“I want to compete at the highest level”
com•pete (k m-p t )
intr.v. com•pet•ed, com•pet•ing, com•petes
To strive against another or others to attain a goal, such as an advantage or a victory.
To compete at the highest level of Mixed Martial Arts one must first be allowed the opportunity to do so. This is not an honor handed out often; only through hard work, determination and one’s own proven worth will the UFC allow a fighter an opportunity to prove themselves amongst the elite.
At the culmination of UFC 137 BJ Penn stated that he wants to “compete at the highest level” and after his loss, his inability to attain victory implied through his own words that he may not be able to do so anymore. His own worst critic? Probably…
Looking at this history of Mixed Martial Arts up through the current Era, very few fighters from the golden age still emerge as elite level competitors. Currently under the roster you have Dan Henderson, Vitor Belfort, Frank Mir, Tito Ortiz and BJ Penn. These five fighters have been competing at the highest level of the sport from far beyond the “TUF” and Spike TV era’s and as such cemented their legacies and place in the sports history.
Relics such as Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell are now on the sidelines, old hero’s like Royce Gracie and Mark Coleman are no longer relevant and as such have retired.
To put it into perspective, when BJ Penn made his UFC debut, the main event of the night was a heavyweight title fight between Randy Couture and Pedro Rizzo. Pat Miletich was a star for the organization and Matt Lindland was still on good terms with the UFC and considered one of the best in the game. This was the golden era of MMA. Elvis Sinosic was preparing to take a shot at the then champion Tito Ortiz for the UFC’s light-heavyweight crown and guys like Shonie Carter, Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez where all on the scene trying to move up the ranks inside the UFC’s Octagon.
BJ Penn was there during that era. Long before the half a billion homes worldwide where able to take in all the MMA action they could handle on almost a weekly basis. He was there and he was dominant.
Fast forward 10-years and all the old names are gone with the exception of the few already mentioned. Some are relegated to compete on the local circuit getting by solely on their name and some have taken up desks inside UFC operational headquarters.
But BJ Penn still fights in the Octagon, one of the last from the old herd of stars to “compete” and entertain millions of MMA fans worldwide. To this date he has never been knocked out, never been submitted, never even been knocked down from another man’s strike and out of all the fighters that still stand inside the cage from the golden era of MMA he is the only fighter who can claim such accolades.
It’s easy to strive for victory, to believe your own hype and to try and live up to the expectations the world has had of you for a decade. The hard part is to just realize that you’ve already done it. That you have nothing else to prove, you are still standing in the place where you started, inside the cage fighting the best that God has ever made the best that ever walked the earth and not one man has ever knocked you down. You are still here and you are still standing and therefore it is not you who need compete, but they who need to prove worthy.
At the end of the day, if the torch should pass, as it always does then so be it, but at 32 years old that fire still burns and that torch still sits in Hilo, Hawaii where it has for the last 10 years. Today is not the day, Nick Diaz was not the man and the world is not ready for “The Prodigy” to hang them up just yet.
New names are on the scene now, names that haven’t spanned the course of the last decade in the UFC, Jose Aldo, GSP, Anderson Silva and Jon Jones to name a few, and while they may be hot commodities at the moment, will their reigns last through the next decade of competition, will they be able to enter a jam packed arena to fans crying their name and stand and bang with the best of the best never to be knocked down, never to be submitted with the heart of a champion still beating in their chest? It’s a question that only time will answer, but there is one man right now, walking and talking and fighting in front of the world on the biggest stage that has done all of these things and still continues to do so and his name is BJ Penn.
BJ says he wants to compete at the highest level but what he may have failed to realize is that he is the one who set the bar long ago for where that level starts and where it ends. Everyone else is just trying to follow in his path.