MMA News

Friday, 11/04/2011, 12:11 pm

BJ Penn – They Only Made One

“Hats off to Nick Diaz, he’s the man. Joe, it’s probably the last time you’re ever going to see me in here. I can’t keep, uh, I want to perform at the top level. That’s it, Joe, I’ll shake your hand right here. I’ve got a daughter (and) another daughter on the way. I don’t want to go home looking like this. I’m done.” – BJ Penn, speaking to UFC commentator Joe Rogan immediately following his unanimous decision loss to Nick Diaz at UFC 137.

Needless to say, those heart-felt comments from a physically exhausted Penn, his left eye badly swollen and nearly shut, blindsided most spectators, especially the man holding the microphone and asking the questions.

A haggard-looking BJ was just a few minutes removed from having absorbed and weathered the worst beating of his famed 10-year career. Yet the Hawaiian hero is only 32 years old. He is still in his physical prime, still a crowd-pleasing headliner, still in possession of some of the slickest boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills in the fight game. So his spontaneous declaration inside the Octagon, if BJ does indeed make good on it, would make him a notorious exception to the laws of probability: To my vast recollection, the number of legendary UFC fighters who have voluntarily walked away from the sport age 32 or younger is … ZERO.

The enigma that is BJ has always walked to the beat of his own drum, so you can never discount that he will become the first to break the mold. But a great many fans, in keeping with the natural skepticism of many reporters and fans who have witnessed too many pro fighters flip-flop on retirement vows, will only believe in a BJ Penn denouement if they never see the former two-division world champ fight again over the next few years. Indeed, two days after his 15-minutes of riveting reckoning with Diaz secured Fight of the Night honors, Penn himself seemed to subscribe to the school of thought that fighters – like people in general – should refrain from making decisions while consumed by raw emotions or while the fresh wounds of battle make it hard to rise out of bed in the morning or scamper to the fridge.

“I want to thank all of the fans for their love and support. I’m going to take some time off to enjoy life, train and teach. I will keep you guys’ posted with what’s next,” was what Penn wrote on his Web site,, on Monday.

I’ve seen a lot of gifted fighters up close. And if I endeavored to rank which fighters are must-see every time they fight, no matter who the opponent is, I’m not sure whom I would peg in the No. 2 slot. But the guy who consistently and always delivers as the No. 1 fighter-as-entertainer is easy: My vote goes to BJ Penn. Unequivocally. Without hesitation, no need for deliberation.

I don’t have a Hawaii birth certificate and have no ties whatsoever to the Aloha State. Fortunately, you don’t need to hail from the nation’s 50th state to have been emotionally moved time and again by the former lightweight and welterweight world champion, who was game to fight anybody – even going up three weight classes to take on 205-pound Lyoto Machida. The baby-faced Hilo fighter, Hawaii’s most popular and adored athlete, alongside Philadelphia Phillies All-Star center fielder Shane Victorino, never needed a Fight of The Night bonus check as incentive to leave it all in the cage. BJ just always brought it. Straight from the heart. That was the one certainty with him – whether he stepped into the cage shredded at 155 pounds or slightly bloated at 170 pounds, whether fighting on a full tank or on fumes, he always came to throw down and to take the other guy out. He “brought it” despite the fact that everything else about his training camp preparation, diet, etc., was usually a humongous question mark leading up to his fights.

You know the questions that always shadowed him: Which BJ will show up? How hard did he train for this fight? How much longer does he want to fight? Is his heart still in it?

Penn has often been cast as a supreme athlete, with uncanny fight instincts, who never quite poured 100 percent of himself into fight preparation. Yet every time this guy fought, electricity filled the arena. He never backed down when the fists were flying, never backpedaled, never stopped trying to finish a fight. And he never ran from an a—whipping if he had to be on the receiving end once his cardio had betrayed him. And, in my mind, even before he ever stepped into the cage, Penn (16-8-2) was a force to behold. For my money, his walkouts are among the three or four best in the sport’s history, neck and neck with Matt Hughes and Chuck Liddell.

