| All of us here at BJPenn.com understand and realize how amazing of an athlete BJ Penn really is. Aside from The Prodigy’s athleticism and skills inside the UFC cage the man is a living legend in the fight world because of the passion and love he has for martial arts. After 13 years of competing for the largest MMA promotion on the planet (UFC) Penn reflects on his past as a fighter, the importance of family, and his roots & lifelong passion for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Before Penn became a star inside the UFC cage, before he became a multiple time MMA champion, and before he became the fighting heart of the Hawaiian people Penn, at the age of 17, found a love for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). After just three years of training Penn received his black-belt in the sport and then in July of 2000 he went on to become the first American and Non-Brazilian to win a gold medal in the black-belt division of the Mundial World Championships in Rio de Janiero, Brazil. That record is something Penn will hold for the rest of time. But he didn’t stop there.
Penn continued his success in jiu-jitsu by transferring his talents over into the MMA world where he became the UFC welterweight champion in 2004 when he choked out 5-time defending champion Matt Hughes. Since then Penn has put together one of the most exciting and memorable MMA careers in the history of the sport. Aside from titles, Penn’s boxing is often times considered some of the best in the sport and his his jiu-jitsu, which is the backbone of his game, has led him to become one of the greatest champions of all time.
Penn has competed in 11 UFC title fights over his career, he is currently tied for the most UFC lightweight title defenses in the company’s history (3), and he is one of only two fighters in UFC history to win a title in two different weight classes (lightweight and welterweight).
Penn, who hasn’t fought since last December, was recently a special guest at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championships. He sat down for an interview with Gulf News while visiting the Championships and talked about his love for jiu-jitsu, the future of his MMA career, and how the steady growth of modern jiu-jitsu is going to steal a ton of talent away from MMA. Here is Penn’s interview with Gulf News in Abu Dhabi:
Gulf News: When do we see you back in action? Or have you called it a day?
B.J. Penn: I might fight again, I am not actively seeking to fight again but I think I may. I fought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) for 13 years; the UFC does not want to see me get hurt I think… so maybe I fight again or maybe not.
You mentioned getting hurt. How does your family react when they sometimes have to see bloodied faces?
I would be the first to say that I was never the same fighter after I had kids, after I had my two daughters, I would say that. It’s true. But regarding the injuries and blood…it took my mother a long time to be able to bear and watch it.
But If I get injured I don’t like to go home, because I don’t want to my kids to see me hurt because they are going to get scared. In fact, it is all these things that makes me wonder if I have to step away.
Being on the circuit for such a long time, how do you think the fighters view the Abu Dhabi World BJJ Championship now?
I never thought that in a million years that the UAE is going to be a very big place in Jiu Jitsu. But then again, I was just a kid from a small town in Hawaii and the UAE is so far. You know what…it is a dream; it is a dream for the people to come here. Whenever the trials happen, everybody runs to go to the trials…this is an amazing event.
This is the fifth edition of the championship here. How much of an impact has it had on the world of martial arts?
Maybe if this professional event was here 13 years ago, I wouldn’t have fought Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) but I would have done this to pay the bills.
This is very big, this is going to have a lot of ramifications in the future. It is going to steal a lot of MMA talent because they are going to say,
‘I don’t have to go get punched in my face. I can do what I love and still pay my bills.’
You have seen the UAE nationals in action and you have been organizing some “Masterclass” sessions here. What does the future hold for Emirati fighters?
There is a lot of talent and the sport is very popular here. I think in the next two to five years, there is going to be at least one or two UAE fighters who are going to be in the top level with everybody else. I believe this for sure.
How appealing can the BJJ be to kids in comparison to other sport like football or tennis. Is it difficult to woo them to the sport?
Everybody wants to be tough. People are going to take to Jiu Jitsu. See in any other sport when the athletes get mad, they start to fight. At that point, they forget the sport they are playing and start the other sport (fighting)!
But it’s a good question if the sport is as appealing. If you see people playing soccer and some Jiu Jitsu, which way will you go? I think it’s better left to each individual as to what he is good at.
Penn, at 34 years old, has nothing left to prove in the sport of MMA. He’s accomplished things that some fighters may never get close to achieving. However, because of Penn’s fighting spirit and competitive nature, he is still reluctant to issue his official retirement from MMA. Does this mean we may see Penn inside the octagon again soon? That’s a question that only Penn and the UFC can answer together but for now Penn seems extremely happy supporting the sport that launched his career as an MMA star; Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The Prodigy will always have a soft spot for BJJ and as the sport continues to press its way into the mainstream I’m sure Penn is going to take a leading role in helping escalate it to new heights.