All The King’s Men 3.11.11: Week 16 – BJ Penn’s Future
Posted by Larry Csonka on 03.11.2011
BJ Penn is known as “The Prodigy,” and for many he truly lived up to that moniker. But after his recent draw with Jon Fitch, Penn seemed to once again question his future in MMA. Will BJ Penn be fighting for the UFC in 2012? The 411 staff examines…
ALL THE KING's MEN!
The concept of the column is simple. As the "King" of the 411 Roundtable, I will pick a topic for discussion. The staff, or "Knights" of the old roundtable will then have the opportunity to state of they are FOR or AGAINST the week's topic, and then will have the chance to defend their position. When the Knights are done stating their opinions, I will chime in with my thoughts on what they have presented, and briefly share my thoughts on the subject. Lets get to it…
BJ PENN's FUTURE
BJ Penn is known as "The Prodigy," and for many he truly lived up to that moniker. But after his recent draw with Jon Fitch, Penn seemed to once again question his future in MMA. BJ Penn will not be fighting for the UFC in 2012.
Jon Butterfield - DISAGREE: You don't need to be much of a psychologist to realize how down in the dumps BJ Penn was immediately after the Jon Fitch fight – the guy was giving one word answers and looked, frankly, utterly despondent. Would anyone have been surprised if he'd announced his retirement in the next couple of days after? I know I wouldn't. But he didn't.
I think BJ is on a knife-edge, here – one false move, and you can see him calling it quits – the question is, will he make that false move?
With a rematch with Fitch a likely fight for the latter half of 2011, BJ isn't going to get out of his slump easily. Not only would the UFC refuse to hand BJ an easy fight, I doubt very much that Penn would accept one if they did – and right now, facing Jon Fitch could be the final nail in the coffin of the career of "The Prodigy" (at least for a few years until he finds his ‘fighting spirit'). Fitch not only dominated Penn in round three of that fight, but he literally broke BJ – something GSP has done before him simply by coming straight at him, frustrating him, dominating him, and making him look defenseless. The sheer work rate Fitch put in during that round rendered BJ helpless. He had nothing from the bottom, and that round could have gone on for another twenty minutes and I doubt he'd have even improved position.
If that happens again, BJ will be done, and I'd say we wouldn't see him fight for the UFC in 2012. But I don't think that will happen again, and, honestly, I don't think BJ Penn is generally quite as ‘down' as he appeared after the fight. He looked gutted, sure, and who wouldn't be? He expected to school Fitch in much the same way as he schooled Hughes right before that fight – but that's the thing; we're being too shortsighted here. BJ is on a one-fight drawing streak, not a multiple fight losing streak. Perhaps he lost that fight mentally, sure, but hey – this rematch won't be a replica of the Edgar rematch of the GSP rematch – BJ is not coming off a loss to Fitch already, and I think once he gets his head back in the game, he'll pull out another blistering performance and rekindle his spirit – for one more fight at least.
Jonathan Solomon - AGREE: I hate to say it, but I do agree with the statement that B.J. Penn will not fight for the UFC in 2012. He has contemplated retirement at various points in his legendary career but for the first time, there is not much else for him to do should he lose in 2011.
Since he returned to the UFC as a lightweight, following a pair of welterweight defeats, he had a multitude of challenges to face. First, it was his nemesis Jens Pulver who he defeated. Afterward, it was finally winning the UFC lightweight championship which alluded him on two previous occasions. As champion, he wanted to dominate the division and that he did. He knocked out Sean Sherk, submitted Kenny Florian and totally battered Diego Sanchez. After beating Sherk, he moved up in weight to fight welterweight champion GSP and was dominated for four rounds in his first loss since Matt Hughes knocked him out at UFC 63.
Then he ran into Frankie Edgar, out of nowhere. Penn looked listless against the quick moving Edgar who won two five-round unanimous decisions. Penn considered walking away after the rematch last summer but once he returned home to Hawaii, he felt he had to continue. So after losing two consecutive title fights, he decided to move up in weight, back to welterweight to have a third fight with Hughes. If he had lost that fight, I am confident he would have taken at least a sabbatical from fighting.
Instead, he knocked out Hughes in 21 seconds and felt rejuvenated. He was back in the title hunt but he could not get back over the hump as he took a pounding in the third round in the Jon Fitch fight. Even after the fight was declared a draw, Penn looked visibly beaten and said he did not believe in the draw.
Whether the UFC books a rematch with Fitch or a rematch (this time, at welterweight) with Diego Sanchez or a new fight with anyone else, we may witness a turning point. If Penn wins his next fight this year, there is no reason to believe he'll walk away in 2012.
