Before there was Conor McGregor, there was B.J. Penn out in the wilds of MMA, dreaming the impossible dreams. And now that McGregor has joined Penn in the ranks of two-division champions and one upped him by holding his belts simultaneously (however briefly), Penn is looking to regain the upper hand by becoming the first fighter to hold titles in three divisions.
Speaking with the 5ive Rounds podcast recently, Penn discussed why he's returning to MMA as a featherweight despite his disastrous first attempt at the weight class (a drubbing at the hands of Frankie Edgar that pushed him into retirement).
"There's more of an opportunity for me to get three UFC belts at 145 than going to 185. I really feel really confident that nobody's gonna able to get the 155 and 170 pound belts. But my best shot at 38 years old, if you really wanted to ask me - I want to get one more world title and to try to get three titles at three weight classes - and without a doubt 145 is my best option."
To get there though he first has to actually make it back into the cage. Penn has been attempting a comeback since April but circumstances have conspired to keep him out of action. Criminal allegations against him originally kept him out of a fight with Dennis Siver at UFC 197 and then his UFC 199 bout with Cole Miller was cancelled after Penn violated USADA's rule against using IV's at any point during the year. Most recently, he was supposed to face Ricardo Lamas in the main event of UFC Fight Night Manila but a rib injury forced him to withdraw, causing the cancellation of the event.
Now Penn is set to face possibly an even tougher challenger than his other scheduled opponents, surging prospect Yair Rodriguez. Rodriguez is 5-0 in the UFC and coming off a split-decision win over Alex Caceres which moved him up to No. 10 in the UFC rankings whereas Penn hasn't won a fight since 2010, his rubber match with Matt Hughes. But despite the fact that many in the MMA community are dreading the potential outcome, Penn is feeling good.
"So, what you're saying is when I make this look easy on January 15th, I'm the f**king man, is that what you're telling me?...It's not a difficult fight at all. He's a very good guy but I feel like I'm training with very good guys. I have a good team around me and I don't feel anything is anywhere near out of my league."
Penn has never really felt that anyone was out of his league. After failing to win a championship at lightweight, Penn jumped up to welterweight to challenge the then pound-for-pound best fighter in MMA, Matt Hughes, winning spectacularly in the first round. He then left the UFC to go chase fights across all weight classes, even fighting a heavyweight bout with future UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida. At the end of the day, Penn just loves fighting and that is what's bringing him back for one last go of it.
"I just like fighting again. Standing in front of people, sparring every day, punching people, getting into fist fights every morning. I like it and I missed it. I can't live without it right now. While I can still lift my arms up and do sprints, and I still can do all these things, this is what I want to do. This is what I love to do. This is the best way I know how to make an honest living. This is me."
That willingness to "just scrap" is what so endeared Penn to a generation of fight fans and fighters alike; it's also a big asterisk on his legacy. Earlier this year when he was asked to name the fighter who didn't reach his full potential, Dana White echoed a sentiment widely held among the MMA community, responding that Penn should have been "one of the best to ever live." And though Penn show some acknowledgment that he didn't achieve everything that was foretold of him, he says don't write him off just yet.
"All I've got to say to when Dana said that is, it's not over yet. It's not over yet baby."
B.J. Penn fights Yair Rodriguez in the main event of UFC Fight Night Phoenix on Jan. 15th.
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.@danawhite You pay fighters 8 cents on the $. No pension, No benefits, No safety net & your Co.’s worth $4 Billion! U should be ashamed.— Bjorn Rebney (@BjornRebney) December 6, 2016
Max got a whole series of these up there.
Don't bring things like "logic" and "reason" into this.
Sage out there getting new sponsors.
Count Jorge out of the MMAAA.
I just know Bjorn is a guy is in it for himself. Anybody that has had dealings with him won't back that thing because of him https://t.co/21jdNIimA8— Jorge Masvidal UFC (@GamebredFighter) December 6, 2016
Just an FYI, fighters pay anywhere from 20-40% to gyms & management, as well as taxes, and the investment it takes 2 prepare 4 the fight— Carla Esparza (@CarlaEsparza1) December 6, 2016
P.S. Was never asking for an easy fight. Top 10 opponent is just fine. Just want to fight.— Carla Esparza (@CarlaEsparza1) December 6, 2016
24 lbs In 1 week is just way to much for a female fighter. Glad she survived & takes care of her body and mind.https://t.co/RfO8z4wIW2— MarloesCoenen (@MarloesCoenen) December 6, 2016
It'd b cool if some chic's came out here n trained w me, put u cnt b a puss— tonya evinger (@tonyaevinger) December 6, 2016
That's a lot of work.
Lot of swag.
TODAY IN MMA HISTORY
1996: Don Frye won Ultimate Ultimate 96 when he beat Tank Abbott in the finals of the eight-man tournament with a rear-naked choke. Frye faced teammate Mark Hall in the semifinals in what is widely considered to be the second fixed bout in UFC history, with Hall submitting to a heel hook in twenty seconds, thus conserving Frye's energy for the finals. This was Frye's last event with the UFC and was the first UFC to introduce the "no grabbing the fence" rule.
2013: Mark Hunt and Anthonio Silva fought to a draw in the main event of UFC Fight Night Brisbane.
BJ's not winning a third belt, but he is going to beat Yair Rodriguez.
See you tomorrow.
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