As a backlash against all of the hoopla concerning GreaseGate, there has been an increase of people lately saying, “Who cares about a little Vaseline…BJ Penn got his ass kicked by St. Pierre and showed a lot of previously unnoticed holes in his game in the process.” The fact that Penn seems unable to keep his mouth shut and stop trash talking his opponents certainly hasn’t helped divert the renewed focus on his less than stellar performance.
Penn’s cockiness was more endearing in the past because he was doing it to sell fights. There are a lot of people out there who like their fighters to have a street mentality like Penn and the Diaz brothers, and I happen to be one of them. I enjoy it when fighters are passionate about fighting and not afraid to speak their minds. However, trash talk only works when you’re winning fights. Otherwise, it just becomes empty words and fans just start writing you off as a bad sport. I could deal with Penn licking Joe Stevenson’s blood off his hands and calling Sean Sherk a “fake champ.” It’s understandable when Penn talks smack before a fight to increase the hype. Then, he looks like a honorable guy when he shakes hands and buries the hatchet when the fight is over. Lately though, Penn has been going overboard with the trash talk.
After accusing St. Pierre of using steroids and greasing up, Penn has now turned his attention to his next opponent, Kenny Florian. It started after Penn found out Florian is planning on training for their lightweight title fight with St. Pierre in Montreal. Penn responded by claiming that it was odd Florian would enlist the help of St. Pierre since Florian had just contacted Penn’s camp to warn them about the welterweight champ’s alleged greasing and steroid use. After Florian denied contacting Penn’s camp, Penn took issue with the fact that Florian was basically calling him and his coaches liars. It’s unclear who is telling the truth but something doesn’t seem right about Penn’s side of the story. Why would Florian try and help out Penn, his future opponent? It doesn’t make sense. Florian must have been rooting for St. Pierre since a win by Penn would’ve muddied up the lightweight title picture for awhile.
Fellow MMAConvert contributor Mike Moffat recently asked an interesting question: If it turns out that BJ Penn is lying about these greasing allegations, as well as the fact that it was Kenny Florian who provided him this information and he keeps this string of lies going, how does it affect his legacy in your eyes? In my opinion, if it turns out Penn is lying it severely tarnishes his legacy. Many fans already see him as a spoiled rich kid who has wasted his natural talent too many times. If he turns out to be a liar as well, it goes beyond Penn trying to sell a fight; Penn becomes not only a waste of potential, he also becomes a poor sport.
A jiu-jitsu phenom and only the second guy to win UFC titles in two different weight classes, Penn has already established himself as a hall of fame worthy fighter. However, at thirty years old, it is the future that is relevant for Penn. Does Penn want to be known as the “Prodigy” who burned bright while he was young but then faded away after not taking fights seriously and having terrible cardio? Or does Penn want to focus hard on improving the apparent holes in his game over the next five years and stand a shot at establishing himself as the greatest lightweight fighter ever? The latter won’t be as easy of a task as many of his more fervent fans would like to believe.
If Penn loses to Florian it will be a fall akin to Chuck Liddell’s when he dropped back-to-back bouts against Rampage Jackson and Keith Jardine, after four successful title defenses at light heavyweight. Even though Penn will be the favorite going into his fight against Florian, Florian stands a decent shot at upsetting the current champ. Florian’s improvement since starting with the UFC has been one of the most impressive progressions of any fighter. Florian went from being a considered a one-dimensional fighter who only won fights by cutting his opponents with elbows to the fighter he is now—an all around dangerous fighter with great game planning. Perhaps Florian’s greatest advantage going into the bout is the fact that it is a five round title fight. Florian’s got a great gas tank, so if he can drag Penn into the championship rounds, Florian would likely start to dominate with superior conditioning.
Even if Penn manages to get past the durable Florian, he still faces some tough tests in the UFC’s stacked lightweight division. Diego Sanchez, a fighter who holds a win over Florian, has just dropped to lightweight and would pose a difficult challenge for Penn. Also, even though Penn holds a convincing recent win over Sean Sherk, if Sherk decided to start using his wrestling—a weakness in Penn’s game that St. Pierre revealed—instead of continuing to think he’s a top notch boxer, he could also give Penn a run for his money.
Penn recently took the video in which he claims Florian contacted his camp off his official website, bjpenn.com. Perhaps Penn is starting to realize that he needs to spend less time generating controversy and more time focused on becoming a better fighter and a legendary lightweight champion. Penn fashions himself as a fighter with street credibility—if he wants to maintain that image and his legendary status he needs to stop bitching about St. Pierre and Florian, and start working on putting together an impressive string of wins.
Here’s hoping Penn puts this crap behind him, keeps his mouth shut and starts taking training as seriously as he seemed to when he made his comeback at lightweight against Jens Pulver in 2007.