B.J. Penn looked like the Penn of old, rushing out of the corner and swarming Matt Hughes with an attack reminiscent of his UFC 34 battle with Caol Uno. Penn dropped Hughes with a right hand and then savaged him with shots on the ground. After the fight, over in seconds, an amped up Penn attempted to run to the back, finally corralled by his corner and forced to endure the formalities of the postfight interview.
Penn was emotional, and with good reason. This win was about something bigger than B.J. Penn. This win was for Hawaii. Penn is one of the state's few athletic heroes. Hawaiians are a proud people but like many native populations, they are struggling. Poverty rules the island with an iron fist. There is little to be excited about, little hope for many kids who feel locked in a cycle of ruin.
B.J. Penn is one of the native sons Hawaians can be proud of. Those close to him say he is routinely stopped on the streets with a simple message: thank you for doing this for our people. It's been a rough time for Hawaii's athletic icons. Surfer Andy Irons passed away earlier this month and football star Colt Brennan was seriously injured in an accident. Hawaii needed a win and B.J. Penn gave it to them. He should be very proud.
What's next for Penn is anyone's guess. But if he's motivated to fight, no opponent is out of the question, no goal too lofty. As he prepares to celebrate his 32nd birthday, has Penn finally figured things out? If so, the sky is still the limit for MMA's most enigmatic fighter.