If Penn loses, what is there for him to do? He won't drop back to lightweight, even if Frankie Edgar should lose the championship. With another loss at welterweight, there is no way he'll be in title contention, even if Georges St. Pierre permanently moves to middleweight.
As others have said above, Penn does not fight for the money. For him, it's every bit a spiritual force as it is physical. Not to mention an emotional force for the 32-year old former champion. If Penn loses his next fight, I believe he will step aside and contemplate his fighting future. He would take time off and perhaps by the summer or fall in 2012, depending on what happens in the UFC and in his own personal life, he'll return for one last run at UFC gold in either division he ruled at one point or another. He won't retire for good, he's too young and has fought professionally each year since 2001.
Mark Radulich - AGREE: I don't think his heart is in this anymore. As Samer and others have said, he doesn't need the money. We've been told he comes from a wealthy family and fights essentially for kicks. Now somebody who fights basically as a hobby will do it so long as it's fun or they have relative success. He appears to be having neither. He lost his title last year to a smaller man in an uninspired effort and then failed to regain it later that year. His only victory is over another fighter presumably in the twilight of his career and in his latest effort he wilted once again. If you don't have to live that way, a way in which your chosen profession is causing you more aggravation than not, then why would you? I think BJ Penn will finish out his contract this year and then retire.
Also, I think we've seen all we're going to see out of BJ. As we said on the 411 Ground and Pound Radio show, there's plenty of feature fights for him at Welterweight but he won't be sniffing a title shot anytime soon and it's doubtful he'd win if he did. Given that, what reason does have to stick around? Get a good look kids, the Farewell BJ Penn Tour starts now.
Scott Kuczkowski - DISAGREE: This one is a little hard to predict, but I feel pretty confident saying that I think BJ Penn will probably continue fighting for at least another three years; potentially for five more if he wins another title. I think BJ has that "it" thing inside him that drives him to be super-competitive and makes him want to get in the cage and fight. While he's already filthy rich and probably doesn't ever have to get out of bed and do an ounce of work for the rest of his life, I think BJ will stay fighting with the UFC because he gets off on it and it also probably helps him stay sane.
I'm sure BJ will probably think about quitting and he will probably make more and more cryptic statements like he did after UFC 127 about his future, but I think the majority of that is just him talking and trying to take stock of his life. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if BJ even took half a year off and stopped talking about fighting altogether only to announce his comeback when the hunger returns. Make no mistake about it though; BJ Penn is a fighter. He loves getting into that cage, hearing the door close behind him, and knowing he is going to go to battle with the man standing across from him. I don't think BJ could ever find anything else to do that would make him as happy as he is when he's fighting.
Will BJ question his future and longevity in fighting? Sure; all fighters probably do this (to some degree). Might he take time off to get his head straight from time to time? Probably. Will there be in time within the next year or two where BJ Penn isn't a UFC asset? I highly doubt it.
Samer Kadi - DISAGREE: Initially, I thought this was a very easy "DISAGREE". When I thought about it a little more, I realized that things are a little more complicated. However, I ultimately decided to stick with my initial feeling.
For starters, BJ Penn does not need to fight. He comes from a very wealthy family, and has always competed out of pure love for fighting. He is one of those fighters who has always dared to be great, as his ventures to the welterweight division and his heavyweight bout with Lyoto Machida would attest.
While he has been inconsistent throughout his career, and his occasional lack of dedication has been well documented, Penn has accomplished far more than most fighters would ever dream of achieving in the sport, and if he were to walk away at any point in time, he will likely go down as one of the best fighters MMA has ever seen. As such, not only does "The Prodigy" not need fighting from a financial perspective, but his legacy is already secured whether he decides to take another step inside the Octagon or not. Add to that the fact that Penn seems to relish the responsibility of being a father, and BJ could very well choose to chill on the beaches of Hawaii and enjoy fatherhood.
While I think Penn will fight again this year, whether or not he continues to fight in 2012 could very well hinge on his success in his next fight. The reason why part of me is skeptical about BJ fighting in 2012 is that I think his next bout will be a rematch with Jon Fitch, and given that there is a decent chance the fight could be contested under the five round format, I don't think it is a bout BJ is likely to win.
On the other hand, while BJ has never been one to react well to a loss and has teased retirement on multiple occasions, I think his love for fighting will eventually get the better of him each and every time. At 32 years of age, Penn is hardly on the downside of his career, and he still possesses all the tools to continue to be a successful MMA fighter. In addition, Penn remains one of the UFC's most underrated draws. While he isn't Brock Lesnar or GSP, people care when BJ fights.
