Story by Anthony Springer Jr.
Though he’s not fighting for a title Saturday at UFC on Fox 5, B.J. Penn is fighting to keep his good name. At one time, the 33-year-old, two-division title holder was in the conversation about who the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighter was.
Now, his name is hardly a blip on the radar. At his peak, his record stood at 15-5-1. To say that the turn of the decade has been unkind to “Baby Jay” would be an understatement. Since 2010, his record stands at 1-3-1.
The last time we saw Penn, he was openly contemplating retirement after being routed by Nick Diaz at UFC 137.
That was October, 2011.
Going out on a high note is important to most fighters. For a fighter like Penn, who’s still relatively young, not super banged up from previous wars, and well aware of leaving behind a lasting impression, not being in the conversation is simply no longer acceptable.
“I texted [UFC President] Dana [White] a couple months ago and I said, ‘Dana, I watch all these interviews and all these people talking and no one says my name when they talk about the greatest fighters anymore,’” Penn said on a recent conference call.
It’s one thing to be semi-retired and thought of as one of the greatest of all time; quite another to be retired and be a distant memory. The former may not have coaxed “The Prodigy” out of retirement. The latter was enough.
“I really don’t like that,” Penn continues. “It really bothers me. And I know it’s my fault. I know I’m the reason why people don’t talk about me when they talk about Georges St-Pierre or Anderson Silva. My name was always in the mix. It’s never in the mix anymore. I told Dana I got a real problem with that. That was actually a big part of my motivation to come back strong and do a good fight here on December 8.”
Penn’s attempted legacy rehab will be one of the toughest tests to date. He’s slated to face rising star Rory MacDonald. One of Penn’s issues at welterweight has been giving up size to smaller fighters. Thanks to a refined diet, he’s one of the division’s smaller fighters.
MacDonald, conversely, walks around at close to 200-pounds and may hold a 10 to 15-pound advantage on fight night.
But Penn wouldn’t be Penn if he didn’t have to climb a mountain to prove he still belongs with the best.
“I think [Rory’s] a great opponent. He’s an up and comer. He’s one of the top guys. Everybody says he’s going to be a champion soon. So ending up fighting with somebody like Rory, it wasn’t a big – a tough decision.”
UFC on Fox airs Saturday at 5 pm pst.
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Coming up next: UFC on FOX: Henderson vs. Diaz is live from Seattle’s Key Arena at 8 PM ET/5 PM PT on Saturday, December 8. Click here for more info