MANILA, Philippines – Two months from now, mixed martial arts (MMA) legend BJ Penn will wear his 4-ounce gloves again for the main event of UFC Fight Night Manila 2 on October 15 against former featherweight title contender Ricardo Lamas.
Even if Penn’s unexpected return to active competition is seen as a cause for celebration to some, many are skeptic about it as the 37-year-old native of Hilo, Hawaii has been on sidelines for over two years and is coming off a 3-fight losing skid.
Although Penn seems to be undeterred with the criticism to step into the Octagon once more, his opponent believes that he is nothing more to prove as a highly-decorated fighter after an illustrious run in the sport.
“I think [he has to prove] to himself, to the fans, he’s already done enough. He has been a world champion at welterweight and lightweight. He’s in the hall of fame already. He has done tremendous things for the sport,” Lamas told Rappler.
Penn is credited for changing MMA’s landscape in the early 2000s as he established that lightweight competitors could be box-office draws.
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.
In addition, Penn remains as one of the only two prizefighters in UFC history to capture 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.
Lamas supposes that retirement might be a bitter pill to swallow for Penn as “The Prodigy” was not able to accomplish the storybook ending that he wanted when the Hawaiian faced Frankie Edgar in their July 2014 rubber match.
“I think one of the hardest things for being a professional athlete, especially for a professional fighter, is to finally give in to Father Time. I think that none of us would ever want to do. We always want to stay in the light. This is almost like a drug,” he said.
Lamas conveyed that he has the utmost respect for Penn, but “The Bully” reiterated that he has to do his job on October 15.
“I want to create these big memories that I could share with my kids and grandkids as I get older. This is a huge one to tell them about the time that I flew up to Asia and to the Philippines and take on a two-division world champion who is in the hall of fame. And I will tell them how I beat that person,” he stated. – Rappler.com
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