As we grow older there is times in our lives where we come to the realization that things change, and nothing last forever. Around 10 years old we realize that fat men with bags of presents don’t fit down the chimney. At 13 we figure out that girls really aren’t that icky. At 21 we realize that being an adult isn’t all its cracked up to be. And at The Ultimate Fighter 19 finale, we all found out that BJ Penn is no longer the same fighter men feared and boys wanted to be like.
After an epic UFC 175, Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay event center headlined by a five round war between Chris Weidman and Lyoto Machida, Sunday’s headliner between Frankie Edgar and BJ Penn couldn’t be anymore of a contrast. Sunday nights TUF finale brought the demise of BJ Penn, one of the greatest mixed martial artist to ever step in side the cage. It was a sad moment, that similar to a car accident, was hard to watch and even harder to turn away from, for it may be the last time you ever see anything like this.
Since I was a fan of MMA there were always a few names that always stood out amongst the crowd of fighters. Everyone knew Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Matt Hughes, GSP and BJ Penn.
BJ Pen was nicknamed the prodigy not because he was a good young fighter but because he was great. Known as one of the fastest to ever receive his black belt in Jiu-Jitsu, in 2000 he won first place in the black belt division in the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in Brazil, the first non-Brazilian to do so.
In 2001 he stepped into the UFC octagon for the first time and from that moment on was a staple fighter in the biggest fight organization in the world.
One of Penn’s crowning achievements was in 2004, at UFC 46 when Penn, a heavy underdog, took on Hall of Famer, Matt Hughes for the welterweight championship belt. With less than 30 second left in the first round Penn would submit Hughes with a rear naked choke heard around the MMA community.
Penn would go on to win the lightweight championship belt in 2008, at UFC 80, when he defeated Joe Stevenson in the second round with the same choke he put Hughes away with. That fight is known as one of the bloodiest bouts to ever happen in side of the cage.
In 2010, the trilogy with Frankie Edgar all began with a five round fight that ended in a unanimous decision victory for Edgar. Penn would go on to lose to Edgar again four months later and seemed to have closed that chapter in his book.
Four years later Penn and Edgar would agree to coach against each other on The Ultimate Fighter reality show and fight one more time on the season finale.
Leading up to this fight there wasn’t a fight fan in the world that didn’t believe in Penn. HIs motives seemed true, his dedication to training and weightcutting were at an all time high and driven unlike any Penn we have ever seen. All signs pointed to Penn being prepared like no other time in his fight career, ready put on a show reminiscent of his dismantling of Kenny Florian at UFC 101.
At the TUF 19 finale on Sunday when both Edgar and Penn stepped inside the octagon to do battle what we saw was a shell of the man many idolized growing up. The fire in Penn’s eyes that use burn bright were nothingmore then tinder, looking for a spark that was no longer there. The fighting style that use to be vicious and unpredictable was now stiff, rigid and lacking explosiveness. No longer was there a opportunistic fighter looking for ways to punish opponents, instead there was a warrior, proving once again that age catches up to us all, even the greatest.
When I think back years from now about Penn and the career he had, I will not dwell on the losses at the end. I will instead remember a true warrior born to shed blood, who gave me years of exciting fights to watch. I will remember the blood licking off the gloves wild man with the flexibility of a yoga instructor and the striking power of a heavyweight boxer. From a heavyweight fight with Lyoto Machida to a featherweight bout with Frankie Edgar I will remember a fighter who took on all challengers, big and small.
Maybe more than anything else I will remember BJ Penn by a quote that sums up the Prodigy better than any article I could write. “Birds fly, fish swim, and I fight.” That Penn, you sure do.