By far, the biggest question coming out of UFC 118 is, what’s next for BJ Penn? Will he continue to fight at lightweight? Will he move to welterweight? A somber “thank you” message to his fans on BJPenn.com even had people wondering if he’d even fight again at all.
Well, it seems BJ has at least answered the latter of those questions. On another video blog posted on BJPenn.com, Penn confirmed he’s ready to get back in the gym and wants to fight “as soon as possible.” Transcribed via Fighters Only:
“I have just been hanging out this last couple of days but I am gonna stick to what I said about being as active as I can be. I am gonna contact the UFC, get a fight as soon as possible. Luckily I didn’t get injured, I have got no injuries. I can still build on what I built up in the last camp, I didn’t go out or party or anything, so I am gonna jump back into training tomorrow. A lot of people have been asking me about the camp, we are still figuring that whole thing out but before we figure that whole thing out I am going to jump in the gym already. So that’s it – starting tomorrow, back on track, going full blast.”
With that question out of the way, we’re once again left wondering who’s next for BJ Penn? There are plenty of options, but as long as Frankie Edgar is the champion, the UFC has to choose wisely. They don’t want him knocking off any rising contenders, so bouts with Evan Dunham and George Sotiropolous are out of the question. The same may even be said for former #1 lightweight Takanori Gomi who Penn beat seven years ago. A rematch with Kenny Florian could be a possibility, but really, who wants to see it? Dave Meltzer has an idea, how about Clay Guida or Nate Diaz?
Clay Guida may be the most popular of the lightweight fighters outside of Penn, and it would be a match people would care about. Penn would be the heavy favorite, as even though Guida has the same type of gas tank as Edgar, which gave Penn fits, he doesn’t have the speed or boxing ability to take advantage of it.
Perhaps the most intriguing opponent right now would be Nate Diaz. Diaz fought most of his career as a lightweight and looked thin when he moved to welterweight. Even though he has scored two straight impressive wins as a welterweight, Diaz said after beating Marcus Davis on Saturday that he wants to fight someone in the top three in either the lightweight or welterweight division.
There are major upsides for Diaz as the next opponent. First, his recent wins have been impressive enough that people see him as a star ready to break through. He also always has exciting fights, a major factor in matchmaking what would likely be a top-two match on a show. Like his older brother Nick, he comes across with almost a street thug attitude that appeals to many, and also isn’t liked by many. But the key is, people have strong feelings about him, which makes him marketable.
Diaz can be a superstar to the public easier than most, and a win over Penn would instantly put him there. A win by Penn would likely elevate Penn in a way that a win over Guida or Gomi wouldn’t. The only question is whether the UFC would want Diaz to move back to lightweight.
I can’t argue with Meltzer’s logic on that one. Like his brother, Diaz won’t be able to make 155 lbs. forever. As Nate’s trainer Cesar Gracie recently said, Nate’s future in this sport resides at welterweight. But if he’s going to make a run at the lightweight title while he can, there isn’t a better opponent to propel him into a number one contender position than BJ Penn. And if he loses, it’s not the end of the world. The welterweight division will still be there waiting on him.