Top Five BJ Penn Fights: A True MMA Legend
The culmination of the main event on Sunday night’s Ultimate Fighter Season 19 Finale also brought closure to another legendary mixed martial arts career. ‘The Prodigy’ BJ Penn left it all inside the octagon and will now ride off into the sunset retiring from the sport.
It was saddening to see Penn (16-10) lose the way he did as many wanted to see if ‘the Hawaiian could go on one last journey for UFC gold. Alas, Frankie ‘The Answer’ Edgar outmatched Penn, defeating him for a third time between their encounters, this time however was more one-sided than the first two pairings.
Penn has a laundry list of accomplishments inside his for sure lock of a UFC Hall of Fame career both inside and outside the octagon.
Money was never an issue for Penn, as he came from a wealthy family. He trained and fought for the love of the sport and to feed the warrior spirit within. As Penn displayed an emotional goodbye in his post-fight press conference on Sunday night it was obvious that he had hoped that he could hang around longer. Fans everywhere shared the sadness with the Hawaiian fighter as they too enjoyed every time he stepped into the cage.
Penn will not be completely out of MMA conversations however as the 35-year old Hawaiian native has a lot of involvement outside the cage. He has his Penn Training & Fitness center in Hilo, Hawaii, as well as a very successful news site in BJPenn.com (who we greatly respect and look up to).
As Penn hangs up his gloves, here are his top 5 most memorable fights in MMA:
5.) BJ Penn vs. Joey Gilbert – UFC 31: Locked & Loaded
I had the opportunity to spectate this fight live in New Jersey. This was an incredible card with many UFC legends (if you haven’t done so yet, purchase the UFC fight pass and relive this glorious event). A young 22-year old Penn would start his road to greatness at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
Not much was known about Penn, only that he was a BJJ blackbelt and the first American (and non-Brazilian) to win gold at the World Jiu Jitsu Championship. His opponent Joey Gilbert was a wrestler who was also making his debut in the UFC. Penn would win in the closing seconds of the first round by taking Gilbert’s back and raining down vicious blows until the fight was stopped. The Prodigy had arrived.
4.) BJ Penn vs. Caol Uno – UFC 34: High Voltage
Penn’s third professional fight came against Shooto star and UFC vet Caol Uno, who at the time had amassed a 13-4-2 professional mma record (think about that, Uno had already fought 19 times, twice in the UFC, against many top-level opponents, and here is a young Penn entering his THIRD pro MMA bout). Penn previously defeated Din Thomas in his second bout going into this fight. Many people at the time were opening their eyes to the emergence of the Prodigy with his first two wins coming by way of TKO.
This fight would make the statement that THE PRODIGY IS FOR REAL. It took Penn all of 11 seconds to viciously knockout Uno, who rushed Penn with a flying knee attempt which Penn would side step and then viciously annihilate the Japanese star. This third-straight victory in the UFC would earn the young Penn a chance at the lightweight title against then champion Jens Pulver (who also retired over this past weekend along with Penn). The Penn bandwagon was fully loaded.
3.) BJ Penn vs. Joe Stevenson – UFC 80: Rapid Fire
At the time, Sean Sherk was the lightweight champion. Sherk would be stripped due to a positive drug test and Penn and Joe Stevenson would go from fighting for an interim lightweight title, to the “official” lightweight title fight. Penn would have second shot at UFC lightweight gold (his first chance was a decision loss to then-champion Jens Pulver). Penn DOMINATED Stevenson from the start, resulting in one of the bloodiest fights the UFC had ever seen. This wasn’t the first time Penn bloodied and choked out an opponent).
Penn would capture gold for a second time (first time against Matt Hughes at welterweight, which we will cover soon). The bloody image of a distraught Stevenson would be one of the most popular images to last in MMA history (see picture below). Penn would add to his long list of success a lightweight title, which he would successfully defend three more times until his first encounter with Frankie Edgar.
2.) BJ Penn vs. Takanori Gomi – Rumble on the Rock 4
BJ Penn would part ways with the UFC after a 5-1-1 record to fight in Hawaii against one of the most dominant lightweights in the MMA world: Takanori “The Fireball Kid” Gomi.
At that time, Gomi was 14-1, with his only loss coming to Joachim Hansen in a majority decision. Gomi was arguably one of Japan’s greatest fighters, the Shooto star had an amazing wrestling / grappling background with heavy hands (Gomi is still a force to this day as he actively competes in the UFC).
Many felt this would be a tough challenge for Penn as Gomi’s wrestling and strength would be too much for The Prodigy. Boy were they wrong. Penn would dismantle Gomi, bloodying him up and submitting him in the middle of the third round. Penn’s jiu jitsu was too much for Gomi, and he would become the first fighter ever to submit Gomi and make him look mortal. This would bring a welcome back title shot in the UFC against Matt Hughes.
1.) BJ Penn vs. Matt Hughes – UFC 46: Supernatural
Penn shocks the world once again, dethroning welterweight champ Matt Hughes.
BJ Penn would return to the UFC after nearly a year of absence (and a fight in Hawaii dominating Takanori Gomi). Penn would move up in weight to 170 pounds to face welterweight champion Matt Hughes. Hughes at the time was a dominant champion, successfully defending his title five times, and on a 13-fight win streak. Hughes was king of the welterweight world with his dominating wrestling and ground-and-pound assault.
Penn would end all of that. The Prodigy would come into the fight and shock the world once again. Penn would only need one round to dominate Hughes on the ground and submit him with a rear naked choke in just four and a half minutes. This would be Penn’s first taste of UFC gold, after coming up short in a close decision loss to Jens Pulver earlier in his career. This was one of the most memorable fights Penn was in for three reasons:
1.) It was Penn’s first UFC title
2.) Penn absolutely dominated one of the best pound-for-pound fighters, outside of his weight class to top it off.
3.) This would set up a memorable trilogy battle between Penn and Hughes, which would end two wins for Penn, one win for Hughes.
As I wrap up this article on BJ Penn, I speak for the millions of fight fans across the world when I say, “Thank you for a great 13 years of MMA BJ Penn. You will be missed in the cage and ring, and forever be a legend and hall of fame fighter”.