Deep in the Hill Country of Texas, there is a storm of MMA action brewing on the horizon in the historic city of San Antonio.
In 1836 the most iconic siege ever to take place in the American West was waged between Santa Anna’s Mexican forces and a small band of Texans fighting for their independence at the Battle of the Alamo. On June 10th that tradition of never backing down continues as Fury Fighting Championships 17 takes place at the Shrine Auditorium with a card that was originally slated to have 20 bouts of MMA action. At the top of the bill, there will be a familiar face as former UFC fighter, Roger “The Silverback” Narvaez, looks to capture his first championship in the sport when he faces Antonio “Doomsday” Jones for the vacant middleweight title. The event will also feature a hot prospect, a kickboxing champion, and a grudge match.
Fury FC 17 will be broadcast live on FloCombat.com.
While the 33-year-old Narvaez (8-2 MMA, 1-2 UFC) has already realized his ultimate goal of getting to the highest level of MMA, fighting for a title has always eluded him. The 6’3″ fighter nicknamed “The Silverback” due to his abnormal 79.5″ wingspan, or monkey arms as he calls them was twice scheduled to fight for the Legacy Fighting Championship Middleweight Title against then champion Bubba Bush who now fights in the UFC. An injury caused the first fight to be canceled. Then a call up to the UFC to fight an unknown opponent on short notice put an end to plans for the another scheduled title fight.
To Roger, the secret to grabbing the attention of the world’s biggest MMA promotion is fighting for several different promotions. He fought for six different organizations winning all of his fights before getting a call from the UFC’s former matchmaker Joe Silva to ask if he was ready to make the move. Narvaez feels that fighting for multiple shows tells the UFC that a fighter is ready to fight whoever and whenever. His first fight for the promotion was a loss to Patrick Cummins at UFC Fight Night 42 in Albuquerque where he fought at an altitude of over 5300 feet sea level, something he says will not do again unless he is training at altitude. To put it bluntly, he plainly states “the altitude in Albuquerque sucks.” After a win against Luke Barnett, he faced Elias Theodorou. In that fight, he broke his arm before ultimately losing, and was then cut by the UFC.
At this point in Narvaez’s career, his goals now are different:
“The next goal for me, to be realistic, is to make as much money as I can. I love fighting, but at the same time, I have a family that I am trying to support. That is always first and foremost now…[and] Fury is doing a pretty good job of taking care of me…This is a really big deal for me. I am probably training harder for this fight than I have ever trained before. Part of that is with age comes knowledge and experience and I am doing everything I need to do the right way to get ready to come home with that strap, but that strap means ever thing…I didn’t quit fighting with a broken arm, it is going to take something pretty drastic to get me stop. I don’t think the guy I am fighting is going to be able to break my will or test my heart to where I am not going to be able to pull through…coming home with that title is a big deal.”
That home is one of a fighting family. Narvaez’s wife Brandi is also a fighter who recently made her professional debut at Legacy Fighting Alliance 7. His stepson is a gray belt who competes in Jui-Jitsu year round, his daughter also trains in the sport. They understand the hard work that their dad puts in more so than the average fighter’s family. As he puts “it’s not normal, but it is normal to us.”
The prospect to keep an eye on is Two-time Alabama state wrestling champion turned lightweight MMA fighter, Alec Williams (5-1 MMA) from Birmingham. Williams will be looking to rebound from his first professional loss as he takes on Travonne “Prince Scorpion” Hobbs. In his last fight, Alec relied on his wrestling and got it in his head that he did not want to stand and trade with his opponent. That mentality ultimately not only cost him his undefeated record but also to sustain four broken bones in the right side of his face.
“I didn’t get knocked out, I still got the takedown after I broke those four bones. I know it is going to be pretty difficult to knock me out…Honestly, the loss kind of took any pressure off. Before I was undefeated, that loss was going to be a big change and now a loss is just another loss.”
For this fight, Williams says he has been working with MMA legend and former UFC fighter Pete Spratt on his stand up and will not make the same mistake twice.
