UFC Fight Night Manila: 10 facts about BJ Penn

Nissi Icasiano
UFC Fight Night Manila: 10 facts about BJ Penn
Penn is known for changing the sport’s landscape in the early 2000s as he proved that lightweight fighters could be box-office draws. Here are some noteworthy facts about him

MANILA, Philippines – The country will roll out the red carpet for a mixed martial arts (MMA) legend as BJ Penn will headline the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s second live Philippine event dubbed “Fight Night Manila 2” on October 15. 

The 37-year-old native of Hilo, Hawaii is set to face former title contender Ricardo Lamas in a 5-round featherweight contest, which will take place at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

Penn is known for changing the sport’s landscape in the early 2000s as he proved that lightweight fighters could be box-office draws.

As he sets foot on Philippine soil to compete inside UFC’s famed Octagon against Lamas, here are some noteworthy facts about BJ Penn that die-hard MMA followers may or may not know. 

10. First non-Brazilian to win gold in World Jiu-Jitsu Championship

Penn made history in the year 2000 when he became the first non-Brazilian to win in the black-belt division of the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

While Penn’s most prestigious achievement was placing first in the black belt category, he had stellar run at the Mundials in previous years, earning as silver medal as a blue belt in 1998 before capturing a bronze medal as a brown belt in 1999.

Penn earned his nickname “The Prodigy” for receiving his black belt in less than 3 years, which was considered as an extraordinary feat in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. 

9. BJ Penn’s first professional MMA fight happened in UFC

Due to his impressive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu background, Penn was fortunate enough to have his professional MMA debut under the UFC banner in May 2001, defeating Joey Gilbert via first-round technical knockout.

Penn went on to have 22 more bouts in the world’s premier MMA organization and was able to headline 11 fight cards for the promotion, including his blockbuster rematch with George St-Pierre at UFC 94 in January 2009 that drew 920,000 pay-per-view buys. 

8. BJ Penn fought Lyoto Machida in an openweight bout

A highly-decorated fighter like BJ Penn has done everything in the modern era of MMA, which included taking part of an openweight bout versus a future UFC superstar in Lyoto Machida.

Both men squared off against each other in March 2005 at K-1’s “Hero” event, where the weight difference between the two combatants raised the eyebrow of MMA critics. 

Penn, who weighed 191 pounds for the fight, yielded to the 225-pound Machida by way of 3-round unanimous decision.

7. UFC gym in Hawaii named after BJ Penn

To honor Penn’s contribution to the company and the sport of MMA, the UFC named its gym in Honolulu, Hawaii after “The Prodigy.”

Recognized for his role in the resurgence of the lightweight division, Penn is considered to have been the bracket’s most influential figure, turning the division into one of UFC’s must-watch weight classes on either pay-per-view or cable television. 

At a time when the UFC thought of disbanding the division altogether and several media outlets had questioned whether lighter-weights could be successful, Penn took the lead and broke stereotypes with his classic showdowns with Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez, Jens Pulver and Joe “Daddy” Stevenson.

6. BJ Penn spearheaded a campaign vs PEDs

Many cageside observers praised Penn’s impact on MMA as he went beyond his title-winning performances inside the UFC cage. 

Penn is a vocal advocate for drug testing in MMA and became one of the few prizefighters who took the initiative to introduce an independent body in the sport to coordinate and monitor the campaign against performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) with the help of of Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA).

However, Penn was recently slapped with a 6-month suspension due to a violation of UFC’s anti-doping policy.

Penn disclosed his usage of IV in the pre-fight drug test, which is prohibited by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

Penn’s suspension comes to an end on September 25, making him available for UFC Fight Night Manila 2. 

5. BJ Penn’s first trip to Manila

It will not be Penn’s first visit in the Philippines as he hosted a meet-and-greet session and public workout at SM Mall of Asia’s Music Hall in December 2011.

Penn had fond impressions of his stay in the country after receiving a warm reception from Filipino UFC fans. 

4. BJ Penn never intended a career in MMA

Penn may have a long list of accomplishments in both MMA and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but he never intended to be a professional fighter.

In an interview with ANC’s Boyet Sison when he visited the Philippines 5 years ago, Penn revealed that all he wanted was to be a martial arts teacher.

“They (young fighters) are coming in now with the idea of a career. We never had that,” he said. “[I] just [want to have] a teaching career and go do seminars.” 

Penn had a change of heart when he started to pursue a career in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu before eventually transitioning to MMA. 

“I remember flying to California. I remember sitting next to somebody. I was flying up there to do Jiu-Jitsu, and I wasn’t that into Jiu-Jitsu at that time. And I remember saying that I think this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life,” he recalled.

3. BJ Penn’s induction into UFC’s Hall of Fame

Penn had his rightful place into the UFC Hall of Fame in July 2015 as his legacy was enshrined in the exclusive class’ Modern Era wing, which recognizes fighters who turned professional on or after November 17, 2000 when the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts were introduced to the sport.

2. BJ Penn called it quits with MMA temporarily

Penn briefly decided to hang up his gloves in July 2014 when he was stopped by Frankie Edgar in the third round of their rubber match.

Penn had virtually nothing to offer Edgar as the latter had all the right answers, pounding his opponent for two-plus rounds before finally forcing referee Herb Dean to halt the contest at the 4:16 mark of round three.

After 18 months of retirement, Penn announced his decision to return to active competition last January as he seeks to vie for the UFC featherweight belt in the future.

For his comeback, Penn will be working with New Mexico-based trainer Greg Jackson, who also mentors the likes of Jon Jones, Carlos Condit,and Holly Holm.

1. BJ Penn is a two-division UFC world champion

Penn is one of the only two fighters in UFC history to win world titles in multiple weight classes, submitting Matt Hughes for the welterweight championship in January 2004 before adding the lightweight belt to his résumé 4 years later with a second-round submission triumph over Stevenson.

“The Prodigy” is tied with Benson Henderson for all-time leader in successful UFC lightweight title defenses. 

Aside from his UFC championship straps, Penn recorded 3 “Submission of the Night” awards, one “Knockout of the Night” citation and one “Fight of the Night” bonus. – Rappler.com

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