by Matt Hill – MMAWeekly.com
When one thinks about an individual who typifies a warrior’s spirit, many famous fighters come to mind. Fighters such as Wanderlei Silva, Matt Lindland, Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson, and, of course, the beloved Rocky Balboa have all proven that they will fight anyone, anywhere, and anytime.
Another fighter who exemplifies this same anywhere, anytime, any weight trait is middleweight-welterweight-lightweight-fighter B.J. ‘The Prodigy’ Penn. Penn has fought in a number of organizations throughout his career in a variety of different weight classes and has found great success in each of them.
Saturday night will be a chance for ‘The Prodigy’ to drop back down to his original weight class and gain redemption from what was likely the most demoralizing and frustrating loss of his decorated career… his UFC 35 majority decision loss to Jens ‘Little Evil’ Pulver. Even though Pulver was the current lightweight champion when they last met back in 2002, ‘The Prodigy’ came into this fight as the huge favorite since in his first three UFC fights, Penn had accumulated three TKO or KO victories in a combined time of less than 8 minutes in the cage.
Pulver was thought to be the next victim of Penn’s raw talent and fighting prowess, but Jens wasn’t about to lay down his title without a battle, and after three rounds of back and forth warfare it was Pulver’s hand that was raised via a majority decision victory. It has been since that moment that Penn has longed for a rematch with ‘Little Evil,’ but that road to redemption was neither a quick nor an easy one.
‘The Prodigy’ has amassed wins over tremendously tough opposition in his career such as Din Thomas, Caol Uno, former Pride lightweight champ Takanori Gomi and current UFC welterweight champ Matt Serra, but what is likely considered to be B.J.’s most impressive and well-known victory came at UFC 46 when he moved up from the UFC’s lightweight to welterweight division to challenge long-time champ Matt Hughes for the 170-pound belt. Most fight professionals and fans alike thought that Penn was stepping in over his head and many thought that he would be bullied by the ox-like strength of Hughes.
But it seems that many times underdog fighters don’t get the same “You’re going to lose” memo that the rest of us do and they come into a fight and stage an unthinkable upset (see Randy Couture and Gabriel Gonzaga for references). The first fight between Hughes and Penn was no different.
A mere 4:39 into the first round, B.J. had managed to do the unthinkable. Not only did B.J. dominate Hughes in every aspect of the fight, but he then finished him off with a textbook rear naked choke. The UFC had found themselves a new welterweight champion. What a great moment for B.J. and his fans. Fans would now be able to see him compete with the best fighters the UFC had to offer for the next number of years, right? Wrong.
B.J. forfeited his UFC belt shortly after defeating Hughes in order to explore different weight classes and different organizations. Penn fought in K-1 and Rumble on the Rock in his absence from the UFC and picked up wins over a pair of Gracie’s (Rodrigo and Renzo) and Duane ‘Bang’ Ludwig, an experienced standup fighter and UFC veteran.
But finally, after two long years separated from the Octagon, B.J. was back. Penn returned to face Georges St. Pierre, the Canadian who seemed nearly unbeatable in many of his UFC appearances, losing only to reborn welterweight champ Matt Hughes. B.J. brutalized St. Pierre in the first round and bloodied the Canadian’s face, using it like a speed bag in training. It was St. Pierre’s conditioning, however, that helped turn the pace of the fight and eventually St. Pierre came out victorious with a split decision victory.
B.J. was down after this loss, but certainly far from out. The biggest rematch in his career was on the horizon and he had his coveted opportunity to prove to the world that his victory over Matt Hughes was no fluke. In September of last year, Penn and Hughes stepped into the Octagon once again and two rounds into the fight it looked like fans were well on their way to seeing a repeat of the first go-round between these two men.
The Hawaiian was dominating the stand up and it was all that Hughes could do simply to take B.J. down. But at the onset of round three, Penn seemed to instantly be a different fighter. His crisp punches had gone out the window and his takedown defense was essentially non-existent. Many fans wondered if B.J.’s toughest enemy, his conditioning, had taken the fire from him once again.
To Hughes’s credit, he did everything a champ should have done. When he saw Penn less crisp in his movements, he immediately started teeing off on the Hawaiian’s head before securing an easy takedown. The champ then moved into side control and rained down punches on B.J.’s head before the referee had seen enough and jumped in to stop the fight at the 3:53 mark of round three.
It was later reported by MMAWeekly.com that Penn had sustained a rib injury near the end of round two and B.J. contends that this was the reason for his quick physical descent, not his conditioning.
But as the song says, “But that was then, and this is now,” and with his road to recovery already taken and a season as coach on The Ultimate Fighter reality show in the books, the next thing for Penn to reclaim is his loss to Jens Pulver. There is legitimate disdain between these two men and that should make for an entertaining fight. Neither man wants the other to have bragging rights and each man has a point to prove.
Pulver wants to prove that his first victory over B.J. was no fluke and that he can still compete with top UFC competition, while Penn wants to shut Jens up forever and erase his first professional MMA loss. Not to mention, each man wants to put up a good performance in front of the men whom they coached on The Ultimate Fighter 5 to show which coach – and team – really is the best. So tune in to Spike TV on Saturday night to see what should be more history in the making as the two coaches meet in the cage for battle once again.