Also featured on the card is the first Brazilan World Cup Kickboxing Champion, welterweight Washington “Washingthai” Luiz. Originally slated to fight Nickolay Veretennikov, “Washingthai” Luiz will now take on lesser known Danny Ageday. With a new opponent on just four days notice, the man who has aspirations to become a champion in GLORY Kickboxing is not fazed.
“I did my whole camp studying my first opponent who is a striker like me, but I do not feel harmed by the change. I’m ready for this war…The main reason for my change to the USA is the opportunity to be in the biggest events in the world I have already fought the biggest events in Brazil in kickboxing and MMA. I have fought in big events in Europe and now my challenge is the biggest event of kickboxing, GLORY. But I also love MMA and when a fight appears for me, I do not refuse.”
The grudge match at Fury FC 17 comes to us from the flyweights division’s Mark “The Sparrow” Plata and David “Gallito” Miramontes. These two men were scheduled to fight previously but Plata had to pull out due to his wife giving birth to twins. According to Plata, that is where the beef began.
“The day my twins were born he was messaging me talking about how this was not a good reason not fight and that I just did not want to fight him. My kids were in ICU at the time and he just keeps messaging me over and over…it upset me at the time because they were dying, they were trying to survive, but it just added more fuel to the fire. Then he kept asking promoters to fight me. He asked two or three different promoters to set it up. I got tired of him asking for me. So then I was like, alright cool if you want it that bad, let’s do it…His fighting style matches his personality. He tries to be a bully, and that’s cool, I don’t mind shutting bullies down.”
Titles, champions, prospects, legitimate bad blood…what more you could ask for in a local card?
This is an event not to miss and thanks to Fury FC having a deal with FloSports, you do not have to.
Tune in for all the action live at 6:00 PM CST on FloCombat.com this Saturday.
*VIDEO* Francis Ngannou has his eyes on the UFC Heavyweight Title
UFC Heavyweight Francis “The Predator” Ngannou has taken the heavyweight division by storm.
Currently 5-0 in the UFC and riding a 9 fight win streak, the native of Cameroon possesses vicious power and has shown improvements each time he steps inside the cage.
Hear Ngannou talk about his journey and plans for the future:
The humble beginnings of the Korean Zombie
The featherweight division has become one of the most exciting in the UFC in the last few years. With the arrival of Conor McGregor, and an influx of exciting talent, new life has been breathed into a division that was suffering due to Jose Aldo’s dominance.
A notable absentee during this rise has been “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, who returns for the first time in three years against Dennis Bermudez on Saturday. The fight features as the main event of UFC Fight Night 104, and Jung is making his long awaited return after serving his mandatory military service duty for the South Korean Army.
With the fight with Bermudez fast approaching, the buzz for Jung’s return is noticeable throughout the MMA community. With a return of this magnitude, it is always fun to look back at the career of the fighter and relive the moments in his career that make the fan in all of us excited for his return.
The humble beginnings of the Korean Zombie
Chan Sung Jung was widely considered to be one of the best prospects to emerge from the far east when he was signed by WEC to face Cub Swanson in 2010. An injury forced Swanson out of the contest and Leonard Garcia stepped in as a replacement.
The fight between the two would take place on the preliminary card of Jose Aldo Jr. vs. Urijah Faber for the WEC featherweight championship. The event was the first and only WEC pay-per-view card and with Zuffa on board, the event was treated as such with Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan on commentary.
That night, MMA fans were treated to one of the greatest fights in mixed martial arts history and widely regarded as the best fight ever in the lighter weight classes. Many fans call a fight “a war” in an exciting contest between two fighters, but the fight between the Zombie and Garcia was more like a demolition derby.
Both men threw their strikes with wreckless intent and dropped each other on numerous occasions. The fight went to a split decision with Garcia getting the nod from the judges. Many considered Jung the winner, but the fight received praise from every media outlet in the days following the card. Dana White would wear a shirt with the now famous “Korean Zombie” logo at the following UFC PPV weigh ins in support of the epic fight.
