Photo courtesy: UFC
BJ Penn’s tenure with the Ultimate Fighting Championships has come to an end with the news of his release.
UFC president Dana White tells Yahoo Sports that the Hall of Famer and the former two-division champion has been released from his contract following a series of incidents outside the cage.
The 40-year old Penn has lost his previous seven fights and has not won a fight since November 2010. He initially retired in July 2014 following his third loss to Frankie Edgar and was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in July 2015. Retirement did not agree with Penn and he returned to fight in January 2017 in a losing affair to surging prospect Yair Rodriguez. He followed with a majority decision loss to Dennis Siver in June 2017, a submission loss to Ryan Hall in December 2018 and last fought at UFC 237 this past May where he was lost by decision to Clay Guida.
Earlier this year, a video surfaced of Penn fighting a bouncer outside of a strip club in Hawaii with Penn believed to be intoxicated.
Two months later, a different video came to light with Penn being knocked down from a punch outside of the Lava Shack bar in Hawaii and later took down the unknown individual and attacked him. Penn defended the second incident when speaking to Aaron Bronsteter of TSN by stating he was trying to diffuse the situation and wasn’t looking for trouble with the individual.
Penn had been in talks for a fight with Nik Lentz prior to the release of the second video.
Penn, who was appropriately nicknamed “The Prodigy”, had his first professional fight inside the UFC at the age of 22. Penn stopped Joey Gilbert, Din Thomas, and Caol Uno within the first round of his first three professional fights and was catapulted to a championship fight in his fourth fight.
As an enormous favorite, Penn lost by majority decision to then-lightweight champion Jens Pulver at UFC 35 in January 2002.
Penn would not lose another fight at 155 pounds for the next eight-years. In February 2003, the UFC attempted to crown a lightweight champion at UFC 41 in February 2003 with a rematch between Penn and Uno. Their first fight lasted eleven-seconds but the rematch went the full five rounds and ended in a split draw and so did the UFC’s plans to promote a lightweight title, which they wouldn’t activate again until October 2006 when Sean Sherk would become their champion.
Penn accepted the biggest fight of his career when he agreed to move up to welterweight and fight Matt Hughes at UFC 46 in January 2004. Penn, the underdog, submitted Hughes and became the welterweight champion in a huge moment for the promotion. The momentum could not be realized by the UFC as Penn left the company over a dispute and would fight for K-1’s MMA offshoot promotion and fought guys way larger than him, including a heavyweight fight against Lyoto Machida in March 2005 that Penn lost by decision.
As the UFC exploded in popularity, it made sense for both sides to work together and Penn returned in 2006 to fight Georges St-Pierre at UFC 58. It was a razor-close split decision that was awarded to St-Pierre, but it established a rivalry that would be revisited years later.
Penn’s success would not come at welterweight and instead saw his true potential realized back at lightweight. He avenged his 2002 loss to Jens Pulver in dominant fashion in June 2007 after the two served as coaches on the Ultimate Fighter in a season that churned out Nate Diaz as the lightweight winner.
Due to a drug test failure, champion Sean Sherk was stripped of the lightweight title and the vacant championship was won by Penn after submitting Joe Stevenson at UFC 80 in January 2008.
The title run was Penn’s greatest run of his career where he defeated the returning Sherk and was considered among the greatest fighters in the world during this era.
He returned to welterweight for a fight against champion Georges St-Pierre in January 2009 for a huge pay-per-view that did remarkable business. St-Pierre won the rematch, but Penn returned to lightweight as a major star and helped draw a massive pay-per-view number at UFC 101 against Kenny Florian on a card that also featured Anderson Silva vs. Forrest Griffin.
Penn defended the title against Florian and Diego Sanchez in 2009 before running into Frankie Edgar and being outmatched and dropping the title with a decision loss the following April. A rematch between the two that summer produced the same outcome and Penn had been surpassed as the top lightweight in the UFC.
He tested his fate at welterweight again, knocking out Matt Hughes in November 2010 in what would be his time his arms would be raised in a UFC octagon. He would continually fight guys that were so much larger including Rory MacDonald, which was a visual catastrophe for Penn.
The legacy of Penn will be a complicated one because you have to acknowledge the greatness while balancing it with the last nine years that have not produced any moments to back-up his Hall of Fame career.
As a star from a previous era, there will always be promotions willing to pay him to fight. However, it is also a cautionary tale for fighters where the adjustment from “fighter” to “regular citizen” is not an easy one and Penn represents an extreme example of someone that has failed to adjust to life after fighting and continually finds himself returning to the only thing he knows.