Somewhere along the way, the relationship between UFC Hall of Famers Matt Hughes and B.J. Penn turned from a bitter rivalry into a buddy flick.
The duo did their part to help build the first wave of Zuffa-era success with a memorable fight trilogy.
Penn, one of just three two-division champs in UFC history, went up in weight and stunned Hughes to win the UFC welterweight belt via first-round submission at UFC 46.
Hughes took the rematch at UFC 63 with a third-round TKO in Anaheim in one of the sport’s most memorable comeback victories.
Finally, Penn knocked out Hughes at UFC 123 in just 21 seconds to win the series.
One fight later, Hughes retired, and the former enemies became friends.
And while Hughes admires Penn’s fortitude in continuing on with his career, he wishes the Hawaiian superstar wasn’t still challenging himself against the sport’s top competitors.
“I wish he would just find the right opponent, you know?” Hughes said on a recent edition of The MMA Hour. “I’ve always told him, ‘hey B.J., you’re so good on the ground, find an older Brazilian that’s not going to have’ ... typically Brazilians don’t have the best cardio, ‘find an old Brazilian who’s not in shape who’s going to want to be on the ground, and kind of get your hand in the air, go out that way.’”
Penn, however, continues to soldier on. He took a vicious beating from Yair Rodriguez in January in his return bout after an absence of two-and-a-half years. In fact, Penn’s final win over Hughes remains his only victory since 2009, a stretch in which he’s 1-6-1.
“BJ is such a competitor that he wants to fight the best out there,” Hughes said. “That’s just the way he’s always been. My hat goes off to him for being that way, but I wish he would just be kind of a little smarter about it and really really choose a right opponent.”
Penn is scheduled to fight Dennis Siver in Oklahoma City on June 25. In this case, at least, he’s fighting someone his age, as both men are 38 years old.
“BJ is not quite as quick as he used to be with his hands,” Hughes said. “He used to counter so hard with that hook, and that hook just doesn’t seem to be there anymore. So I do like this match-up. It’s an older guy. It could be better but definitely could be a lot worse.”