Jung returned to the cage to face George Roop in his next outing in the WEC and lost the fight by a vicious head kick. This would be his final fight in WEC as the UFC went on to absorb the WEC’s featherweight and bantamweight divisions and bring both into the UFC.
Jung was scheduled to make his promotional debut for the UFC against Rani Yahya at UFC Fight Night 23, but was forced out of the fight with an injury. Ironically Leonard Garcia’s opponent Nam Phan would suffer an injury before their scheduled fight. It seemed like fate that Jung and Garcia would do battle once more. The Korean Zombie came in as a late replacement for the injured Phan. The rematch between the two was highly anticipated and the UFC was promoting the fight as the rematch to the greatest fight ever.
The fight was set as the opener to the main card for UFC Fight Night 24. What came next was history in the making. Both fighters were tentative in the early exchanges in the fight and didn’t have the same enthusiasm to brawl as the previous encounter, but in the final few minutes of the opening round, Jung took the back of Garcia.
In an unorthodox position on the ground, Rogan said on the desk, “Looks like he is setting up for a twister”. The twister was not seen in the UFC at this point and with the clock ticking, Jung stretched Garcia in a position where his spine was turned into a pretzel and Garcia tapped. Jung stated in the post-fight interview with Rogan that he had learned how to do the submission watching videos of Eddie Bravo doing the move. The win won multiple awards for submission of the year.
After that win, Chan Sung Jung was set to face Mark Hominick at UFC 140 in Toronto. Hominick, who fought Aldo for the title at UFC 129 in his hometown, came into the fight as the underdog, but in seven seconds that all changed. Jung cracked Hominick, tying the record for the second fastest knockout in UFC history. A win over a former title challenger launched the South Korean into title contention.
Following another historic win, Chan Sung Jung was now set to take part in his first ever main event against rising star Dustin Poirier with the winner receiving a title shot against UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo at a later date.
Jung went on to put on another fight of the year that night. The one-man zombie horde overwhelmed Poirier in the early rounds with his aggressive style. Numerous submission attempts and transitions by Jung frustrated Poirier. As Poirier became more aggressive and careless in the fight, Jung launched a flying knee in the third round and rocked his opponent. Poirier attempted to take Jung down, but the Zombie caught Poirier in a D’Arce choke in the third round to get the win.
Multiple injuries, and scheduled title fights between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar; and Aldo and Anthony Pettis, delayed Jung’s title shot. After Pettis was forced out of the title fight with Aldo because of an injury, Jung was called up as a late replacement and finally get the title shot he earned by defeating Poirier a year earlier.
The fight would take place in Brazil and was surprisingly lacklustre. Both fighters were sizing each other up for the majority of the contest. Jung suffered an injury during the fight when he dislocated his shoulder and in typical zombie fashion, Jung attempted to put his own shoulder back in place. Aldo used this time to attack, winning the title fight by TKO.
This would be the last time we saw the zombie in the cage as he would be drafted by the South Korean Army to do his two-year mandatory military service. Jung has not fought in three and a half years.
Now the burning question is how will the Korean zombie look after such a long absence. One thing is sure though, fans are extremely excited to see his return and on Saturday, The Zombie Apocalypse could be on the cards if the South Korean comes out of the cage with a win.
A Faith in Fire: The Poetry of BJ Penn
“The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity. – Seneca”
Like most stories in Mixed Martial Arts, this one starts quickly as a chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean would grace us with an unsuspecting warrior that would help shape the landscape of our sport. Growing up on an island like Hawaii, it can be hard to avoid many things whether it be comfort or confrontation. When you’re young, this often means the latter as BJ Penn was never shy about his appetite for fighting from a youthful age. Like many great fighters, BJ had two brothers—Reagan and JD to bounce between which more than likely kept his competitive juices going. Thankfully, BJ also had a solid support system with his family and community as well.
