Former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion B.J. Penn has always worked hard to establish his legacy in a sport that doesn’t allow perfection.
Mixed martial arts most storied fighters – Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Ken Shamrock, Tito Ortiz – have never come close to a spotless record. It just doesn’t happen in mixed martial arts, and more so, perfection is not what fans expect from their fighters.
Penn’s career rocketed to the top of the heap, managing a 10-2-1 record after romping through the UFC’s ranks and then leaving the welterweight belt behind to seek, quite literally, bigger challenges throughout the world.
He returned to tremendous fan fair at UFC 58 for a showdown with current UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, losing that, and his subsequent rematch with Matt Hughes, the man whose title he took more than two years prior.
Since Penn returned to the Octagon in 2006, he has managed a meager five victories to five losses. He most recently suffered back-to-back losses to current UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, who took the belt from Penn in the first of those two bouts.
Disappointing results, to be sure, but B.J. Penn wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I wouldn’t do anything different; I would’ve done it just like that,” Penn told interviewer Joe Rogan in the most recent edition of UFC Ultimate Insider.
“I could look back and say I wish how I was gonna train right now for the Matt Hughes fight, I trained like this when I was 20 years old, but it wouldn’t have worked then.”
Penn says he is still working to find his perfect mix both in and out of the Octagon, seeing this as a journey in his evolution as a fighter.
“We’re just getting started,” he told Rogan.
Penn’s career has spanned nearly a decade, and on Nov. 20, he comes back around to face Matt Hughes at UFC 123, the man that he has both defeated and been defeated by.
Penn may still be exploring where he is headed, but he feels he knows what is in store when he steps back in the Octagon with Hughes.
He knows Hughes will throw some strikes with him. He knows Hughes is going to shoot hard for the takedown. He knows Hughes is going to try and brutalize him with his patented ground and pound.
What Penn doesn’t know is if he will finally find his sweet spot and maximize his potential against Hughes. That’s something that only time will tell when given the chance to sit back after the fight and be introspective.
But that’s what Penn is searching for.
“You gotta find what works for you and when I do, that’s when I’ll be able to hit that peak.”
We’ll see if he hits that peak, or at least nears it, when Penn faces Hughes for the third time in their legendary careers at UFC 123 in Detroit.