Is BJ Penn the future of the UFC Lightweight Division?
By: Pat Soulliere/Diamondback2
BJ Penn is the current UFC Lightweight Champion when he defeated Joe
Stevenson at UFC 80: Rapid Fire. He is
one of the most talented fighters ever to grace the octagon. His nickname of “The Prodigy” is well earned
as he learns very fast and always seems to be improving his game. He has fought a who’s who of MMA
fighters. From Matt Hughes and Georges
St Pierre, to Lyoto Machida, BJ has fought the best fighters in the world on a
consistent basis. Is BJ really the
future of a division as deep and talented as the UFC’s 155 lb division?
BJ Penn is one of the scariest fighter’s in the world at 155 lbs, bar none. He toyed with Jens Pulver, and then proceeded to DESTROY Joe Stevenson recently at UFC 80 to secure the title. He has Sean Sherk as his next opponent tentatively set for UFC 84. He is one of the most hyped fighters and one of the most underrated fighters all at the same time. An in shape, focused BJ Penn is nothing short of a whirlwind of destruction. He has heavy hands, solid boxing, a good chin and good takedown’s and takedown defense. On the ground he is one of the most decorated Ju-Jitsu players ever to enter the octagon. He has wild flexibility, as he is able to put his leg behind his head without touching his hand. Try that yourself… He is very creative and is not afraid to use unconventional techniques and styles such as Eddie Bravo’s Rubber Guard. BJ has also a very good ground and pound and some vicious elbows on the ground to finish out the package.
BJ has the heaviest hands in the UFC Lightweight Division. No one else could dream of putting Joe “Daddy” Stevenson on his ass with their first punch. BJ has one of the meanest uppercut’s in the game. He throws it from a weird angle, putting his forearm towards the ground and nearly touching the hip, throws a foot forward and almost pops up. With BJ’s fast reflexes he waits for an opportunity where the opponent is leaning forward or shooting in. He did it against both Joe and Caol Uno. Uno didn’t recover, Joe did. That uppercut of his has the ability to end any fight, at any time. In the rest of his boxing game, BJ as mentioned earlier has heavy hands and good clean striking. However the UFC Lightweight division is full of fighters that have those traits as well. But where BJ differs is he has a true iron chin. Most of the fighters at 155 lbs have very good chins but no one truly has a chin that cannot be beaten. It seems BJ may be the one with that however. After double-checking his record, confirmed that BJ has never in fact been KO’d. He has had one TKO against Matt Hughes. A TKO is when the ref stops the fight due to a fighter’s inability to intelligently defend themselves even though they are still conscious. A KO is when you are totally knocked unconscious; BJ Penn has never been KO’d. BJ has rolled with some of the best strikers in the world. He has never been KO’d by fighters such as Georges St. Pierre, Jens Pulver, Takanori Gomi & Matt Serra. I don’t see anyone in the current UFC Lightweight Division being able to KO BJ on the feet. The chin combined with the heavy hands and good boxing puts BJ in a class alone in striking at 155 lbs.
Takedowns and Takedown Defense
BJ Penn from all his MMA and Ju-Jitsu experience has developed a great takedown defense. He was able to stop most of Matt Hughes takedown attempts in their second fight. Only after he broke his rib and couldn’t breathe well anymore was Matt able to take him down at will. Matt Hughes has some of the most dominant takedowns in UFC history. Only Georges St. Pierre and BJ Penn were able to stop his shots in recent years. Matt Hughes made a career of being able to take people down and BJ was able to stop him from doing so the first two rounds. He was able to use an odd sprawl against the single-leg attempts which involved kicking one leg out as a base and the other leg sideways with his foot on the other side of his body. Not many people in Mixed Martial Arts have strong enough hips and enough flexibility to use a sprawl like that. This presents a problem for most traditional MMA wrestlers, as it completely eliminates the possibility of a single-leg takedown on BJ Penn unless you get in close enough to turn it into a slam. Double leg takedowns and slams seem to be the only good way to takedown BJ, Georges St. Pierre used them to take BJ down and grind out a close decision.
BJ Penn also has good takedowns and very good slams at Lightweight. He was able to slam Jens Pulver in the first 15 seconds of thier match. Although I'm sure due to weight cutting most fighters will be heavier than Jens, I still don't see it being a problem for BJ. He is not afraid to use his great takedowns but it seems he prefers to try and rock his opponents on the feet so he can go right to side control on the ground.
What is there to say that has not already been said about BJ Penn’s ground game? He is one of the top Brazilian Ju-Jitsu players in the whole world. His use of Ju-Jitsu in MMA is second to no one; he is the one of the masters of the rear naked choke (RNC) in the UFC. The RNC is becoming more uncommon among top grapplers in MMA due to the fact you can grab the gloves and stop the choke from being applied properly. BJ Penn has created a solution to this problem however. He works on getting the back when the opponent still has a base (meaning their stomach is facing the mat and they have a combination of knees and hands down so their stomach is not against the mat). Then when he starts the back control he gets them to roll into his left leg and by the time they are stomach up he has their left arm totally trapped under his leg. With both hands of his free and the opponent only having one hand free it is only a matter of seconds before they are done. He has done this same technique in his last two fights against Jens Pulver and Joe Stevenson. Jens wasn’t able to even un-trap his arm. That goes to further show the strength BJ’s legs possess. Jens Pulver is very strong and even in an akward position like that for BJ he couldn’t push his way out.