Taken in at a young age by neighbor and martial arts instructor Tom Callos, it became apparent early that BJ’s passion for fighting was more than teenage angst and academic interest. And as most kids get sent off to college at 17 years of age, BJ was sent to San Jose, California to train with the Gracies. Through Ralph Gracie, his coach, BJ would establish relationships with the likes of Cesar Gracie and Dave Camarillo, people who would ironically corner against BJ in the MMA realm years later. Nevertheless, this was a different time; a pioneer’s era where multiple martial art worlds were still quickly converging.
Through the network of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu (which was much more tight-knit at the time), we would see BJ leave Ralph Gracie as a purple belt to train with Nova Uniao. Already having an affiliation with Andre Pederneiras and his team through his competition travels to Brazil, BJ would end up earning his black belt under Andre as well as earn himself a spot in the history books by becoming the first non-Brazilian to win a gold medal at the 2000 Mundials. With the martial arts world being smaller than BJ would imagine, the Hawaiian found himself instructing private lessons to Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta while visiting John Lewis in Las Vegas.
Now with the seeds planted, we fast-forward to May 4th, 2001. Still affiliated with Nova Uniao, Penn would enter his first MMA fight with the American Kickboxing Academy at his back. Through the friendship of his old roommate Dave Camarillo, we would also see the familiar faces of Javier Mendes and “Crazy” Bob Cook in the Prodigy’s corner. Although “The Prodigy” is a cool nickname that most (appropriately) associate with his BJJ credentials, it is in Penn’s first professional fight where we see the value in this name. Regardless of the name or accomplishments of one Joey Gilbert, most expected to see what this “Jiu-jitsu kid from Hawaii” could do.
Even UFC matchmaker Joe Silva was vocal about his skepticism, and rightfully so. We saw many “black belts” and “world champions” enter the UFC with varying success, and still do. Although BJ’s debut was over 15-years ago, he set the bar high as he would storm the scene like few before or since have. A Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt, common knowledge would tell you that BJ Penn would want to take his opponents down and submit them. Instead, BJ came out and knocked out all three of his first opponents in a dynamic fashion.
Against Gilbert, Penn demonstrated a veteran composure and technical savvy as he would use a Guillotine choke as a threat to thwart takedowns as opposed to dropping for a hail marry and losing position. Considering that this scenario is a common folly point for the fighters of today, it is even more mind-boggling to think that BJ was demonstrating this type of IQ in his debut. When facing veterans like Din Thomas or Caol Uno in his next fights, we would see Penn balance out his sophistication with fire as he would end up fleeing the crime scene of an 11-second starching in just his third fight, a scene that many would try to recreate for years to come. These were the salad days.
Superfight Shoots & Lightweight Ladders
A meteoric rise like no other at the time, BJ Penn found himself propelled into UFC title contention just nine months past his professional debut. Standing on the other side of Penn, was the UFC lightweight division’s first champion, Jens Pulver. You can certainly make the argument that Penn was the biggest lightweight pioneer, but Pulver was undoubtedly the first. A staple product of the renown Miletich Fighting Systems, Pulver was already highly regarded in the sport as he held notable victories over names like Dennis Hallman or the previously mentioned John Lewis. Even though Jens held wins over common opponents in Din Thomas and Caol Uno, the oddsmakers would make the sitting champion a three-to-one underdog against the oncoming challenger.
Another hard training camp in the books, Penn would quickly find himself back in the spotlight with the American Kickboxing Academy firmly behind him, as AKA believed they were truly on the verge of realizing their first championship as well. Penn would come out composed, but with a gameplan you would have expected to see from the start of his career. Utilizing his underrated wrestling abilities, BJ would pick his spots and look to change levels on the champion. Finding success with this approach late into the second round, Penn would establish the mount position on Pulver. Dropping back for an armbar in an attempt to beat the buzzer, it would almost appear that had Pulver tapped. However, despite the adjustment against the fence that Penn had managed to pull off, the bell sounded as the referee ended the round.
