Determining a place among the all time greats, Elite vs. Very Good: BJ Penn

(DISCLAIMER) I understand that rankings are 100% subjective, and that two people could watch the same fighter progress through his whole career, and end up thinking exact opposite things about said fighter. But I'm going to try to break down, and decipher, where some of these guys stand, in the eyes of its smartest fans (yes, that is us BElitists).

The first guy that we are going to discuss is someone who may have reached, and passed his prime in the sport.  Or maybe he hasn't.  This has yet to be seen.  BJ Penn. 

For BJ Penn, one thing that he always seemed to be striving for is to create his legacy.  If there is one fighter in the sport who possess the attributes of what the majority of fans love, its BJ Penn.  There are 3 things that BJ possess that make him a fan favorite, and people could argue that make him one of the Elite fighters of all time.

1.Throughout his career BJ has sought out the best fighters in the sport, and challenged fighters who he had no business being in the ring with.  But he didn't care.  BJ is not in this sport for money, as well all know, as he grew up in a wealthy family.  BJ, rather, fights to fuel his ego, and to create a legacy that will last forever. That is something that fans should respect the hell out of.  In a sport that often sees Champions fighting once or twice a year, and turning down fights that they don't think will benefit them, BJ did the opposite. 

BJ won the LW championship in January of 08.  In a span of 2 years, from 1/08 to 12/09 BJ fought a total of 5 times, including going up a weight class and fighting 170lb kingpin GSP.

In fact, fighting out of his weight class is a common occurrence in BJ's career.  One of 2 men to ever hold a UFC championship in two different weight classes, BJ Penn has fought, and beat great fighters from Renzo Gracie as a Middle weight, to Lyoto Machidaat Heavyweight.  But his greatest fights occurred at Welterweight where he fought an epic war with Georges St. Pierre and was able to knock off the greatest WW of all time, Matt Hughes.

2.  His skill set.  BJ might have some of the most elite Brazilian Jui Jitsu in MMA.  The guy earned the nickname "the Prodigy" by earning his Black Belt is something like 4 years (a rare accomplishment).  Yet when you watch BJ fight, you would think that he was a collegiate wrestler in the mold of Sean Sherkor Chuck Liddell.  Penn, in his prime, might have possessed one of the best sprawls in all of MMA. 

Besides the fact that he was nearly impossible to take down, even though no one would really want to anyways, since he was a killer on the ground (right Joe Stevenson, Kenny Florian, Jens Pulver, Bang Ludwig, Matt Hughes, and Takanori Gomi?), BJ's best asset in a fight might have been his striking ability.   With unbelievable speed, mixed with incredible accuracy, and some of the best power in the LW division, BJ used his sprawl to keep the fight standing and bloody his opponents with strikes. 

If BJ Penn has had a boring fight, then I must have missed it.



Now for the bad.

As good of a fighter as BJ Penn was, his legacy will always be in question.  Lets go through the reasons:

1. Lack of dedication. Yes, BJ LOVES fighting. But he doesn't love fighting to the best of his ability. While some people think that BJ fighting other fighters out of his weight class is noble, many people think that BJ fought in higher weight classes so that he didn't have to train as hard.

It wasn't uncommon to see BJ walking around well above his 155 lb weight, which isn't uncommon for many fighters.  But while other fighters walk around 30 lbs heavier, they still look like they are made out of granite (see: Gleison Tibau, Thiago Alves, Brock Lesnar, Forrest Griffen).  BJ on the other hand would gain flab.  He earned himself the nickname "Fat BJ" and many people feel that he did himself, and his always important legacy, and injustice by taking the easier road, and fighting at a higher weight.

The fact of the matter is this: Penn has fought above his natural 155 lb weight class 8 times, and going only 4-4. If he would have stayed at 155 and dedicated himself earlier in his career, like he did in 2008, would we be discussing if BJ was the best of all time? Maybe.

2.  He chokes when it matters the most.  Ok, maybe that is a bit harsh.  But in order to be considered elite, winning and defending your championship strap is what many people look at.

BJ fought in an impressive 11 title fights thus far in his career (8 at LW, 3 at WW).  In those 11 fights he has gone 5-5-1.  A sub .500 win percentage is less than stellar, regardless of who you are fighting, or what weight class it is in.  Once again, this goes back to dedicating yourself.  Although I hate to play the what-if game (no I don't, I love that game)...What if, instead of fighting at middleweight, and welterweight, BJ had dedicated himself to Lightweight.  Would his record in title fights still be sub .500?  We will never know...


So there you have it folks.  Forgive me if I left out any defining points in either way.

Now help me decide:

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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