As I’ve often said, many times in sport (and in life) the anticipation of THE MOMENT can actually be as compelling and gripping as THE MOMENT itself. BJ Penn embodied the power of anticipation. His walkouts to the late Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’s hybrid anthems of “E la E” and “Hawaii 78” are so visceral and palpable. You can feel in that moment, while witnessing his accelerated swagger toward the cage, that he is not only fighting for himself, out of personal pride, but for the pride of all his people. BJ is to Hawaii what Manny Pacquiao is to the Philippines. Only Hawaii has just 1.35 million people, versus 92 million for the Philippines. BJ is the Hawaii fans’ ambassador, a representation of their ferocious will. It is a role that differentiates him from nearly all other fighters, who fight for their own fulfillment and dreams. With BJ, despite a rather privileged upper class upbringing, it is always as if he had showcased extra heart because he would much rather suffer tremendous physical agony than disappoint his people, his fans. Even when his legs went wobbly in the Octagon, even when his heart-rate shot up and lactic acid overwhelmed his muscles – as they did in contests against Georges St-Pierre, Jon Fitch and Diaz — he dared not let his fellow Hawaiians down. He dared not quit, even when his not-quite-in-peak-shape body screamed for him to quit.

So you must understand that when BJ walks to the cage to “Bruddah IZ,” it is a particularly emotional experience for his sympathizers, who view him as a brother, a loved one. Those songs hold deep symbolic meaning to the Hawaiian people, signifying unity and a preservation of their proud island culture during times when outsiders tried to take their lands.

“When that song plays, every Hawaiian in the house stands up and it gives you chicken skin. BJ lifts everybody’s spirits up,” said Blaise Soares, a 36-year-old Hawaii native who is a former pro boxer and Golden Gloves champion. “BJ Penn is the biggest name in Hawaii culture. Hawaiians love MMA because fighting is something we’ve been doing since we were in diapers. We all learn how to fight in the backyard with the boxing gloves or wrestling. People love BJ because he brings it. He brought the fight to Diaz. There were a few moments where I thought the fight might get stopped, but BJ just kept coming back, which prevented the referee from stopping the fight. But it hurt me to see him take so many punches, the big shots. I think that took a lot out of (our) people.”

It was a battle between two stallions who should be the poster boys for the slogan, “Let’s Scrap.” BJ Penn had to be transported to the hospital for treatment immediately following the fight, so he could not attend the post-fight press conference, which featured Dana White making a very poignant observation about what had transpired in the cage.

“In the 10 years we’ve all seen BJ Penn perform and fight,” White said, “you’ve never seen BJ Penn get busted up. He got busted up tonight, let me tell you.”

That “leather skin,” as Dana called it, could not withstand the nearly 260 strikes unleashed by Diaz – an extraordinary volume of punches. While Diaz’s punches often appear to be moving in slow-motion, those blows inflict much more damage than often meets the eye because of the tremendous snap and whip Diaz puts on them – enabling him to not just land “arm” punches, but to also put the force of his body weight behind them. Those are the kind of punches that can split even a fighter with “leather skin.” While BJ had claimed Diaz was a near mirror image of himself, the difference in the all-out war of attrition was that Diaz has the limitless cardio of a Triathlete.

There will be naysayers who criticize Penn for his at times questionable work ethic, the fact that he did not appear as obsessive or disciplined in all facets of his training as some other elite pros. There is the prevailing perception, even among his most ardent defenders, that BJ could have given more to his art. That he should have left Hawaii more frequently for better training camps, that he should have dieted more stringently throughout his career. So, despite two world titles, and a BJJ black belt world title, it is possible that we never really saw the Best B.J. there could have been. Yet what Penn MIGHT HAVE accomplished should not detract from all that he ACTUALLY accomplished. He was such a sponge, such an instinctive wonder, a one-in-a-million natural fighter and entertainer. In fact, his perceived flaws are perhaps part of the reason so many people empathize with him. There is a vulnerability that emanates from BJ and his aura. He does not fight like a stoical machine, as some do, but as an emotional human. He is impulsive. There is an unpredictability about him. You never really know what the guy is going to do next (even when he says he’s retiring!).

Personally, I prefer my fighters emotional, with a chip on their shoulder, as if they’re out to exact some revenge for something disrespectful you said. That was BJ Penn. A BJJ wizard who often preferred to beat the other guy up standing and excelled at it. He made you pick your poison.

