by Jeff Cain – MMAWeekly.com
New fans to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Mixed Martial Arts may not totally appreciate the bringing back of BJ Penn. After all, Penn’s last fight in the UFC was before ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ debuted on Spike TV last year. The long-time hardcore fans of this sport know the history, and realize what the newer fans will soon find out; the UFC brought back arguably the best pound for pound fighter in the world when they came to terms with BJ Penn.

After fighting to a draw for the UFC lightweight title against Caol Uno at UFC 41: ‘Onslaught,’ BJ Penn elevated his game and has been dominant every since. He dismantled top ranked lightweight Takanori Gomi at Rumble on the Rock 4, winning by rear naked choke in the third round. Penn went up to the welterweight division to take on UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes at UFC 46: ‘Super Natural,’ and tapped Hughes out late in round one to a rear naked choke and became the UFC Welterweight Champion.

BJ then took a fight outside the UFC against Duane ‘Bang’ Ludwig without the UFC’s approval. UFC president, Dana White, warned that Penn would relinquish his UFC title if he accepted the bout with Ludwig, and made good on his word by stripping Penn of his belt when the match against ‘Bang’ was officially signed. Penn defeated Ludwig in under two minutes at K-1: ‘MMA Championship Romanex,’ and filed suit against the UFC for being stripped of his title, including attempting to get an injunction that would have prevented the UFC from having Matt Hughes and George St. Pierre fight for the vacant welterweight title at UFC 50: ‘The War of ’04.’ The courts denied the injunction, and Hughes went on to regain the belt, but the lawsuit was far from over.

After fighting as a lightweight, moving up to welterweight, winning titles, and being stripped of them, BJ Penn decided to compete in the middleweight division and fight Rodrigo Gracie at Rumble on the Rock 6. BJ won a unanimous decision in his middleweight debut. Penn’s next match would be at heavyweight against Ryoto Machida, who handed Rich Franklin his only loss. BJ didn’t come away with the win, but took the much larger man to a decision, losing unanimously.

Penn is coming off a win over Renzo Gracie by unanimous decision at K-1: ‘World Grand Prix 2005,’ but that fight was in the middleweight division. The UFC brought BJ Penn back to compete in the welterweight division, can he make 170 now? “I honestly think I could get down to 160 very easily. It’s just going and doing it, but I can get to 170 easy,” Penn recently told MMAWeekly Radio.

BJ explained what transpired and resulted in his lawsuit against the UFC being dropped, and allowed for his return to the octagon. “We came into a settlement agreement, and we sat down, and we talked from 10AM until 3AM the next morning; all day long. I guess we started from our terms and they started from theirs, and we kind of just did it all down the middle. Through negotiations both people walk away unhappy, but it works.”

Penn wouldn’t go further into detail about the negotiations, but he did divulge a little information about his contract. He said, “I’ll be there for two years.” He added, “I think most of their contracts are exclusive. I’ll probably be sticking with the UFC for a little while.”

It was Penn’s desire to fight outside the UFC that began this whole mess, so he was asked if his new contract will permit him to fight in another organization. He answered, “I think it’s in every body’s contract that it’s up to the UFC itself for permission only, so I think when you see fighters fighting in other organizations they got permission to go.”

It doesn’t matter much what happened between BJ Penn and the UFC, all that really matters is BJ is back. Now the question is who will Penn fight first? According to him, “I was so intrigued with the St. Pierre and Sean Sherk fight, I told Dana that day that one of my things coming back, I want to fight the winner of that fight, so St. Pierre won the fight, so I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going to get put together. I was actually supposed to commentate on the fight, but I started messing around and didn’t make it to the announcers box I guess on time.”

Penn continued, “I wanted to fight the winner, so if it would have been Sherk, it would have been Sherk. It’s St. Pierre now, so I guess it’s St. Pierre. I mean sure I sat there and pushed for Hughes and this and that, but I want to fight the best guys. You know?”

About the possibility of fighting George St. Pierre, Penn stated, “I’m pumped man. I’m pumped for the first time in a long time. I’m going to take the fight serious. I’m going to train hard. You might see me walk into the cage with some bricks (referring to a six pack stomach).”

Asked when his first fight back will be, Penn replied, “I think it’s April…I was supposed to commentate on the St. Pierre and Sherk fight. I’m pretty sure it’s set. I’m pretty sure it’s a done deal. I’m just going to wait around. I think the UFC will go for this.”

Penn being brought back definitely changes the landscape of the UFC welterweight division. After defeating Sean Sherk in such impressive fashion, many feel that St. Pierre has earned a rematch with Matt Hughes and another shot at the title. BJ commented, “Everybody really knows that I’m the number one guy, so it really is the title shot for St. Pierre.”

He added, “It’s just a great fight. I mean, I am the champion. You know? It doesn’t really matter to me a title shot, so I know it’s just a normal fight, but every since I got the title, that’s really all I wanted to do in my whole life. Now it’s just about going around and fighting people. I’m not really worried about like oh I’ve got to have that belt before I die because I do have it. I just hang out and look for a good fight, a good challenge. St. Pierre is one, and then you still got Hughes.”

For the record, Matt Hughes is the UFC Welterweight Champion, but Penn never lost his belt to an opponent inside the octagon. BJ’s not delusional. He said, “Hughes is still the champ in my mind, even though I think I’m the best, and I can beat Hughes anytime. I think Hughes should go down as the greatest welterweight champion there ever was for the UFC. He should be in the Hall of Fame. I commend him for how long he’s stuck around there and defended his title so many times. It’s just amazing what he’s done, and what he still does.”

If BJ Penn had his way, his next three fights would be against three of the best fighters on the UFC roster. He stated, “I go St. Pierre, Hughes, Franklin. That’s where I go.”

Penn obviously feels he’ll beat St. Pierre and go on to regain the title that was stripped from him by defeating Matt Hughes again. If he can pull that off, he’ll be the welterweight champion, but will he have to give up the title a second time to challenge for the middleweight crown? “That’s what we’re going to talk to Dana about. We’re going to see what’s going on with that whole thing,” said Penn.

He may have started his MMA career as a lightweight, but BJ Penn has always thought big. His first obstacle in the quest to regain his title is out of the way. He’s back in the UFC. Now he just has to overcome a confident Canadian on a winning steak in George St. Pierre, and the most dominant champion in UFC history, Matt Hughes.