B.J. Penn will turn 34 on Thursday. The man who is nicknamed "Prodigy" and "Baby Jay" is up against his mid-30s. In his loss to Rory MacDonald, he looked downright ... old.
Gone was the man who frantically paced while waiting to fight Diego Sanchez before the fifth round of their championship bout. The Penn who choked out Kenny Florian and Joe Stevenson and Jens Pulver was nowhere to be found. The "Prodigy" who burst onto the MMA scene in 2001 by with three straight knockout wins was not in the Octagon.
Instead, it was a Penn who looked overmatched and small next to the young and strong MacDonald, who represents the next wave of MMA. Unlike most of the fighters in the UFC, MacDonald didn't start with one discipline -- like wrestling, jiu-jitsu or kickboxing -- and then add in others to try MMA. MacDonald trained in mixed martial arts since he was 14. MacDonald looked like the next big thing. Penn looked like an also-ran.
But this is the way things go in combat sports. Fighters always think they have one more win in them. Heading into Saturday night, Penn was 1-3-1 in his last five bouts. Still, fighters are convinced they're just one good punch away from staging a comeback. Against MacDonald, if that was true, Penn couldn't find that punch.
Penn, a legend in MMA whose first fight was at UFC 31 in 2001, had no answers for MacDonald. Penn was wobbled by a left late in the first round. He survived just to take such a beating in the second round that the fight doctor came in between the second and third to check and see if Penn could continue.
In the third round, MacDonald continued to land strikes, but added taunting to his arsenal. He dropped his hands and made faces at Penn, which the crowd in Seattle didn't appreciate. After the bout, MacDonald said he Penn was his hero, but he had to treat him like every opponent.
"Like I said to BJ after the fight, he was the one guy I really really looked up to growing up. He's a hero to me," MacDonald said to UFC commentator Joe Rogan.
During the post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White said he would like to see Penn retire. After his showing on Saturday night, it's likely White isn't alone in these wishes. While Penn's had a rough showing of late, the disappointing end to his career doesn't take away what he did throughout it. If, like all legends, he fades away, his career will be remembered for the brilliance at its height, not the fizzling at the end.
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