Showdown Joe: BJ Penn And The Question Of Why

From the very first day the news broke that BJ Penn was making a return to the octagon, many of us raised an eyebrow or two and uttered the simply word: “WHY?”

As time went on, this three letter word would commence a variety of head shaking questions, many of which could be answered easily, while others framed in a shroud of conspiracy.

After already cementing himself in the UFC Hall of Fame, why did Penn want to come back and competed in MMA? On the surface, this answer is simple. BJ is born and purebred fighter, through and through. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it … BJ is more of a scrapper than he was ever an athlete. 

In his July 2014 bout vs. Frankie Edgar, many of us were baffled by his stand-up stance. It was labeled as vertically erect, straight-up, narrow, difficult to defend with, etc, etc. Midway through that first round, the majority of the MMA world was wondering why Penn had adopted this stance?

It eventually lead to a third round stoppage for Edgar, leaving Penn dazed and confused. Once a dominant force in MMA, “The Prodigy” was searching for answers as to why his career continued on this downward spiral.

Prior to this bout, he had been pummeled by Rory MacDonald in Seattle, another bout many had wondered aloud to: why would BJ Penn want to move up and face a much larger opponent in Rory? The rumour was to someway, somehow get another crack at Georges St-Pierre. Beat his training partner, and GSP would want to avenge the loss. Well, that didn’t go well for BJ.

Problem is, prior to the MacDonald bout, BJ lost a unanimous decision to Nick Diaz in Las Vegas, where his now famous post-fight interview originally signaled the end of “The Prodigy’s” career. Even I was moved to tears when BJ stated that he could no longer go home to his daughter looking the way he did. 

He was battered and bruised and did not look like the invincible fighter that could take a pounding for three rounds yet look as if nothing had happened. Enough was enough and the time had officially come to think about his family first, and not of himself. As a father of a young child, those ominous words he spoke, pulled at my heartstrings.

Despite this feeling that it was “official”, Penn leaving the sport was not a foregone conclusion. As opposed to walking off into the sunset, he decided to go big (literally bigger) or go home, facing Rory and paying a dear price for it.

That should have been another red flag for Penn and his family, friends and camp, but once a fighter, always a fighter. Trying to convince him that his fighting career is done was obviously a wasted endeavor.  

Failing vs. Rory, his next attempt was to go smaller and take on the speedier Frankie Edgar. He would have had a chance (in my honest opinion) but when he showed up with that stance, it was game over. The time had come for even BJ to realize there was nothing left to prove. 

At his age, this should have been a red flag to everyone involved with BJ … from his friends, family, coaches, camp, etc to the regulators and to even the UFC.

Unfortunately, BJ Penn is not Chuck Liddell. When “The Iceman” was going through the twilight of his career, Dana White made it clear … he wasn’t into making that kind of money. As a promoter, yes, he was into making a profit, but not at the blood, sweat and tears of his “friend”.

Now I could be dead wrong, but BJ Penn wasn’t exactly a friend to White. And it has me wondering if this dates back to when BJ won the welterweight title in January of 2004, then took off and signed with K-1. The UFC stripped him of the title and a war of words (and business ensued).

If you know your MMA history, you know that anyone that messes with Dana White and his money, is going to go down. One way or another, he will get you. It becomes personal and rarely does he just sweep things under the proverbial rug. 

When BJ was booked to fight Denis Siver, I was technically ok with it. I say “technically” because it was a fair fight and one I had no issues seeing. Well that one fell through when Siver backed out with an injury, so he was booked vs. Cole Miller … I was ok with that one as well. But, alas, this one did not take place because BJ was forced to withdraw.

Then things changed … and I wonder if the UFC began getting antsy.

Penn was booked vs. Ricardo Lamas, a bout I definitely wasn’t happy with. To make a long story short, nine days before this main event was to take place, Penn had to withdraw. Cue my conspiracy theory that the UFC was ticked off .... and he was eventually booked vs. Yair Rodriguez.

I do not know of anyone that saw this match-up as a fair one. From day one, it felt like an old lion was being thrown in with a much faster and stronger one. I hated it from day one and was somewhat sick to my stomach watching it.

One of the answers I heard was it was done in the name of “ratings”. I can buy this argument but I cannot digest that it was done to Penn. I understand the television business quite well. I also understand the MMA promotions business as well. Amalgamating the two is what I’ve done, researched and spoke about since the late nineties.

To see what happened this past weekend was challenging to say the least. Why was BJ Penn put in this position? Why did the UFC do it? Why did the regulators allow it? Why did BJ’s camp agree to it? Not to say the MMA community as a whole shouldn’t have spoken up about it, but I feel as if we should have. 

Some of my colleagues are saying I’m being far too sensitive about this situation, but talk to me in 20 years, when many of our current fighters are sitting cage side in a much worse condition as they are today. There are long term affects to MMA we have yet to see, but boxing’s past can give us a glimpse.

Here’s hoping that in the near future, when we wonder “why” about a fighter and an upcoming matchup, more people can say “no” … for his own personal safety and well being. No one will ever question their heart … but we should all question their motives to continue fighting.

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