BJ Penn may not have the most stellar overall record in the world of mixed martial arts, although unlike boxing, 16-8-2 is still rather impressive; especially considering that he’s fought the highest levels of competition throughout his entire career.
Add to his record that, unlike most modern day fighters, he began his professional career inside the Octagon more than a decade ago.
Penn’s career is quite similar to UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture, right down to the bumpy relationship with UFC brass over the years.
Penn has fought the best of the best. He won UFC titles in two weight classes. He’s faced seven different UFC champions. He’s fought opponents everywhere from lightweight to heavyweight.
In short, he’s a shoe-in to join Couture in the UFC’s Hall of Fame.
So why, after retiring following his loss to Nick Diaz at UFC 137, would BJ Penn come out of retirement a few short months later to face rising talent Rory MacDonald at UFC 152 in Toronto?
“The reason I came back to fight Rory after he put that challenge out, Rory is a guy with a lot of hype around him and it’s a lot of good hype. That hype is justified. He’s been doing very well,” explained Penn on a recent episode of UFC Tonight on Fuel TV.
“I wanted to go up against him, Firas (Zahabi), the whole Tri-Star team. They’ve got a good thing going on up there and I want to try and take a crack at it.”
So it’s not so much the fight specifically with MacDonald, but the factor that he would once again be facing someone from the Tri-Star gym in Montreal, home to Penn’s nemesis, UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
Penn has twice fought St-Pierre. He lost a split decision in a war of a fight at UFC 58 in 2006, but then didn’t have a strong showing in their rematch three-and-half years ago at UFC 94.
St-Pierre dominated their second bout, although the fight was later marred by accusations that GSP was “greased up” for the fight.
Now, however, Penn seems to believe that, regardless of the “grease gate” accusations, he didn’t give the best accounting of himself at UFC 94. He now wants to redeem himself.
“I really feel that I could have put on a better performance (at UFC 94). I want to give it another shot and I want to walk away after that knowing that everything was left in the Octagon,” said Penn.
“I definitely want to get redemption for UFC 94. Win, lose or draw, I just wanna let them know who I am. And going up against all of (Tri-Star) as a whole, they got a good thing going, they got many great fighters coming out of that gym, and I know of course they’re going to have Rory prepared.”
Penn is a proud man, and he’s always been out to prove something much bigger than titles and other accolades. The Hawaiian has always wanted to go down in the annals of history as one of the best fighters on the planet.
To many, he’s already done that. To be sure, Penn has a rabid fan base that believes he has nothing left to prove.
But perhaps the lone person left that wants proof is Penn himself.
Faced with the prospect of walking down the beach and into the sunset, never to look back at the Octagon, Penn doesn’t want to do that with any regrets.
Perhaps he just needs to prove to himself that the fire still burns inside; that whether this is a one-time return to Octagon or not, the flame that has always driven Penn isn’t going to burn out, even as his fighting career fades away.
“What I’m going to use is my inner fire, my inner fight. I always felt that I wasn’t an athlete, I was a fighter, and I’m just gonna go out there and just gonna fight my heart out.”