have fun living it, while doing things to fulfill my goals. He does things on his own terms, like when he captured the welterweight title against Matt Hughes in 2004 only to immediately sign with Japanese promotion K-1, claiming he didn’t have a sufficient slew of opponents to challenge him in the UFC. Again, this is something that very much appeals to me, since I believe that is the essence of heavy metal: to follow your own heart and mind, whatever the consequences (the UFC of course stripped Penn of the title as soon as the ink had dried on his new contract), and to create your own destiny no matter what anyone else thinks of it.
Matt Hughes and BJ Penn were 1-1 going into the rubber match at UFC 125 in November last year. Would BJ’s unbelievable BJJ (Ha!) skills submit Matt like what happened the first time they fought, or would Hughes’ wrestling and ground-and-pound be too much for Penn this time too? Neither, as it turned out: BJ clipped Hughes with a crisp right hand just 21 seconds into the fight and finished him off. This earned BJ Penn a match against Jon Fitch in Australia, and that’s where we stand today.
BJ has had many ups and some downs over his long, illustrious career, which has seen him capture both the Lightweight and Welterweight Championships (the only man to ever to hold belts in different weight classes the UFC alongside legend Randy Couture). But one thing that stands out when looking at his record is he always bounces back higher than he was before. The two back-to-back welterweight losses against Matt Hughes and GSP in 2006 led to Penn’s complete domination of the lightweight division that lasted until he was dethroned by current champ Frankie Edgar last summer. Those two back-to-back losses resulted in another weight class change and a devastation of Matt Hughes. Are we on the verge of another dominating chapter in BJ Penn’s fantastic career? I can’t wait to find out Saturday!
The same day as UFC 127, Swedish MMA organization the Zone is staging their first event of 2011, The Zone FC 8 – Inferno. I’ll will of course be attending and providing you with a full report of the evening’s action next week.
** Oscar Dronjak’s (HammerFall) MMA Hammer of Justice, Part 1 by clicking here.
** Oscar Dronjak’s (HammerFall) MMA Hammer of Justice, Part 2 by clicking here.
** Oscar Dronjak’s (HammerFall) MMA Hammer of Justice, Part 3 by clicking here.
** Oscar Dronjak’s (HammerFall) MMA Hammer of Justice, Part 4 by clicking here.
** Oscar Dronjak’s (HammerFall) MMA Hammer of Justice, Part 5 by clicking here.
** Oscar Dronjak’s (HammerFall) MMA Hammer of Justice, Part 6 by clicking here.
** Oscar Dronjak’s (HammerFall) MMA Hammer of Justice, Part 7 by clicking here.
** HammerFall’s new album, Infected, is out June 7th, 2011 on Nuclear Blast Records.