B.J. Penn and How MMA Records, Thankfully, Don’t Define a Career

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Jay Dee Penn, a.k.a B.J. Penn, is one of the greatest fighters to ever grace the Octagon and arguably the best Lightweight in UFC history—an overriding sentiment shared by many MMA writers and fans. Many mixed martial arts enthusiasts during the 2000’s were privileged to witness the many peaks of one of the most gifted and must-see fighters of his generation.

However, future generations of fans who hear his name will check Sherdog for his fight history and find a misleading 16-10 record. “Why do these old-guys talk about him like he was as good as GSP and Jon Jones,” they may think to themselves. Moments like these are what makes MMA such a fantastic sport:  you can be a legend in the industry and have a record that, at first glance, does not blow ones hair back. If this were boxing, a similar record would get a fighter the designation of an also-ran or journeymen. Yet in MMA, the devil is in the details.

The easiest way to back up Penn’s place as an all-time great despite his record, would be to list off his accomplishments in the sport. Since there are many, that isn’t much of a stretch. I want to appeal to the die-hard and “noob” MMA fan with a more nuanced defense of Penn’s place in history. However, don’t you worry, I will get to those achievements a bit later in this post.

To prove the greatness of a record that is only six fights over .500, I feel you have to look back at Penn’s losses to be truly enlightened on how misleading his record is. Because those ten losses are what will make a reviewer frown. Though, in MMA a fighter is defined just as much by his losses as he is by his wins. Unlike most sports, in MMA you can be analyzed as a winner through defeat, or earn respect because you still fought the best a division had to offer. Penn has been in both positions many times in his career. Out of Penn’s ten losses, not one is a loss that makes you stop and say, “wow, he lost to him?” Most greats of the sport have at least one of those, if not multiple.

Listed in order of earliest to most recent (along with a short summation of the caliber of opponent), here are the impressive losses of B.J. Penn:

  • Jens Pulver – This was a title fight for Penn in only his 3rd pro-bout, against probably the best Lightweight in the world at the time, who was fighting for the 15th time. This was a loss Penn later avenged in dramatic fashion.
  • Lyoto Machida – This fight is laughable considering it was fought at an open-weight tournament and Penn (who fought his best at 155 lbs.) was in there with a 205 lb. Machida, a future Light-Heavyweight champion who was still very dangerous even that early in his career.
  • Georges St. Pierre (Twice) – GSP is considered by many to be the best Welterweight of all-time. Their first fight was closely contested, and the second was a dominant win by St. Pierre.
  • Matt Hughes – This was a rematch to their original bout, in which Penn moved up in weight and defeated a seemingly unbeatable champ who was the best Welterweight ever before the rise of GSP.
  • Frankie Edgar (Three Times) – Edgar is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, and part of the reason why is because he beat Penn multiple times. Edgar, the former Lightweight champion and multiple-time title contender, is one of the best fighters of his generation.
  • Nick Diaz – Diaz is one of the more talented and ballsy fighters to ever step into a cage. A former Strikeforce champ and UFC title contender, there is no shame in losing to Nick Diaz. Especially when Penn, as he often did, was not fighting at his optimal weight class.
  • Rory MacDonald – This one is a TBD, but MacDonald is currently one of the better fighters in his division, and favorite pick of analysts to be a future champion. Not to mention a sizeable man for the 170 lb. division, this was another instance of Penn not fighting where he is his best.

So yes, B.J. Penn lost ten fights in his career. Yet, not one of them is a head-scratching loss—impressive for any era. It took the very best in the world to beat this man, a man who was the first non-Brazilian to win the world jiu-jitsu championships at just 22 years-old after having only studied the art for five years. Penn is a man who is still one of only two people in UFC history to hold world championships in two divisions; a man who beat the likes of Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver, Sean Sherk, Takanori Gomi, Kenny Florian and Renzo Gracie—former champs, pound-for-pound stars of their time and legends of the sport. B.J. Penn was a fighter whose boxing was leaps and bounds ahead of most in the sport during his career, and a fighter whose ferocity and killer instinct let no opponent off the hook when he smelled (or tasted) blood in the octagon.

A final record doesn’t always tell you the full story of a career, especially when it comes to MMA, and B.J. Penn is a perfect example of this. He is a fighter who holds the most outstanding 16-10 record you may ever scoff at, because, thankfully, MMA records don’t define a career.

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