Much of the talk around the mixed martial arts community has revolved heavily around the outcome of Saturday night's lightweight battles on the UFC 118 main card. B.J. Penn's disappointing loss at the hands of Frankie Edgar has not only shaken up the apex of the division, but it has also produced many questions as to what the division will look like in the future. While some of my fellow writers have discussed the potential fights in the future, Jonathan Snowden focused on a question that some fans have been asking themselves in the aftermath -- Is B.J. Penn overrated?
The raw numbers stand out like a sore thumb. In title fights, BJ Penn is a pedestrian 5-5-1. For every big fight he wins, he loses one in turn. The true greats of the sport, your Georges St. Pierres, your Matt Hughes, your Frank Shamrocks, your Fedor Emelianenkos, are defined by rising to the occasion. When the fights get tougher, these men only get better. Not so with BJ Penn.
BJ Penn is a front runner. We learned that for the first time against Jens Pulver at UFC 35. Crowned as champion before even stepping into the cage, Penn had no answer for Pulver's heart and determination. When the fight got to the point where it demanded each man expose his very soul to walk away the winner, Penn faltered. Pulver stepped forward. That was the difference.
The disparity among fans involved in the conversation is interesting. Some agree that Penn is overrated with supporting evidence stemming from what Snowden has laid out. Penn is 5-5-1 in title fights, and he hasn't had the success that the greats of the sport have because he hasn't "risen to the occasion".
What exactly does overrated mean? It means we've rated him too highly, and for many fans -- that's definitely the case. Penn isn't the indestructible or the invincible, but neither is any fighter in today's era of mixed martial arts. Fedor is now beatable. Lesnar isn't a Stone Golem who can't be hurt. With the amount of skill at the top of each and every division in the UFC, it's tough to imagine anyone rating someone as unbeatable.
Let's look at the supporting evidence though. At 5-5-1 in title fights, we could argue that Penn just doesn't have what it takes to rise to the occasion and become a true legend of the sport. But does that define him as overrated? I would say that being involved in eleven title fights over the course of your career would be enough evidence to suggest that you aren't overrated by any means. In fact, that's the opposite of overrated unless you're suggesting the Penn is the greatest fighter to have ever graced the Octagon. Eleven title fights would suggest that you are at the apex of the division all the time, and that would make him one of the best in the sport.
Styles make fights, and Edgar happens to have the speed and footwork to frustrate Penn to no end. Maynard has already proven he can be the kryptonite to Edgar's speed. And Penn has proven in the past that he can bomb wrestlers before they have the opportunity to put him on his back. As Sergio Non pointed out, it's a stylistic triangle at the top of the division. Penn could be champion once again by the middle of next year and pull off a victory over Edgar in a third battle. Would he still be considered overrated?
Give me a break. Penn has fought the best of the best for his entire career, and he's performed well against almost all comers. We're talking about a guy who basically figured out how to beat on Lyoto Machida four or five years before anybody else could figure it out. A guy who went up a weight class to battle some of the most dominant fighters of this era. A man who put epic beatings on some of the best fighters in this sport. I'm not going to go so far as to say he's the greatest ever, but he's certainly not overrated.