Does B.J. Penn’s career deserve the accolades it receives, or has nostalgia gotten the better of us all? An editorial


I know… I know…  He’s a UFC legend.  He’s been involved with the UFC since 2001, and he’s fought a who’s who list of MMA greats.  His very first professional fight was with the UFC, and his longevity with the organization is unparalleled, demonstrated by the fact that he fought at UFC 37, UFC 137 and most recently at UFC 237.  However, after his latest defeat against Clay Guida, B.J. Penn currently sits at 16-14-2.  He’s set the record for the longest losing streak in UFC history with 7 consecutive losses, and he hasn’t won a fight in nearly a decade.  So, how good was B.J. Penn before his 7 fight skid?  Was the impact that he made in his first 9 years in the sport that significant, or is it just nostalgia that misleads us into thinking that “The Prodigy” must have been one of the greatest to ever compete in the UFC, because he’s been there since the beginning?  Follow along and I will take a closer look at B.J. Penn’s career, and I will pose the question:  does B.J. Penn’s career deserves the accolades it receives?


B.J.’s Beginnings in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

B.J. Penn began training jiu jitsu in 1995 at the age of 17, and his BJJ pedigree is undeniable.  Penn was awarded a black belt in just five years of training, and in 2000 he became the first non-Brazilian to win the black-belt division of the World Jiu Jitsu Championship in Rio de Janiero.  Penn’s jiu jitsu prowess was enough to garner the attention of the UFC, and he made his MMA debut with the organization in early 2001 at UFC 31.  Penn quickly amassed an undefeated record of 3-0, and he did it not by submission, but by striking, with 3 first-round knockout finishes over Joey Gilbert, Din Thomas and Caol Uno.

Next, Penn fought Jens Pulver at UFC 235 for the Lightweight title, but lost by a majority decision.  Penn would go on to win his next 2, including a decision victory over Matt Serra.  Jens Pulver would then leave the UFC, relinquishing his title, and the UFC set up a tournament to determine the next Lightweight champion.  However, in the finals Penn fought Caol Uno to a draw, leading the UFC to temporarily suspend its Lightweight division, and letting Penn’s record rest at 5-1-1 after 7 fights with the UFC.

bj penn third

Becoming a Champion

B.J. Penn next went on to fight Takanori Gomi, not with the UFC, but at K-1 Rumble on the Rock 4 in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Penn would defeat Gomi by third-round submission to win his first title, the Rumble on the Rock Lightweight championship.  Penn returned to the UFC in early 2004 to take on Matt Hughes for the UFC Welterweight title.  In his Welterweight debut, Penn defeated Hughes by first-round submission to win the belt, but was subsequently stripped of the title after a contract dispute with the UFC.  Penn would return to K1 and earn victories in his next two fights, first over Duane Ludwig and second in his Middleweight debut over Rodrigo Gracie.  In late 2004, B.J. Penn sat with what would be the best win/loss ratio of his career at 9-1-1.  He had already fought in three separate weight classes, and had won world titles in two of them.

An Honest Assessment

There’s no doubt that what B.J. Penn accomplished in his mixed martial arts career between the years of 2001-2004 was stellar.  However, other than a good run from 2007-2009, when Penn went 5-1 with victories over Jens Pulver, Joe Stevenson, Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez, Penn’s career does not quite merit the awe that is typically associated with his name.  At the end of 2009, Penn still had a formidable record of 15-5-1.  He was only 30 years old, which is generally right at or slightly before a fighter hits his prime.  Since that run, however, Penn has won only 1 fight.  In fact, since 2004, B.J. Penn has won only 7 fights.  Let me repeat that:  since the first Saw movie was in theaters 15 years ago, B.J. Penn has only won 7 fights.. while fighting full-time.  Let that sink in.

And now with is loss to Guida, Penn has the unfortunate honor of holding the record for the most consecutive losses in UFC history with 7, over a period of time that spans nearly 10 years.  Obviously, Penn should had called it quits years ago.  However, hindsight is always 20/20.  How could anyone had possibly advised Penn to retire in 2009, when he was entering the prime years of a fighter’s career?  And, had Penn retired at that time, would we still be singing his praises as a UFC legend having retired at 15-5-1, or would he had been just another good fighter that hung up the gloves too soon?


Could Your Opinion Be Swayed?

Dont get me wrong, I was a huge fan of “The Prodigy” in his heyday, and I would had certainly argued legendary status.  However, after an honest assessment of Penn’s career, not just the past 8-10 years, but his entire career minus the first 3 years, it’s hard for me to still believe that Penn’s legacy lives up to his accomplishments.  It could be perhaps, that once again nostalgia has gotten the better of us, and we’ve put our good sense aside for the comfort in something that reminds us of times long ago.  After reading this article, has your opinion changed?  Do you think that B.J. Penn’s career deserves the accolades it receives?  Or, do you think that because Penn was there in the beginning when so many of us became hooked on the sport, that we write his career passes that we wouldn’t give to fighters with better credentials today?

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