Sometimes, there are MMA fighters who don’t know when they should call it a career. They fight and claw their entire careers to get to the top, sometimes even obtaining championship gold, but when most would implore them to retire, they keep pushing forward, wanting to prove people wrong.
Former UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn is a good example. The UFC Hall of Famer last fought another former champion, Frankie Edgar, in 2014 when he made his featherweight debut. The pair had fought two times previously for the lightweight strap, with Edgar winning both fights, but they met again at The Ultimate Fighter 19 Finale after serving as coaches on the reality series. Unfortunately for Penn, he got beat again by Edgar, this time being finished via TKO in the third round. That was the last we saw of “The Prodigy” in action.
Now, more than two years removed from his last fight and winless for almost six years, Penn was set to make his return while, fighting at featherweight for just the second time. He was slated to headline a card in Manila, Philippines, and take on contender Ricardo Lamas, who has previously fought for the title.
Following multiple scheduled comeback fights which were canceled for one reason or another, the fourth time appeared to be the charm for the Hawaiian. But yet again, the 37-year old had to pull out while citing another injury, this time to his rib.
The prior cancellations were just horribly timed circumstances, involving Penn’s role in sexual assault allegations and a USADA violation. After his opponent pulled out of the rescheduled bout at UFC 199, he was given the fight with Lamas, which now too is gone.
With this recent development, it’s subsequently been confirmed that the entire card in Manila has been scrapped due to lack of a good main-event fight. The event lineup had featured fighters such as Derrick Lewis, Cole Miller, Sam Alvey, Kyoji Horiguchi and James Moontasri. Now, those fighters are left out in the cold and their bouts will be rescheduled. On the bright side, at least they will get paid.
As for Penn, the question now needs to be asked: Is this recent injury and fight cancellation a sign for him to finally hang up his gloves for good?
Penn has had an amazing career, fighting at multiple weight classes, winning championships at multiple weight classes, and becoming a UFC Hall of Famer, but he hasn’t won a fight in nearly six years and keeps pulling out of fights. Is this a case of his body telling him it’s enough? Furthermore, what else does he have to prove?
People have to remember that this situation with Penn is not similar to that of aging fighters like Urijah Faber and Dan Henderson. One of them still has a solid ranking in their division, but has yet to win a UFC belt and mostly lost to top contenders and champions. The other, who is fighting for the title in a couple days, will likely call it a career immediately after, regardless of the result.
While Faber and Henderson are basically in their own do-or-die situations, they have, at least, been active in recent memory. Faber just lost a bout to up-and-coming contender Jimmie Rivera at UFC 203, and Henderson absolutely crushed Hector Lombard at UFC 199, thereby setting himself up for a title shot and rematch against rival Michael Bisping. To put it bluntly, these fighters are relevant in 2016. Penn is not.
Penn has only been relevant for his appearances in the headlines, and for all of the wrong reasons. So, for him to now go into a fight against an active contender with what appears to be a huge disadvantage, just seems like a waste of everybody’s time. Yes, this sounds harsh, but it is said with all due respect to a great fighter.
Penn has appeared to be rejuvenated since joining the prestigious Jackson-Winkeljohn camp, but his constant personal issues and fight withdrawals are getting tiresome, especially for the fans who look forward to his return.
When anyone looks at Penn’s resume, they’ll see championships in the lightweight and welterweight divisions, appearances on The Ultimate Fighter as a respected coach, a series of battles with fellow legends Matt Hughes, Georges St-Pierre, Kenny Florian, Jens Pulver and even Frankie Edgar. He has accomplished plenty in a long and storied career. Nobody will look back on the career of Penn and say he didn’t accomplish enough.