BJ’s legacy is bulletproof. Two wins over Matt Hughes, triumphs over Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, and Jens Pulver and Takanori Gomi in their primes. You could also make a strong case that BJ deserved to get the nod in his first fight against St-Pierre (which Penn lost via split decision despite inflicting more damage on the Canadian).

If he does return, my best guess is it’ll be at 155 pounds. BJ is 1-3-1 in his past five fights and seems better suited when he has defined abs and is competing against guys his own size. Some day the UFC will host a show in Hawaii, and maybe we’ll see 60,000 plus people in an outdoor stadium. Wouldn’t it be awesome if BJ was on that card? How could he resist being on that card?

It is fitting that one of the sport’s most enigmatic figures again has the rest of us guessing. His opponents in the cage often had no idea what was coming next. Once again, nobody knows BJ’s next move.

“BJ Penn will always be a legend to the people of Hawaii,” Soares said. “Hawaii has a lot of up and coming fighters and there will be another Hawaiian champion someday. But I don’t think there will ever be one as big as BJ Penn.”

You got that right. They didn’t make two. They didn’t make two.

– By Frank Currer of UFC.Com


48 Responses to “BJ Penn – They Only Made One”

  1. stink uki says:

    What a fag bag…get of bjs page…

  2. A.J. says:

    Great writeup, Frank! While there’s only one BJ Penn, unfortunately, there are millions of douchebags like the 1st knucklehead to comment on this article

    • Aaron S. says:

      Me? Im the biggest BJ fan in south Texas! My point was that BJ has NEVER been busted up like that before.
      BJ can retire and will always be my favorite, and in my eyes the best p4p ever.
      He either beat, or went the distance with the most dominant fighters ever at ww in Hughes, GSP, Fitch, and Diaz. Not to mention all the other bigger fighters he destroyed.
      I hope he comes back and gets his lw belt back, and I would even love to see him make another run at ww. Win, Lose, or Draw he is the best ever.

      • Aaron S is BJ's training partner says:

        Dude, are you delusional? You must be like the others training BJ. The last thing BJ needs is to be complimented, he needs someone to tell it like it is, and while some go too far, you go to far on the opposite side of the spectrum. BJ’s lost fights that he should have won time and time again. His cardio is called into question every single fight. Something’s wrong with BJ cardiovascular system. But wait, Reagan gassed too. Is it DNA or training, who know’s anymore. The story line is getting old. The PENN camp is getting a reputation of having no cardio. No more excuses, no more he was this or he accomplished that…it’s all in the past, past tense. You’re only as good as your last fight, and BJ isn’t that good. period.

        • Philippe says:

          His problem is that he doesnt even have consistent camp. He hires different trainers to help improve him, but he never puts in the effort to do whats necessary to achieve the purpose of what trainers are brought to do. People train consistently and spar and always work on whats missing and weaknesses. But BJ only worked on improving his strengths but never weaknesses. Thats why he is an awesome striker with precise accuracy and has really good balance and submission skills. Did he work on his cardio (his biggest weakness), wrestling?, etc. That is why when he finds himself being outworked, he gasses. He finds someone faster than him, he gasses. His heart never was just in it anymore after UFC 94.

  3. Aaron S. says:

    No. GREASE couldn’t do it, even with his perfectly timed cycles and grease smeared all over his body. busted up a little, but not like nick did it.

  4. JAT says:

    B.J. Penn, though he doesn’t have the greatest record, he definitely has the biggest heart, and a huge legacy. If he does decide to call it quits i wouldn’t be mad, though i do hope to see him fight again someday, i would be more sad than anything. To see a man with such great potential, heart, and a just scrap attitude. He’s one of the few fighters that actually go into the octagon wanting to put on a show and not let his people, or friends down. Love you baby Jay.