What followed, was immediate pandemonium as Penn’s corner screamed: “he tapped!–he tapped!”For the first time in his professional career, we would see BJ Penn be forced to deal with adversity, at least in the emotional form. Now, make no mistake about it, we did not see BJ turn off in any sense and Pulver was not exactly beaming with confidence when going back to his corner. But what we did see, was a more experienced veteran dig deep to pull a victory out of the scorecards and keep his title. Penn, who said he would have retired should he had won another world title so fast, would now be humbled and sent back to the drawing board. After starting his career by traveling abroad, Penn would now train closer to home.
Still utilizing the likes of “Crazy” Bob Cook to corner him from UFC 37-41, we would see a slightly more measured Penn as he was seemingly still trying to work things out within his style and self. Beating the likes of Matt Serra, Penn would earn himself a spot in the lightweight tournament finals. With Jens Pulver out of the organization due to contract disputes, this would be the UFC’s second official attempt at establishing the lightweight division. And after a frustrating fight where Penn would fail in finding his submissions on multiple tries, the judges would ultimately declare the bout a draw as the UFC would once again fail to make a home for lighter weights on the main stage.
Frustrated with the state of the division as well as his career, Penn did what many fighters have only talked about as he left the UFC to fight under terms of his own. Through his family and their business relations, “Rumble on the Rock” was created as this became a hotspot for a brief time in our sport’s history. Not following the trend of using hometown platforms to look good, BJ only wanted to fight the best as he brought in Takanori Gomi. With Gomi being the number one ranked lightweight(at that time), this was the perfect fight to encourage BJ out of complacency. Doing just that, we would see Penn rise to the occasion as his skills seem to hit another level. Displaying the back control that he would soon become renown for, BJ Penn became the unofficial lightweight champion of the world, and he did it in his backyard.
Scrambling to get a handle on this situation, the UFC was not only able to reel Penn back in, but they were also able to kill two birds with one stone. With the lightweight division still in shambles, the welterweight division had a warlord who had already decimated every contender as far as the eye could see. Not only was Matt Hughes the welterweight champion, but he was also widely regarded as the sport’s pound-for-pound number one fighter. At a certain point, they were also calling Hughes one of the strongest men in the sport as the UFC was quickly running out of accolades and opponents to give their champion.
Enter BJ Penn.
Now with just enough fights into his career to cement his confidence, we start to see BJ experiment with themes that would eventually become his narrative: any weight, anytime. As crazy as the surface value of these ideas were, BJ knew inside that there were some things he would need to address as the smaller man moving up, mainly his wrestling. At that time in the sport, there was one camp that was renown for their wrestling ability and hunger for multi-divisional domination, Team Quest. Making the trek to the Pacific Northwest, BJ would work under Matt Lindland, as well as spar with the likes of Randy Couture and Dan Henderson.
With the testimonials of the living legends mentioned above being filled with praise for Penn, the time was seemingly right for a kid from Hawaii to upset the world at UFC 46. Randy Couture was set to defend his title in a rematch with Vitor Belfort, but before that, Penn would challenge for Hughes’ title. With Hughes already defending his belt 5-times straight, the general thought was that another successful defense and new world record were all but inevitable. Eddie Bravo did his best Harold Lederman impression cage side, as Joe Rogan encapsulated both curiosity and skepticism when saying, “courageous or foolhardy, we’re about to find out.”
Before we knew it, history was made. Hughes was still trying put together the pieces, and Penn was already on Cabbage Correira’s shoulders. It was one of the most memorable moments in UFC history. What had seemed like a cocky kid would immediately turn into a gracious soul as we saw the genuine innocence behind BJ’s intentions. As beautiful as this moment was in the spectrum of the Hawaiian’s history, it also marks a point of origin for the fires that sparked his super fight desires.
