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BJ Penn Causing Logjam at Lightweight

By on February 25, 2009

If it seems like it`s been a long time since you saw a UFC Lightweight Title fight, that’s because it has.  How long?  So far, nine months and counting since the ever-talented B.J. Penn dominated Sean Sherk at UFC 84.  According to J.D. Penn, B.J.’s older brother, a rumored defense against lightweight challenger Kenny Florian at UFC 99 would be too soon.  Citing that B.J. wants to spend more time with his child, J.D. said that a late July or August date would be preferable to UFC 99, which is scheduled to take place on June 13.  All of this means that by the time we see Penn and Florian square off in the octagon, it could be as many as fifteen months since Penn’s last lightweight clash.

Meanwhile, there is a logjam at lightweight of potential contenders for the title who have nothing to do but continue fighting amongst themselves while they wait for their division’s champion to, you know, defend his belt.

Worst of all, this is not exactly abnormal for B.J., who has always been long on talent, but occasionally short on desire.  Since returning to the UFC in March of 2006, he has only fought six times in just shy of three years, while most of the top fighters in the UFC are fighting three to four times per year.  Sure, one of the reasons was a stint on the Ultimate Fighter reality show, which famously holds up entire divisions for five to six months while the show films, airs, and the coaches featured twiddle their thumbs.  However, B.J. has never been a prolific fighter, racking up 19 fights in nearly eight years as a professional.  When you factor in that five of those fights came in his first year as a pro, it becomes even more apparent that B.J. is not the kind of fighter who feels the need to step into the octagon several times per year.

While no one would hold it against a man to want to spend time with his family, this planned hiatus along with B.J.’s recent (and ill-advised) jump up in weight to fight welterweight king Georges St. Pierre puts many of the UFC’s best lightweights in awkward positions, and forces the UFC to make fights that otherwise wouldn’t need to happen.  In a perfect world, Kenny Florian, who has won six fights in a row since his last title shot against then-champion Sean Sherk, would have already had his shot.  We’d be getting ready to see the winner of Florian-Penn against Clay Guida or perhaps Sherk himself, instead of waiting another several months just to see who will escape the Florian-Penn bout with the title.

The one silver lining to all of this (besides the fact that Penn’s devastating loss to GSP should dissuade him from leaving his best weight class in the future) is that there is still a lot of turmoil in the lightweight division, and beyond the top couple of fighters, there are no clear-cut contenders.  Since the winner of Florian-Penn will not be likely to defend their title again until late 2009 or early 2010, some of the other top fighters in the division, such as Nate Diaz (who suffered a recent setback in a razor-thin decision loss to Guida), Gray Maynard and Tyson Griffin will get a chance to become decisive favorites for title contention.  Of course, in the meantime, guys like Sherk or Guida- who are either one win away from a title shot or who could already deservedly get one- have a chance to slip up, muddling up the whole picture all over again.

One of the biggest disappointments about the long hiatuses between B.J. Penn’s fights at 155 pounds is that we don’t often get to see one of the most talented fighters in MMA today competing at his best weight.  B.J. is now 30 years old, and depending on how long he decides to fight, we may only have a few years left to truly see him at his best.  Being able to witness what B.J. can truly do in a weight class that is appropriate for him is great for any fan of the sport, and it would be nice to get to do so more than once or twice per year.

It has often been said that B.J. Penn is mostly motivated by solidifying his legacy as one of the sport’s all-time greats.  While it is admirable that he would give up a lot of weight while fighting one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport today, the best way for B.J. to prove his ability as a fighter might just be to focus on being the best lightweight champion that he can be.

by Jon Hartley for

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