    • Streetsweeper says:

      Since everyone is so focused on his record maybe take a look at exactly who he has fought. BJ never backed down from a challenge from anyone, constantly went up in weight despite being way smaller than his opponent, and fought the best of the best every fight. A lot of fighters have these records that would make you believe they are world beaters when in reality their fight resume is full of gimme fights against cans in smaller shows and what not. BJ Penn made his MMA debut in the UFC and from the very beginning only fought big fights without ever having a gimme fight….EVER!! No one in the history of the sport can say the same, so the next time you all use his record as a way to discredit what he has done and who he is as a fighter try opening your eyes to the facts. BJ Penn is what personifies a martial artist and fighter…a guy who is afraid of no one and a guy who will fight anyone, anywhere, anytime.

    • ajay says:

      biggest heart????? um ………..he quit…….didnt answer the bell.

      • Dante says:

        aye just remember brutha Penn has travelled every weight class.. his heart and tenacity is never in question.. hes lost to biggers guys so what? the admiration comes from excepting the bigger challenge.. regardless of the outcome.. takin a fight with machida, gsp, fitch all bigger guys ..theres not many fighters and people for that matter who can gain respect through their triumphs AnD Defeats… the soul of bj penn has my respect.. his record doesnt matter to me
        ajay ya little punk u

  5. Findog23 says:

    nice write up!!

  6. bruts says:

    hahahaha this is funny, because all the penn nut huggers were saying after he lost to nick that he will come back and beat everyone, well look people penns hung the gloves up forever, last laugh is on you idiots HAHAHHAHHAHHAAHAHAHAHA shit no more war penn, and no more idiots hanging off his nuts, CHE CHE CHEYAH aint a penn hater but this must come like a hay maker to the dome to the fans, the prodigy is reitred ohhh shit now who’s nuts you gunna hang off of BITCHES !!??!?! HHAHAHAHAHAHA peace out penn you have been champ, what else do you need? you have seen it all battled the best, and now its time to focus on the family, happy to see you hang up the gloves, i do not like to see good fighters go into a fight and get beat because of age and no hunger for the sport, you will go down as a legend, maybe even in the hall of fame BECAUSE YOU HELD BOTH TITLES will never forget you bj, you are the man.

  7. JD says:

    Pedro didn’t write this…I read this a few days ago on another MMA forum…can’t remember who the author was, but I’ll say again…BJ you are the best damn lightweight in MMA history, and one of the best ever…aloha

  8. MMAnalyst says:

    BJ should just drop back to LW and fight Maynard, Jim Miller, etc. because he can still smash guys – he just lost a tough fight. It happens in MMA, even amazing fighters lose. I hope it was just an emotional moment rather than a career choice when he spoke those words… he is small for WW anyhow, and the division’s fighters are getting bigger (GSP used to be a big WW and now he is average, or even on the smaller side). BJ still made a fight of it against Fitch and could likely beat a lot of WW, but LW is more suited to his size now. IMO.

  9. Spoolz25 says:

    Edgar the greastest lightweight ever? bhahahaha thats the stupidest thing ive ever heard, in 6months time he wont even be in top 5 let alone champion!!

  10. joe2 says:

    Frankie edgar hasnt built a legacy yet. who knows what the future holds for him but as of right now he is just a hero. heros get remembered but legends never die.. u the man Baby Jay

  11. u crazy says:

    lol.. Frankie Edgar is a baby. best over BJ is a retarded joke you have mentally thought up. Frankie is fast but not the best, hyper, and that would be his down fall. “atlest for now?” here is my left nuts for you to suck on! lol!!!!

  12. Johnny says:

    B.J. Penn is my favorite fighter, if he leaves the UFC or retires…I will have to retire as a fan of MMA.

  13. rafael says:

    god bless bj penn

  14. Carmen "GRECOMAN" Mercadante says:

    I love BJ and I think he is still one of the greatest MMA fighters there is. I do think he needs to be at 155 and not 170. He can beat 99% of the guys at 170, but guys like Diaz, St Pierre, fitch who are all big 170lbers is just a big size differance as they are all skilled. at 155, he can dominate, regardless of the frankie Edgar fights. i think bringing in some new traininers or training at a different school would help also (greg jackson, team Couture, Marc dellagratte, AKA) I think these change of sceneries would revitalize BJ. Hope he stays at it and trains like a mad man and goes to 155

