BJ PENN:

 The Day the Hawaiians Took Over

© Marc Wickert

All photos copyright 2004 Zuffa LLC
Photography by Joshua Hedges

When BJ Penn travelled to Rio De Janiero in 2000 to compete in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, few people thought he had a chance of winning the Black Belt Championships. This was because a non-Brazilian had never won the coveted title before. But a determined Penn fought against the odds and returned home to Hilo, Hawaii, with the prestigious world crown.

"Winning the championship didn’t mean that much to me at the time. It means more to me now. And it will probably mean a lot more to me in ten years’ time," says Penn.

BJ’s grand entrance into the Octagon was also about as subtle as a rhino visiting a china shop. In UFC 31: Locked and Loaded, May 4, 2001, Penn defeated Joey Gilbert by TKO in round one. And at UFC 32: Showdown in the Meadowlands, BJ won by KO against Din Thomas: again in the first round.

UFC 34: High Voltage could well have been named in BJ Penn’s honour as he delivered a shock wave to Japan’s Caol Uno. It took just 11 seconds for Penn to knock out Uno before the stunned Las Vegas crowd.

Born in Kallua, Hawaii, on December 13, 1978, BJ was named Jay Penn. But as all the male members of his family were also named Jay Penn, and because he is the youngest male in the family, he is called BJ: short for Baby Jay.

BJ says that when he was a kid there were always boxing gloves around his home, and he used to like sparring with his buddies. A Tae Kwon Do instructor who used to run classes nearby had seen the teenagers boxing in their yard, and several times invited BJ to train at his academy.

"My father pleaded with me to attend a class so the instructor would stop pestering him. I was 17 and didn’t want to go, because I thought I already was the world’s greatest fighter. The instructor didn’t do any TKD with me, but used Jiu Jitsu to choke me out on the first night. I thought if I learnt what he was doing, I could beat everybody in the area," says Penn.

On October 10, 2003, Penn fought Japan’s Takanori Gomi in Rumble on the Rock IV. "It was a hard fight. I dominated Gomi in round one. The second round was pretty even, and I dominated in round three, winning by rear naked choke."

After UFC World Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes defended his title against Frank Trigg at UFC 45, Mike Goldberg announced BJ Penn was interested in challenging Hughes in the welterweight division. "If BJ Penn wants to step up to the 170 lb division, I welcome the idea," said Hughes.

BJ entered the Octagon at UFC 46: Super Natural on January 31, 2004, to the sound of Sudden Rush’s "Day the Hawaiians Took Over". And when Penn stepped up from lightweight class to challenge Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes, BJ was just under 170 lbs for the fight.

A lot of people had thought the increase in weight would be too much of a disadvantage for BJ. Mike Goldberg commented during UFC 45, "And the question would be, ‘How would BJ Penn match the strength of Matt Hughes?’" Joe Rogan responded, "He’s not going to; that’s just it. I mean, the guy’s used to fighting at 155 lbs and is going to step up to 170 lbs. He’s going to be in a world of trouble."

Penn says moving up a weight class was not a problem for him. "I feel comfortable as a welterweight, but I still want to fight at lightweight as well."

BJ Penn is a well-rounded martial artist, specializing in BJJ, wrestling and kickboxing techniques. But he is always working to further improve and expand his skills. Penn also worked with Ralph Gracie on his BJJ skills. "Ralph was my first teacher when I lived in California; then I moved back to Hawaii and trained with other people."

Prior to his battle with Matt Hughes, Penn said he didn’t think techniques would be the deciding factor against Hughes, but believed it would come down to who had the stronger willpower. After winning the welterweight title, Penn believed it was a combination of both aspects.

"I think it was both actually: willpower and techniques. And I feel we were both in about the same shape. Although I don’t know if he was willing to do everything that it took to win the fight. But I knew I was. After the fight Matt told me to my face, ‘I just want you to know I didn’t underestimate you.’ I think he didn’t ever face anybody - standing up or on the ground - who was as dangerous to him as I was.

"Everything I did in training for UFC 46, I was able to execute in the fight. I trained in a lot of other things, but the fight went quickly, so we got some dominant positions off the bat and we were able to capitalize and finish it."

BJ expects to be back at UFC in the near future, and although no date or weight division has been determined at this stage for his return to the Octagon, MMA viewers can expect to see a very focused BJ Penn ready to face any opponent he is matched with.

"I would also like to say hello to all my fans in Mixed Martial Arts." – BJ Penn.

For more on BJ www.ufc.tv

 


 

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