By now the grief should be abating – at least just a little – so we can start eulogizing our old friend. Of course, I’m talking about BJ Penn, who stepped into the Octagon a shell of his old self last night against Frankie Edgar for an ill-fated rematch at the TUF 19 Finale, and whose shell was crushed in brutal, and brutally sad, fashion.
That broken warrior isn’t the version I plan on conjuring up in my mind when I remember Penn. No, not at all. I choose to recall something else entirely.
I was there watching live for eight of Penn’s first nine fights, so I can picture clearly his ascension to legendary status. From his Octagon debut (which was also his MMA debut) at UFC 31 against some overmatched Midwest grinder named Joey Gilbert, to his utter destruction of Din Thomas and Caol Uno, it was like watching a superhero being created. At UFC 34, he hit Uno so hard and fast that Uno’s unconscious eyes were facing in two different directions as the Japanese fighter lay slumped against the cage – and Uno was a former Shooto champ who went the distance with UFC champ Jens Pulver. That was crazy!
The UFC was still finding its legs then, so when efforts to crown a new lightweight champ fizzled, the entire division was simply scrapped. Still, ultimately that meant little to the Hawaiian with heavy hands and unparalleled jiu-jitsu, because with no belt to strive for at 155 pounds he just decided to aim higher. At UFC 46, Penn took on the seemingly unbeatable Matt Hughes for Hughes’ welterweight belt.
I was a suicide mission. We all in press row knew that. Yet it intrigued, both because it was a bold move by Penn and a possible example of what MMA was all about. Prior to the sport’s introduction to those of us here in the States, the pervading tenet throughout all combative sports was that if skill levels were equal, size would always win out. But Penn said screw it, and took on someone widely considered to be one of the pound-for-pound best.
And Penn beat him. Easily.
We all in press row stood up as one when Hughes tapped out, disbelief making us look like happy fools.
That was my favorite BJ Penn moment, and the one I will always remember him by.
What’s your favorite Penn moment?