  15. RJ KANEAO says:

    This is a gripping piece.. Just some the Hawaiian words were typos but good stuff.. As Bj himself as my witness, the day of ufc 137 “fight day/night’. I texted BJ as I do before almost every fight and give him support. But this time I didn’t just wanna text him a “good luck bro” kinda deal. I need to express something.. I proceeded by telling him about the polynesian migration to Hawai’i and our deep history as polynesians spand over 2,000 yrs of navigating by the stars to get to our destinations like Hawai’i. I continued on my telling him how we were derived from warriors bred to fight and stand. And concluded by giving him the feeling of how proud we are of him “Our Warrior of Modern day” and that when those lights dim and the music rolls we all anticipate in excitement the special moment to see him walk out.. I notice the tears in his eyes this time, perhaps he was thinking about all of that stuff plus family,his ppl and his legacy! As a friend I can tell you without any doubt he is the most genuine friend I’ve ever known. In Hawai’i we think of each other as brothers,although not by blood but by soul & spirit we are connected. He knows I will always have his back & support him no matter what his decisions are. And if he chose to not fight again, we should all be happy in knowing that we got to see “ONE OF THE BEST EVER”do his thing! And how accessible he is to his friends and fans is also a wonderful thing… With all that said I have just one thing left to say and that is “IMUA BJ , stay PONO & do what YOU feel in your heart is right for YOU & Your OHANA”. Love You Brother.. -RJ Lanui Kaneao

  16. RJ KANEAO says:

    Didn’t get to watch the third match up but from what I understood by some recaps I have watched on various MMA sites and youtube etc. A lot of them said Gray had um again but couldn’t finish it, Frankie recovered then got lucky with some kinda punch thrown.. So the common assumptions were that Franky got lucky once again. That weight class has herds of talent coming up. It’s crazy! But if BJ should decided to return and go to 155lbs again.. He will most def be back in contention!

  17. Niihau says:

    All I have to say about the Penn VS Diaz fight is “WOW!” what a fight! If you think Penn did not train enough or you think that Diaz was the better fighter that night, I think we can all agree that was a SCRAP! Penn has nothing to be sorry about, (Well other than not training hard enough.) Bj may not have his cardio or body in top shape but his heart is always at full strength. Sure Penn took a licking but he never backed down. Other fighters would have gone down, I think Pierre or Silva would have given up and dropped. If you like Bj or not, the one thing we can all agree on is that no matter what, you just can’t put him away! His heart is just too strong! Bj will be back, even if his body and mind want to retire, just like in the fight, his heart will not let him quit, mark my words.

  18. ravi says:

    most ufc fans seem to have short memories. they become a fan of whoever is the current winner and start hating fighters who may have lost one or two fights (completely ignoring all the wins before the few losses). if frankie edgar loses most uneducated ufc fans will say how much he sucks and how great whoever the next champ is.

  19. roughed up says:

    Excellent piece of journalism Mr. Carrasco.

    I really hope we’ll see BJ in the octagon again, at 155 where he truely belongs. The man is a massive inspiration to so many people, including myself, from all walks of life.

    But, if the great man himself does decide to retire, all we can do is thank him for such a wonderful career, in which he has experienced huge high’s and devasting low’s, yet always come out swinging and putting everything on the line, for himself, for his family, for his country, and for every BJ Penn fan around the world.

    Much love BJ, if we see you again in the cage or not, you’ll always be a true legend to those you have inspired so greatly.

  20. victor dela cruz says:

    (excuse my English) I’m a fan from Philippines. i want to say thank you for everything you’ve done. i’d watched your fight last week i felt sad about you said. but you were still the best among your division. you’re a great fighter because you are BJ PENN. farewell.

  21. Philippe says:

    Hey does anyone know why BJ keeps quitting and whines retirement after every fight he loses?

    Answer: cuz he’s a quitter and a sore loser! Penn, get the hell out of MMA while you can cuz you just gonna get ur ass beat you pathetic crying “i don’t wanna go bak home looking like this” pussy

  22. Philippe says:

    BJ Penn is a quitter! (proof: watch all the recent fights he lost, all he does is whine retirement cuz he loses) Biggest proof is the last fight, “I dont wanna go home looking like this” LMAO

    BJ PENN YOU’RE CAREER IS OVER …. the only legacy you hold is quitting every time you getting outworked. Your record proves it in statistics that you can’t handle top competition and your interviews in post fights after you lose proves the kind of quitter you are.