Lost In Translation
Not long after winning the title, the UFC would once again be dealing with a theme that is still prevalent today: a champion’s terms. I imagine that every champion’s terms have their degree of varying difficulty, but BJ Penn’s were apparently on another level. Wanting to spread his legacy by fighting all comers, at all weights, all around the world, the Prodigy would have to do so without the UFC’s support. Just like that, the UFC had lost another champion to overseas competition as well as the number one ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the sport.
That said, business continued along for the UFC as they moved on while Penn attempted his conquest of the remaining MMA world. For BJ’s first fight after leaving the UFC, he would come to Japan’s Saitama Super Arena to face Duane Ludwig at welterweight. Making quick work of his opponent, BJ Penn would take his ideas and appetite’s further by moving up to middleweight. Returning home to compete in Rumble on the Rock once again, BJ would face Rodrigo Gracie who was undefeated at the time. Although the Gracie fighter put up a valiant effort, it became quickly apparent that the two were on different levels of the fight game.
With BJ’s physique looking noticeably different at this weight, so was his output as Penn failed to find a finish despite dominating. Regardless, the young Hawaiian would not slow down as he took his next fight at heavyweight. Entering the K-1 Heroes tournament of 2005 in Japan, BJ would make history by just competing in what is still one of the best examples of open weight purity in Mixed Martial Arts competition. Although Penn would lose a competitive decision to a heavyweight Lyoto Machida, he would ironically be the closest person to defeating the undefeated fighter until Lyoto’s UFC 104 meeting with Shogun Rua.
With no time to wallow in defeat, BJ Penn would quickly accept a challenge from Renzo Gracie, who was looking to avenge Rodrigo’s loss. In an open weight match that would contest within the neighborhood of middleweight, we would see a similar outcome to his previous bout with a Gracie, as Penn would ultimately earn a clear decision. After that, almost a year would go by before BJ finally found himself back inside of the Octagon. Given an offer he could not refuse, we saw him make his way back to the UFC wearing the belt he never lost as well as a shirt that said the champ was back.
Although Penn would lose the extra weight to make welterweight without issue, the critiques of conditioning started to rear it’s head as the evidence of Penn’s commitment was said through his physique. In facing what was a fast-rising Georges St. Pierre, we would see Penn nearly get the job done in round one as he bludgeoned GSP, who could barely find or respond to his corner after the opening frame. And similarly to his title fight with Pulver, we would see Penn hit a strange peak as his output and urgency would decline. Digging deep, St. Pierre would tough out takedowns en route to taking a controversial split decision.
Despite the famous quote of “He went to the hospital and I went to the bar,” the frame of mind would not change for Penn as he entered his next bout in a similar fashion. Though visibly tighter than his last time out, this fight was taken on three weeks notice, which meant that the same conditioning questions would apply. Looking for some revenge, Matt Hughes was more than happy to accept the challenge. And once again, we would see BJ storm out strong, only to run out of steam late. Although there was a rib injury that occurred when BJ took Matt’s back, it was the lack of conditioning that Penn ultimately blamed his injury on as Hughes was able to exact his revenge.
Motivated Massacres & Missing Links
For those familiar with the story of BJ Penn, this is often their favorite chapter as it is as equally entertaining as it is mind-boggling. Earning his moniker of “motivated BJ Penn,” we would see the Hawaiian revamp his training in ways he never did before. Not only did BJ enlist the services of dietitians and conditioning coaches, but he also brought aboard renown boxing coach Jason Parillo, who would end up being an instrumental piece in what would become Penn’s most legendary run.
A striker by nature with a preternatural understanding of technique, Penn may not have felt the need to sharpen his tools earlier given his success at that point in his career. But as soon as he paired up with Parillo, there was an immediate difference that showed as soon as he was back inside of the Octagon. Returning to the lightweight division to settle the score with Jens Pulver, Penn would walk out sporting his best physique to that date as Israel Kamakawiwo’ole blasted through the speakers in the background. The prodigal son of MMA had returned, and we were just moments away from witnessing it.
