Coaching ‘The Ultimate Fighter’
While coaching contestants on ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ BJ Penn is training to take on another coach — one who handed him a rare defeat recently
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Penn works over Richard Chou during a training bout
BJ “The Prodigy"Penn has no qualms about saying he’s the best - and he has the championship titles to back it up.
In 2000, Penn was the first non-Brazilian to win a gold medal in jiu-jitsu in the black belt level at the Mundial World Championships in Brazil. In 2003, Penn defeated Takanori Gomi to become the World Lightweight Champion. Then in 2004, Penn defeated Matt Hughes, claming the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) Welterweight Championship and earning respect as one of the best pound-for-pound MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighters.
“Without a doubt, you have to think you’re best,” says Penn. “Sitting here I would have to say that I’m the best and it’s not even being cocky, you gotta know.
There’s no sense to be here if you don’t think you’re the best.”
This month, Penn is taking on a slightly different fighting stance on Spike TV as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter 5, one of the most-watched cable shows on television for its first four seasons. It was six long weeks of filming in Las Vegas and Penn says,“It was crazy.
“It was so busy, we would work out every day and we lived on the other side of the Strip, so we would have to drive the Strip and be stuck in traffic to get there,” says Penn, owner and head instructor of BJ Penn Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Hilo. “We had to be at the gym four times a day, and it just wore me out. There were so many fights and things going on that I just had to separate myself from it all - it was hard.”
The reality show, which airs Thursdays at 7 p.m., features 16 up-and-coming mixed martial arts competitors vying for the chance to win a contract with the UFC organization. The 16 hopefuls are split into two teams coached by Penn and Jens Pulver, former UFC Lightweight Champion. This season features lightweights (145-155 pounds) who live together, train together and of course, fight each other in single elimination matches at the conclusion of each show.
“It’s all real and nothing was set up,” says the 28-year-old Penn. “It’s what you see on TV, but imagine just doing that every day. I could tell that it took its toll on the fighters because they were being filmed 24 hours a day. I would be on the show just at the gym, and then I could leave and have my free time. They were stuck with cameras on them. Anyone who goes through that, for that fact alone, it will make you tougher - just living with all those people.”
Penn admits that his experience on the show wasn’t life-changing, but he says that he came away from it learning
how to better deal and communicate with other people.
While he packs a big punch, BJ Penn is best
known as a punishing ground fighter
“I tried not to step on too many toes,” says Penn, a Hilo resident. “Some are there to be trained and some are there to do it themselves, and some are there to just be on a show and they couldn’t care less if they win. So you ran into many different personalities.”
Sworn to secrecy, Penn of course isn’t able to reveal any details about what happened. What he can say about the show is that “some crazy stuff happened and after the show wrapped, Dana White (UFC president) expressed that this was the best show yet.”
And the best is yet to come - the finalists along with the coaches will fight live at the famed UFC Octagon for the season finale on June 23. That means Penn will be going head-to-head with opposing coach Pulver for the second time in an all-out brawl of punishment.
“Guarantee, I’m going to win,” says Penn.“I lost to him by a decision once, but this time I’m going to retire him.”
For the next two and a half months, Penn will be in training mode, eating right and working out four to five hours a day. The competitors are meeting at 155 pounds, which means Penn, who is currently at 175, has about 20 pounds to shed.
“That’s super easy,” he says. “Right now at 28 I have a lot of world title fights, plenty experience, I’m still strong and healthy. Right now I’m entering my prime, and these next five years are going to be my best.”
It’s been almost 10 years since Penn’s first jiu-jitsu tournament
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