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BJ Penn and Staying in the Game Too Long

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COMMENTARY | BJ Penn is one of mixed martial arts' greatest fighters. "The Prodigy" has victories over legends of the sport like Matt Hughes and Takanori Gomi. He was a dominant champion in the lightweight division, and is in rare company as one of only two multi-division UFC champions.

After a brutal beating by Rory MacDonald, it appeared Penn (16-9-1) was ready to hang it up for good. Now he's joining the long list of fighters who've stayed in the game too long.

There's always been a perception in MMA that a motivated BJ Penn was unstoppable. Regardless of the veracity of that statement years ago, it no longer holds true. If there were a time he could have evolved as a fighter, it was after the first or second fight with Frankie Edgar, not the upcoming third bout.

In a recent interview, Penn seemed out of touch about what a win in a third match would do for his legacy: "All I know is he's the one thing standing in the way of everybody saying that BJ Penn was the greatest lightweight fighter ever." Penn's already the most decorated 155 pound fighter in UFC history, and his legacy is pretty much set in stone.

He was the best lightweight in the world for a long time, before and after there was an established hierarchy in the UFC. He had varied levels of success at 170 pounds, with highs like winning the title, and lows like losing more fights than he won.

To use an analogy from the most well regarded measurement of success in all of sports, the MLB Hall of Fame, Penn is a Hall of Famer, but not on the first ballot. Those spots would be reserved for Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and Fedor Emelianenko.

There's a case to be made that Penn was a victim of the UFCs lack of a lightweight division during a time when he would have been the best lightweight in the world, and that he does deserve to be mentioned in that rare company. There's also a case to be made that he lost too many fights, and wasn't a consistent enough fighter to be placed amongst the best.

Regardless of one's take on Penn, and where his career should be placed amongst the best of all time, a win against Edgar won't change any of this.

There are many sad images of fighters hanging on too long, whether it is Muhammad Ali against Larry Holmes or Chuck Liddell's last UFC fights. Here's hoping BJ Penn isn't the next great fighter to join that long list. His legacy is intact, and he doesn't need to be chasing something he can't catch.

Joe Napoli has been following MMA since the Dark Ages. Twitter: @JoeJNapoli LinkedIN: Profile

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