As soon as the bell rung, both men stormed out of the gate, but it was clear that Penn was the one who was stalking prey. Demonstrating immediate refinements to his boxing, BJ would use his jab to cross-up the southpaw in Pulver as he fed him punches over the top. Wasting no time in taking him down, Penn would quickly cement his status as the superior grappler. Transitioning from submissions to sweeps, those who knew what they were looking at could see that BJ was essentially a kid playing with his food. Despite admittedly holding onto the choke for a bit too long, Penn would alleviate the sportsmanship critiques as he would immediately embrace Pulver with a genuine sense of comfort and care. And similar to Gomi, Pulver would not only forgive BJ, but he would also ask him for coaching lessons.
Now earning himself a shot at the title, BJ Penn would find himself flying to Newcastle, England to face Joe Stevenson for the vacant lightweight title. With Sean Sherk being suspended and having his title stripped just 15-months before due to a positive test, this would be the UFC’s fourth official attempt at solidifying a lightweight champion as well as BJ’s third bid for the belt. With Sean Sherk sitting ringside to help call and promote the impending title fight, the former champion woud join Joe and Goldie in witnessing a piece of history. In what ended up being one of the bloodiest title fights in UFC memory, BJ Penn would outclass Joe Stevenson as he hit what would become his trademark choke and celebration.
As if being covered in Stevenson’s blood wasn’t enough, BJ began to lick the blood from his gloves to commemorate his victory. And like that, Penn became the second man to win titles in two UFC divisions next to Randy Couture. Wasting no time in waxing poetic, BJ would immediately setup his next fight as he infamously yelled: “Sean Sherk, you’re dead!” Storming into the ring like an episode of Monday Night RAW, Sean Sherk would accept the newly minted champions challenge as another moment in history was made. Although his promos were not as smooth as McGregor’s nor as intelligent as Chael’s, everything Penn did from promos to the consumption other people’s blood came from a place of sincerity as that seemed to resonate amongst his fans worldwide.
Perhaps that is why we forgave Penn. Even after turning in one of the most impressive performances in MMA involving a jab at UFC 84, BJ would then take the liberty of calling an end to his fight with Sean Sherk and no one even blinked an eye. From fighting to trash talking, everything seemed to be clicking at full-speed for Penn as he would once again find himself fighting for welterweight gold. This time, it would be a journey to avenge a loss that many had felt he won before. It would also afford Penn a chance to hold two titles simultaneously, as this would have made him the first to do it in UFC history. However, as is accustom in this sport, the most well-laid storylines often go up in flames the fastest.
Anyone who knew the what to look for could see the potential flags coming in, as we would once again see Penn with suspect fight preparation, appearing to look loose in his physique. In what was the most important fight of his career, Penn would turn in what was arguably his worst performance. Leaving us scratching our heads as the Hawaiian often did, BJ was forced to eat a slice of humble pie and go back to the drawing board. In what would be a crucial showing for the career of BJ Penn, we would see the Prodigy answer adversity by returning to the lightweight division and defending his belt against Kenny Florian at UFC 101.
Bringing on the Marinovich brothers to handle his strength and conditioning, we got a closer glimpse into the athletic potential of the Prodigy. Parlaying his newfound momentum and preparation into his next fight, we would see Penn welcome an oncoming Diego Sanchez, a fighter who was much different at the time as he held a respectable 21-2 record. In what was easily considered his best performance to date, we would see the rarest version of BJ Penn as he was practically untouchable for 25-minutes with no signs of ever slowing down.
Culminating in an epic showdown to start the 5th and final round, BJ Penn would become the first person to stop Diego Sanchez by throwing a head kick, a strike that Penn had not thrown in over 6-years of competition. Some things are impossible to explain no matter how hard you try, and some things should never be explained for the sake of poetry. But that December night in Tennessee, the world got a glimpse of the human potential in fighting form as that 5th round BJ Penn might be the greatest fighter that I have ever seen.