To make a really long story short, BJ has the best BJJ by far in the whole lightweight division and no one at 155 lbs is within light years of him.
BJ’s first upcoming fight is his first defense on his new title against Former UFC Lightweight Champion Sean Sherk. Sean Sherk is one of the most technical wrestlers in the entire UFC. He uses his style to control opponents and stop them from mounting any type of defense. Is effective and he has destroyed some top completion using this strategy and even very good BJJ players such as Kenny Florian and Hermes Franca. Hermes is a BJJ Black Belt and not alot of people thought Sean would be able to even pass his guard. Sean not only did that but controlled Hermes and passed his guard over and over with no pauses. But Hermes Franca is not BJ Penn; he has much less experience in the UFC and is no where as near as flexible. BJ Penn also has an advantage that he knows rubber guard and has used it so if he gets put on his back he can use that, and as far as I know Sean has never run into a rubber guard in one of his fights. BJ is world ahead of Sean on the feet and Sean does not have an iron chin. I expect BJ to either finish Sean thus defending his title in May.
BJ has beat one of the best wrestlers and most dominant champion he UFC has ever had in Matt Hughes. He came very close to finishing him in the end of the second round in their second fight. Sean and Matt have very similar fighting styles. Matt goes for of a ground and pound while Sean prefers to use “point control.”
Point Control is by no means an official term, but I use it to describe when a fighter uses wrestling to move from position to position not staying in one or trying to overly finish the fight. In points Ju-Jitsu Sean would have slaughtered Hermes like 100-2. I am not famliar how exactly a wrestling match is scored or the rules but I'm sure it would have been the same result as a BJJ Match. If you have good cardio you can grind out a very easy, very low risk decision. This may be boring but it is a very good way to win, and winning is what gets you good money in MMA. There is no shame in taking the lowest risk way for a fight, it is not entertaining if someone uses Point Control
Then after his first title defense there is a couple possible matchups next. Roger Huerta comes to mind as next in line after Sherk even if he does not fight before than. Roger is still a little inexperienced to be fighting a guy that is on almost everyone’s Top 10 Pound for Pound Fighter’s list. He does have a chance to win though, and in my opinion has a better chance than Sherk, if he fights BJ twice. To me it seems very similar to the GSP/Hughes scenario. I think Roger’s reckless style will be his downfall if they fight this year. BJ is just too tactical and experienced to be overwhelmed by a style like Roger’s. I think a loss would be very good for Roger, many fighters have come back significantly better or refocused after a big loss. Forrest Griffin, Georges St Pierre and Chuck Liddell are all good examples of this.
Kenny Florian would also be in the picture if he beats up and comer Joe Lauzon. BJ offers everything Kenny does, just better. This would be a big mismatch style wise. Nate Diaz will be in the picture with two wins. He is rumored to be fighting now on the Ultimate Fight 13 card. If he can succeed over a very game Kurt Pellegrino he will be in the top 5-10 in the UFC lightweight’s. Also if he can win there and then have one more big win, he will be right in the title picture. His brother has a still decent following that would be sure to watch him fight for a title. The UFC is still a business and does focus it’s pay-per-views on marketability as well as good match ups. Nate does I'm sure have alot of casual fans from the Ultimate Fighter TV Show as well. Nate Diaz could help recapture casual fans that recognize him from his last name. Nate’s BJJ is just not on BJ’s level. I also don’t imagine his boxing being better, it seem Nick has the better stand-up of the two.
Yes, BJ Penn can be a dominant champion for years to come if he can stay motivated and in good shape. His gas tank was a problem in the past, but I have a feeling that is a thing of the past. He seems very serious now, and I imagine he would stay like this. It takes a certain style and a natural athlete to defeat BJ Penn, and no one currently in the UFC 155lb division has that. Roger Huerta is in my opinion the only true threat to BJ Penn. It’s just not right now though, he has some areas to clean up in his game (very, very small things) before he can beat BJ. He needs to slow his style down and become a little more tactical (ala Forrest Griffin). BJ could have established a legacy at 170 lbs but he got lazy. He could very easily fight the top fighters in the world and win at 185 lbs. At 155 lbs I don’t see any fighter (besides Roger) being able to beat him. Don’t be quick to forget BJ has beat Takanori Gomi who is currently ranked the #1 fighter in the world at 155 lbs by almost every major MMA site. Not only did he beat Gomi, he destroyed him for three rounds with Gomi never able to mount any real offense the whole fight. I in fact even would go so far to say if BJ beats Sherk and then Huerta this year, and can defend his title once in 2009, he could in fact be the first person to hold a title in two weight classes at the same time in the UFC, the 155 lb division and the 170 lb division. It would take till mid 2009 before all the Welterweight division is sorted out. Fighters like Jon Fitch and Karo Parisyan are both fighters that deserve title shots before BJ would; they have been winning for too long now. With Georges St Pierre and Matt Serra fighting in April there wouldn’t be an open time for a title shot until mid-2009. I expect to see BJ remain the champion throughout 2008.