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BJ Penn Explains Decision to Accept Rory MacDonald's Challenge

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The last few months for B.J. Penn have had little to do with MMA. In fact, he says he's spent much of the time sitting on his couch, playing with his children. That's why despite hearing the callouts and fight requests from the likes of UFC welterweight star Josh Koscheck and Strikeforce lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez, he wasn't quite interested enough to stop enjoying his life of leisure while in semi-retirement.

All of that changed on Monday when Penn heard that he had been challenged by rising phenom Rory MacDonald. But why? That's been the question many have wondered about since Penn publicly accepted the fight. Why pass on bigger names like Koscheck and Melendez for a lesser-known but admittedly tough-as-nails opponent?

The answer lies in Penn's personal history.

As it turns out, Penn has always been bothered by his UFC 94 loss to Georges St-Pierre, who happens to be a teammate of MacDonald's at Tri-Star Gym in Montreal. In a Thursday interview on "Just Scrap Radio" on, Penn said that he'd always desired a third fight with St-Pierre, and had even discussed it with UFC president Dana White at various points.

It never came to fruition though, leaving Penn to stew until now. As a representative of Tri-Star, MacDonald will do in St-Pierre's absence, allowing Penn to prove to the camp and its fans that UFC 94 wasn't the last they'd hear from him as an elite fighter.

"I got a lot of offers from all these other guys to fight, but when I got the offer from Rory, I said, 'Good, I get to fight that brain of Tri-Star Gym,'" he told hosts Jens and Abel Pulver. "A lot of it is [trainer] Firas [Zihabi]. They got a good thing going on up there, they have a good team, and they're making a lot of waves. Of course, they got St. Pierre, who is going to go down as the greatest welterweight in history, and now they got another guy they think will be the champion. I’m not thinking about any belts or anything, but I’m pretty good myself. I want to show them, I want to show the world that you’re not going to just walk in and kick my butt for four rounds. No way. You’re going to the hospital, too. If I go to the hospital, you’re going to the hospital, too."

That last comment refers directly to the UFC 94 fight, which saw his corner stop the bout following the fourth round after he took sustained damage. Penn was taken to the hospital that night for observation.

Penn said he didn't have any remaining anger or animosity towards Tri-Star, having spoken with both Zihabi and St-Pierre several times since the 2009 bout, but only wanted to prove himself against one of the gym's stars.

"Everything is in the past but I’d like to get out there, show Tri-Star gym and their fans or whatever that I’m a worthy opponent," he said. "I’m not just a guy that will walk in the ring and somebody's going to walk across and crush me. That’s not going to be the story."

Characterizing the MacDonald fight as "a great challenge and a great task," Penn said he would soon go about the task of whipping himself into fighting shape. The first item on his preparation list is simple weight loss.

Penn said he's grown a "big belly" since going on hiatus, now weighting about 185. He said he'd like to lose about 20 pounds before heading into an intensive camp. On the bright side though, Penn noted that the time off has his body feeling revitalized, saying he feels 22.

"I know when I'm going in at full gear and everything's ready to go, he ain't going to see my fists coming, he ain't going to see my takedowns, he ain't going to be able to stop my submissions," he said. "I feel very confident.

The 33-year-old Penn wouldn't speculate on his career past the MacDonald fight, saying that he could eventually move back down to lightweight, but believed this to be the last fight on his current UFC contract, making the future hinge on the result.

As for the prospect of facing MacDonald on his home turf in Canada at UFC 152, that's no bother for Penn, who as always, welcomes any challenge.

"I'm ready to fly up to Toronto, the belly of the beast," he said. "I’m going to see a fire-breathing dragon, and I’m going to pull out my sword. I'm ready. I'm ready to do this."

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