Lately, the pound-for-pound debate has been taking a three-way split: Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, and Fedor Emelianenko. B.J. Penn’s suffocation at the hands of St. Pierre over a year ago has polluted his participation. And it’s a shame. Of the four men mentioned, it’s Penn who has done the most to convince me his abilities deserve discussion of transcending the sport.
What other 155-pound athlete could ever survive in a ring against the current 205-pound champion? (Penn did, against Lyoto Machida in 2005.) Who else could have moved up to 170 to obliterate Matt Hughes at a time when Hughes was driving a steamroller over contenders? (St. Pierre hasn’t budged from 170; Anderson Silva went to 205 for fights against Forrest Griffin and James Irvin.)
Penn takes chances. While they’re not always successful, he shouldn’t be penalized for leaving his ego near the apron.
If he beats Frankie Edgar Saturday, Penn tells MMAWeekly.com that he might consider another, proper run at the welterweight title. “I think a fighter has to stay true to himself and what his goals and accomplishments are, what really motivates him,” he said. “…I really wouldn’t mind being the welterweight champion again.”
Previously, Penn’s conditioning didn’t match his ambitions: he showed up underweight and overmatched for the Hughes and St. Pierre sequels. What he needs is quality weight, not the garbage pounds he piled on during a run in Japan. Mackie Shilstone, who stuffed Michael Spinks with 4,000 calories a day and successfully helped him challenge for Larry Holmes’ heavyweight title, met with Penn once; he’s now hooked up with notorious fitness guru Marv Marinovich, who has fueled Penn’s long-distance efforts at 155 over the past two years. (Marv and his brother Gary, Penn told ESPN the Magazine, “turned me back into a 22-year-old.”)
Even with a perfect program, Penn is unlikely to ever match St. Pierre’s sheer physicality in the cage. But that does not make him the inferior fighter. Performance is relative to environment. Penn finishes fights; St. Pierre does not. Penn moves up; St. Pierre remains stationary. Penn pursues the best; Silva says he can’t fight his friends. The best fighter in the world competes Saturday, and his name is B.J. Penn.