I was at the mall today trolling around the UFC section at FYE (I was surprised FYE still exists too), when a couple of other folks in the store picked up a copy of the UFC 80 DVD. One of said folks looked at B.J. Penn and Joe Stevenson on the cover and commented to the second folk that it was one of the bloodiest fights he’d ever seen. As I stood there, listening in on their conversation, I remembered that we are one week away from the same Penn returning to the octagon to fight Rory MacDonald at UFC on Fox 5. With this in mind, I had a thought: what are B.J. Penn’s top five UFC moments?
5. UFC 123: Defeated Matt Hughes in Return to Welterweight Division.
Before UFC 123 in Detroit, people thought that Penn’s third fight against Matt Hughes could be his last, as he was coming off two straight losses to Frankie Edgar and moved back up to welterweight for a fight that many people thought he was not motivated to fight. There was probably a good chance that a third loss in a row, especially to an aging Hughes, would have been enough to send Penn away for good, as it would all but foreclose him from having a chance at another meaningful fight. Twenty-one seconds later, all of those doubts had dissipated, as Penn steamrolled Hughes with a crushing knockout win. Instantly, Penn’s place in the welterweight division was again validated, and talks of his retirement and motivation stopped (at least for a little while).
4. UFC 80: Defeated Joe Stevenson to Win UFC Lightweight Title.
Although Cain Velasquez mauling Bigfoot Silva is a challenger, it is hard to argue against Penn’s aforementioned beating of Stevenson being the bloodiest beating in UFC history. If you have any doubt, the famous picture of Joe Daddy’s blood squirting out of his head while locked in a rear naked choke says it all. Penn would then proceed to lick Stevenson’s blood off his gloves, while celebrating winning the UFC Lightweight Title. This win made Penn only the second person in the promotion’s history to win belts in multiple weight classes.
3. TUF 5 Finale: Defeated Jens Pulver to Avenge UFC 35 Loss.
Recently, Fuel TV ran a UFC Roundtable in which Jay Glazer led a discussion about the UFC welterweight division with Penn, Georges St. Pierre, Matt Serra, and Renzo Gracie. What really stood out to me was Penn’s claim that his loss to Jens Pulver at UFC 35 in 2002 was what kept him fighting. He essentially said that before the fight, he considered MMA a short-term hobby, but that defeat is what fueled his career. He would get a chance at revenge five years later after coaching opposite Pulver on the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter. Revenge Penn would get that night, as he dominated Pulver en route to a second-round submission victory. This win not only avenged the previous loss, but also catapulted Penn to the lightweight title shot against Stevenson.
2. UFC 84: Defeated Sean Sherk to Become Undisputed UFC Lightweight Titles.
Although Penn won the lightweight title after beating Stevenson, there was still some questions about the legitimacy of his title status. This is because the former champ Sherk had never lost the title in the octagon, but instead had been stripped after failing a post-fight drug test. Sherk was the natural challenger for Penn’s newly-won title once his suspension expired, and the fight was booked for UFC 84 in 2008. The fight had added significance due to bad blood between the two, with Penn making no secret that he thought Sherk was a cheater for having failed the test. The Prodigy then backed up his tough talk in the cage, delivering a flying knee knockout which has lived forever in UFC highlight reels.
1. UFC 46: Defeated Matt Hughes to Win the UFC Welterweight Title.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: an undersized B.J. Penn was moving up to welterweight to challenge long-time division kingpin for the title, with said kingpin questioning Penn’s motivation and training regime. That is what happened in the lead up to Hughes-Penn 1 in 2004. Penn was unfazed, however, and popped Hughes before earning the tap out due to a rear naked choke in the first round. After the fight, an emotional Penn broke down in the cage with his newly won UFC Welterweight Title, and left no doubt about his place among MMA’s all-time elite.