Born on December 13, 1978, Jay Dee “B.J.” Penn is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion and a two time, two division Mixed Martial Arts champion currently fighting for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
B.J. is the fourth of five sons born of Jay Dee Penn Sr. and Loraine Shin. The Penn family heritage, although prominent and proud in its Hawaiian roots, is a mixture of Irish American decent (Father) and Korean / Native Hawaiian (mother).
At the age of 17 B.J. Penn was introduced to the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) by his long time friend and teacher Tom Callos. The introduction to the art of BJJ eventually brought Penn to Northern California where he trained under Ralph Gracie and rose to the rank of purple belt. With an obvious knack for the sport, Penn quickly ascended through the BJJ belt rankings. Through his tutelage at the Brazilian based Nova Uniao Jiu-Jitsu academy B.J. earned his black-belt from Andre Pederneiras in just three years of training in the Brazilian Martial Art (An honor that takes most practitioners 10 or more years).
After placing third at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships in 1999 in the brown belt division, B.J. returned the next year (2000) and became the first non-Brazilian in history to win first place in the black-belt division of the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
After such a quick and amazing run in the world of BJJ, Penn was nicknamed “The Prodigy” and was ushered into the sport of professional Mixed Martial Arts. He made his professional debut with the UFC on May 24, 2001 in Atlantic City, New Jersey at “UFC 31: Locked and Loaded” against Joey Gilbert. It took Penn under five minutes to secure a victory over Gilbert via TKO and simultaneously launch his career into the world’s fastest growing sport.
Penn followed up his debut victory over Gilbert with two more first round finishes over Din Thomas and Japanese star Caol Uno. The dominance he displayed in his first three outings prompted the UFC to put him up against a man who had already competed in 14 contests. At “UFC 35: Throwdown” Penn squared off with Jens Pulver for the UFC’s first ever lightweight title. After 25 minutes of action (5 rounds) Penn failed to capture the title and was also handed his first professional loss in the process.
Penn returned still hungry for the belt and was able to notch two consecutive victories after the Pulver loss to earn another shot at the vacant lightweight title. At “UFC 41: Onslaught” B.J. faced off with one of his former opponents, Caol Uno. His history with Uno, however, did not repeat itself, and Penn was again unable to obtain the UFC championship belt due to a judges majority draw ruling over the title fight.
Penn then left the promotion for a one fight stint and took on Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi at Rumble on the Rock 4 in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was able to finish Gomi, the then ranked number one lightweight in the world, via rear naked choke midway through the third round. This fight remains one of the most anticipated and impactful lightweight fights in modern Mixed Martial Arts.
On January 31, 2004 Penn returned to the Mixed Martial Arts Promotion that got him started (UFC) to face a man who at the time was on a thirteen fight winning streak and seemed near invincible after six successful title defenses inside the UFC octagon. It was this fight against Matt Hughes at “UFC 46: Supernatural” that Penn made his third attempt at earning a UFC title, this time, in the UFC’s welterweight division. It took Penn just four minutes and thirty-nine seconds to best the champ and end the fight after a dominating opening and a quick rear naked choke to secure the UFC’s welterweight title.
After winning the UFC’s welterweight crown from one of the most dominant champs in the sports history, Penn once again left the promotion to pursue further challenges across the globe. It was during this time that the natural lightweight bounced from welterweight to heavyweight and faced notables such as Duane Ludwig, Rodrigo Gracie, Renzo Gracie and Lyoto Machida.
B.J.’s already storied career, after five years in the making, found him back in the UFC after his time overseas. After two unsuccessful outings in the UFC’s welterweight division against George St. Pierre and Matt Hughes, respectively, Penn returned to his divisional home of lightweight in June of 2007. At “UFC 80: Rapid Fire” Penn defeated Joe Stevenson to finally earn the 155 pound title that had eluded him twice prior. B.J. then successfully defended his title three times before an eventual decision loss to Frankie Edgar at “UFC 112: Invincible” on April 10, 2010.
Since losing his lightweight title B.J. Penn has returned to the UFC’s welterweight division where he successfully finished a trilogy fight at “UFC 123: Rampage vs. Machida” with Matt Hughes. Penn scored a Knockout victory over Hughes in just twenty-one seconds of the very first round to claim the trilogy between the two legends, 2-1. He then followed up that victory with a number one contender bout against Jon Fitch at “UFC 127: Penn vs. Fitch” on February 27, 2011, which ended in a majority draw. And that fight brings us to date…
While the career of B.J. Penn has thus far spanned the course of 10 years, his win/loss record only gives a minor glimpse of what the man has accomplished. B.J. has fought in eleven UFC title fights, is one of only two men in UFC history to win two titles in two different weight classes, and is the first fighter in UFC history to test himself in four different divisions. At “UFC 94: St-Pierre vs. Penn 2”, B.J. became the first and, to date, only UFC Champion to challenge another UFC Champion for a chance at holding two belts simultaneously in two different divisions. B.J. is also the only man in UFC history to face seven different UFC Champions. In 2009 B.J. was the UFC’s top pay-per-view draw and earned a gross revenue of $79.6 million U.S. dollars for the promotion. He was recognized by Hawaii’s “Star Bulletin” as the #4 most significant Hawaii sports figure of the decade in 2009 and during the same year was honored with a “BJ PENN DAY” by Big Island Mayor, Billy Kenoi.
Outside of his career and history with Martial Arts B.J. Penn has appeared in film, on radio and has a New York Times Best Selling Autobiography entitled, Why I Fight: The Belt is Just an Accessory. He has also co-authored one of the most sought after Martial Arts instructional books, which is titled, Mixed Martial Arts: The Book of Knowledge and owns a gym called “Penn Training and Fitness” in his hometown of Hilo, Hawaii. With a clothing line, a host of endorsement deals and other family run businesses Penn is not only a fighter, but a business savvy entrepreneur as well.
In the community BJ Penn gives back via his PENN HAWAII YOUTH FOUNDATION which has helped hundreds of at risk kids in the Hilo community by teaching them his core values, martial arts and being a positive role model in the community at his Penn Training and Fitness Center in Hilo. He also works very closely with the Hawaiian organizations across the State such as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kau Inoa and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for grants for his youth foundation.
B.J. Penn became a father on October 25, 2008, when his daughter and love of his life, Aeva Lili’u Penn was born. More than any Martial Arts Championship, business venture, endorsement deal or public recognition, Penn has found the most happiness in fatherhood and remains dedicated to having an important role in the life of his daughter.
While the past is written in stone, the future for “The Prodigy” is yet to be determined. And while we cannot predict what’s next, one thing will hold true: B.J. Penn will always go out and “Just Scrap” for all his fans around the world for years to come.
For more information on the life of the “Prodigy” his NY times bestseller’s book is available for purchase Here.
-By Pedro Carrasco