After a magical night in Memphis, everything would soon change for the sports pound-for-pound great. With the division being nearly devoid of contenders, the UFC turned to Frankie Edgar to play the role of challenger for their upcoming event in Abu Dhabi. With the champion opening as a 9-to-1 favorite in most books, no one saw the upset ahead, not even Penn. The reason why Penn of all people should have seen it coming, was because he was the first person to predict that Frankie Edgar would be a lightweight champion on air. That’s right.
The night is May 23rd, 2009 and the city is Las Vegas, Nevada. Lyoto Machida is challenging Rashad Evans for the main event of UFC 98 and Frankie Edgar is getting his first shot at a former world champion in Sean Sherk. Earning the decision win in a breakout performance, Sherk would storm off into the crowd in disbelief. Also in disbelief was BJ Penn who was in attendance and being interview by FOX Sports just moments after the official decision. “That’s the next champ right there!” -BJ would exclaim to Mike Straka. And as irony always seems to find a home in MMA, the little contender that could had eventually morphed into the Mount Everest of Penn’s career topography.
Not only would BJ lose his rematch to Edgar in dominant fashion, but he would then move back up to welterweight with even less success than before. Although he was able to win a rubber match against Matt Hughes, Penn would then drop two of his next three fights as the legend would subject himself to more and more damage each time out. As much as we wanted to believe that he was as superhuman as we thought Anderson Silva to be, BJ was just a human being like the rest of us who was experiencing his version of a changeover.
Rising Tides & Setting Suns
The common thread often found in competitors, fighters, and even martial artists is the lack of an off switch. Whether that is directed as a restless mind or soul is irrelevant, as those who exist within these realms have met the madness that drives us daily in one way or another. BJ’s stubbornness as a warrior is what made him so great, but it is also the same factor that makes many go down swinging. In what would start to feel like an annual weather cycle, Penn would return to the Octagon once again. And in Penn fashion, he did so by stacking the deck completely against his favor as he would meet Frankie Edgar for a third time at featherweight.
Not only was I in attendance for this bout, but I was fortunate enough to be sitting next to Don Frye for the card’s duration. Now, I do not name drop to brag as there is good reason for bringing up the MMA legend. Throughout the evening, I was lucky enough for Don to share some of his epic stories of the old school days in Japan. He had a surprising amount of funny ones to tell about BJ as you could tell Frye had a lot of respect for the Hawaiian warrior. But as the fight started and progressed, the talk got quieter between us as well as between the people around us.
From the altered walkout music to the mummy-like look and trance of Penn, we were all steadily realizing that were not watching the same fighter. And before I even noticed that Dana White had walked out in disgust, the fight was over as even Frankie Edgar’s emotions reflected the audiences as the former champ kept his celebration measured and respectful. Getting up with an odd immediacy, Penn would raise, but not from pride as he still seemed just as despondent as when he came in. At about this point of the event, Don broke what felt like an eternity of silence as he said that “BJ is one of the last real men to fight in that cage.” Coming from a man’s man like Don Frye, it was certainly hard to deny despite the disparity in the air.
As an admitted fan of BJ Penn, I stopped trying to guess the trajectory of his career a long, long time ago. Instead, I choose to submit his works to the history books inside my head as I encourage you to do the same. In a sport that is changing faster than we can keep up with, it is deceptively sprouting it’s roots in history before our eyes.
Although you could criticize him in the spirit of wondering what could have been, you cannot deny that BJ Penn will go down as one of the most courageous competitors to fight inside of a cage. He was the original needle-mover who opened the doors for fighters that were south of 170-pounds. In the current age of multi-divisional champions and money-weight fighters, Penn was the first to pave a path as he did so for love of the game–as opposed to doing it for the money. Rise or fall, you cannot help but appreciate the poetry that is BJ Penn.
“I just want to be known as the greatest ever…is that too much to ask?” – BJ Penn
Dan Tom & Robin Black breakdown their Top-5 BJ Penn moments on The Protect Ya’ Neck Podcast
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