Ultimately, Penn may go back down to the lightweight division where he has a bigger chance of being a champion once again. Or he could simply avoid the weight cut and continue to take compelling fights at welterweight. Either way, even though the road might be a bumpy one in terms of deciding whether or not he sticks in the sport, Penn will likely step inside the Octagon in 2012 to do what he does best.
Jeffrey Harris - DISAGREE: I'd say this is far from it for the Prodigy. For starters even though the fight got away from him, Penn did look good throughout parts of the fight. And it does not go on his record as a loss. Honestly, I think Penn has nothing to be ashamed of. Why? This was one of the toughest fights and tests of his career. Fitch is probably the best welterweight in the world not named GSP and has a ridiculous resume.
Also not only that, we have been here before with BJ Penn. Penn is an emotional guy and he's mulled about retirement before. It happened after the loss to GSP at UFC 94 and then BJ Penn had an amazing run at lightweight beating Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez in amazing performances. He dropped two title fights to Frankie Edgar and then he came back and knocked out Matt Hughes winning the rubber match of their trilogy. The word is that BJ Penn is already re-thinking that he "lost" to Fitch.
I'm sure BJ Penn will be motivated or cajoled into taking a fight sooner or later. I'd say that BJ Penn is probably in the latter days of his career and most likely fight much longer but I believe we will be seeing him fight in 2012 without question. I mean he's BJ Penn. I doubt we will see him go out with a draw in a fight like that with Jon Fitch.
Alex Watt - DISAGREE: BJ Penn looked like a bit of a broken man following his last fight with Jon Fitch. In the post fight interview with Joe Rogan and his later interview with Ariel Helwani he admitted he didn't know whether he would actually continue fighting. However, a lot of that has to be attributed to his performance in the third round. BJ isn't used to getting utterly dominated like that. The only other real example of it happening was against Georges St. Pierre in their big UFC 94 collision. And what happened in the aftermath? BJ Penn was said to be considering retirement. But, after he had had time to evaluate the situation he recognized that there were fresh challenges for him inside the Octagon and he carried on. A similar situation followed his back-to-back losses to Frankie Edgar but a rubber match with Matt Hughes brought him back yet again.
The point is, BJ Penn doesn't need to fight anymore. Yet, time and again he finds himself stepping back into the Octagon. As several of the other writers have said, BJ Penn is a fighter at heart. He clearly loves being a Mixed Martial Artist and if Dana White and Joe Silva can offer him a fight which excites him, you know he will be back. A possible rematch with Fitch for the vacant Welterweight Championship (assuming GSP defeats Shields and vacates the belt to move to Middleweight) is something I cannot see "The Prodigy" turning down.
Of course, that fight would most likely take place around August/September time of this year so a lot of whether BJ Penn fights on in 2012 could depend on the outcome of that fight. A win would make him Champion of the UFC for the third time. That could re-energize him and spur him onto big fights with the UFC's Welterweight elite. Or he could choose to retire on top (something he has claimed he would have done had he defeated GSP in their aforementioned superfight). A loss could mean he chooses to retire (after all, it would make him 1-3-1 in his last five fights) or he may be persuaded that another run at lightweight would be for the best. It is certainly true that BJ Penn is somewhat hard to predict!
Nevertheless, I feel confident that BJ Penn will be fighting for the UFC in 2012. He didn't lose outright to Fitch, after all, it was a draw. To the consensus number two welterweight in the world. Therefore, BJ will be persuaded to get back in the Octagon and try and beat him on the second attempt. Whatever happens there, he will find his way back to the UFC at some point in 2012. As has been highlighted already, "The Prodigy" doesn't fight for the money, he fights for the thrill and for the competition and there are still plenty of great fights for him at both lightweight and welterweight. The love of the sport keeps bringing him back time after time, and it will again. Plus, he is a big draw for the UFC so you know Dana White won't let him go without a fight. I think we'll see BJ Penn in the Octagon a few more times yet before he hangs them up for good.
Larry Csonka - And as always I want to thank out Knights of the Round Table for a great discussion this week. Everyone brought their A-Game and made the discussion fun. Now, for this particular topic, I have to sadly AGREE. In my opinion, BJ Penn has accomplished a lot, but for one reason or another, he never was a great as he could have been. That is not a slam on Penn, just my observation. We have always heard "this will be the best BJ Penn we have ever seen," and I have to say that I am eventually disappointed. Penn has had a rough time. The losses to Edgar really took it out of him, and while he got the win over Hughes, the draw with Fitch may have taken more from Penn than we know. Penn even said that if he lost he was not sure what he would do with his career. I just feel that he is mentally fragile right now, and I could see him taking time off with a loss. He could be back, but I could see him taking 2012 off in a semi-retirement type of deal.