  23. Josie Wales says:

    This thread ends right now…

    Fighting Georges St. Pierre a second time was undoubtedly an unwise decision from a size perspective, to be very honest a man of BJ’s stature never belonged in the welterweight division at all. At the time he was the king at lightweight, he had run through his opponents like a freight train, why run the risk of climbing divisions? The answer is simple to those who bother to pay attention. It is the characteristic that seperates great from good, legend from footnote, the one detail in an athletes career that resonates: legacy. Being a former welterweight champion, a dominant lightweight champion, and highly popular fighter weren’t enough for BJ Penn. He expected and aspired to more for himself and fought the best of the best in the attempt. You want to be a critic and berate a man for losing 50% of his fights, then I challenge you to imagine any lightweight fighter who would even consider competing against opponents so much larger than himself in Matt Hughes, Lyoto Machida, and GSP. You want to judge pound for pound lists based on records? By that argument, Jon Fitch (23-3) is an all time great who has won a vast majority of his fights by dryhumping his opponents on the octagon floor for 15 mins to victory. While BJ Penn (18-6), who this past Saturday night, battered and exhausted swung for the fences up until the last seconds of a losing effort against a determined Nick Diaz is a lower echelon fighter undeserving of your respect.

    As a true fan of the sport, I sincerely hope that BJ Penn does not retire. I dream of a reinvigorated BJ returning home to the Lightweight division, climbing the ranks, and toppling the feisty scrapper from Jersey that stands in his way. Sounds like an impossible task I know, but after years of witnessing “the Prodigy” decimating his opposition and licking their blood clean from his gloves in victory, I can expect nothing less from BJ Penn and I promise you one thing, neither can he.

    • Philippe says:

      Not 18-6 but 16-8-2. I agree with you on one point, he fought the best in the MMA industry. Yes he fought Lyoto Machida, Matt Hughes, GSP, and you name it. He is a lightweight who took shortcuts to compete in different weight classes he does not belong to just to make a name for himself. I agree he is a scrapper and has heart of a warrior. But never evolved to be champion of today in the business. He stayed in the mma business to just scrap and try to finish but to never win and stay on the top. GSP, he has consistently dominated every top contenders you put infront of him and has not only been evolving as a mma fighter but he contributed in evolving the sport. Lyoto Machinda had been the most elusive and decorated fighter and has still the potential to be a champion today. Nick Diaz does the necessary training to keep up to the competition and has tremendous heart when he is in the Octagon. The list goes on…

      BJ Penn, a lightweight, fought all these guys but with lack of training and skipped the hard work it takes to beat these guys thinking he is just too gifted and cocky to be beat. The man ONLY had to work on cardio ever since it was exposed in UFC 94 and had so many opportunities to redeem himself. But no, we are here today with same BJ Penn we saw back in the days, an unevovled BJ Penn.

      Anyone can go and fight the best by moving up and down, they just wont be successful in todays competition. He’s not a legend but just a scrapper who tried to be a legend by trying to fight top guys by taking shortcuts. His trainers know it, his sparring partners know it. He wanted to make a long term commitment to Welterweight division and had so much time to build up his body. But guess what, he eats to make weight just like it showed on his behind the scenes video.

      And this threat doesnt end when you say it ends, it’ll end when the threat becomes obsolete.

      And last but not least, he cries when he loses, he quits when he finds himself in tough situations, and never had the heart to compete ever since he lost to GSP and Edgar. He knows it and everyone as well, he’s a slacker.

  24. paul laniosz says:

    You guys should listen when a figther talks ,BJ said after the fight ,he didn’t want to go home like this .He is starting a family and didn’t want to look that bad to his family .Give him time and his new daugther being born and let things at home settle down . Then you will see the guy start looking around for the best fighting training camp and then get serious again about his cardio and weightclass .He will then come back and it will be a sell out crowd and a high revenue drawn for the UFC . But that will be a year or two down the road .HOPE TO SEE YOU B.J. again ,you got the fans and we all will cheer better and louder in the future .

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