Retiring Is A Smart Move By Penn

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - November 09, 2011
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B.J. Penn punches Nick Diaz during a mixed martial arts welterweight bout, Oct. 29 in Las Vegas. Diaz won by unanimous decision. AP photo / Isaac Brekken

B.J. Penn says he is retired. Then again maybe he isn’t.

Here’s hoping he is.

For reasons physical or otherwise, Penn is not the same fighter he was just a few years ago. The Hilo native has won just one of his last five fights, and often has looked disinterested about his job in the ring.

That’s a big drop off for a guy who was one of the best fighters in the sport’s short history and one who almost single-handedly saved the promotion’s lightweight division.

Penn’s challenges appear to be more mental than physical. He admitted as much to Star-Advertiser reporter Billy Hull in an Oct. 26 preview of his fight with Nick Diaz.

“It’s definitely a total love and hate relationship with mixed martial arts, and maybe even the UFC at times,” he said in the article. “It’s crazy. I want to fight 100 more fights in the next year, and the next day I’m like I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Penn always seemed to love fighting but hated the UFC and all the B.S. and egos that come with it. The UFC is not a partnership of athletes and promoters, but a dictatorship run by a single individual who is determined to make himself the sport’s biggest star.

To be fair, no one person is more responsible for the UFC’s success and the popularity of MMA in general than Dana White. But that doesn’t make him an easy guy to work for. Just ask Penn, who went so far as to sue the UFC after being stripped of his lightweight title for competing in another organization.

Hull, who covers the sport for the Star-Advertiser and whose opinion I trust on this topic, believes Penn still has the physical tools to reclaim his place in the sport, but questions whether he has the commitment to make it happen. Penn, like all fighters, cannot be less than his best when he enters the octagon. If he isn’t, he can get hurt. Not past-hisprime baseball injured but physically damaged with long-lasting effects. We’ve seen far too many examples.

Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammed Ali and, more recently, Evander Holyfield have all returned to the ring in a final effort to reclaim lost glory or shrunken bank accounts. The results haven’t always been pretty and have sometimes been tragic. Penn isn’t there yet, but he could be if he presses on without the right preparation.

The Penn name still carries weight in the sport, as it should. Hull says that regardless of Penn’s recent record, he remains a top five draw. However, each loss runs the risk of causing further physical damage and negatively impacting B.J. Penn the brand.

Penn’s been more than a fighter for years. His name and likeness adorns hats and T-shirts at arenas and gyms across the country. He has become so associated with RVCA clothing that the two seem inseparable. He has partnered with the UFC to open a gym and MMA training facility on Oahu, and more could be on the way. Retirement would allow him more time to advance those interests.

Penn is charismatic, goodlooking and has an outgoing personality that at times needs some coaxing to come out. All these skills would serve him well as an analyst. If he can successfully train his brother Reagan to UFC title contention, it would further his business interests and begin to put the Penn name alongside the Gracies when it comes to MMA family dominance.

When at the top of his game, Penn was a master. Possessing a ground attack that made his impressive stand-up work appear almost amateurish.

Opponents would speak of his lowerbody skill, saying his legs were like an extra pair of arms.

He was great, no question about it.

The Prodigy?

Damn right he was. Hull says Penn has talked about returning to his jiujitsu roots at the end of his career.

That would complete the circle nicely and further engrain him in the sport in which he became the first non-Brazilian to win the black-belt division at the Mundial World Championships in Rio de Janeiro.

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