(Video courtesy YouTube/tjc231/UFC.com)
If you were to ask a room full of MMA fans and reporters if they think that BJ Penn’s best days as a fighter are behind him, many, if not most would say they were, but as The Prodigy told Joe Rogan on the most recent episode of UFC Ultimate Insider, he doesn’t feel that he has reached his full potential and he that with the right training and mindset he will one day be one of the best fighters in the sport.
When asked by Rogan if he would change anything he did during his career, Penn said that he would do it all over again without doing anything differently as he has learned from everything he has done.
"I wouldn’t do anything different. I woulda did it just like that. I wish I could look back and say, ‘I wish how I was gonna train right now for the Matt Hughes fight I trained like this when I was 20 years old,’ but it wouldn’t have worked then," BJ explains. "It wouldn’t have worked that way. You gotta find what works for you. That’s what I believe. I believe once I do [find what works best for me] I’ll be able to hit that peak. We’re just getting started."
For years, a common opinion amongst those who had followed the Hilo, Hawaii fighter’s career was that Penn’s lack of motivation and dedication to conditioning were the limiting factors of his career, so when he teamed up with revered trainers Marv and Gary Marinovich, he seemed to be on his way to becoming the complete fighter he had never become.
The former UFC lightweight champion looked incredible when he was working with the Marinovich’s for his fights with Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez, but Penn inexplicably chose to part ways with them prior to his first fight with Frankie Edgar. Not surprisingly, BJ seemed somewhat lethargic during the heavily debated loss and the subsequent rematch.
He admits that his lack of cardio played a part in the last fight with Edgar, but says that he isn’t doing anything drastic to prepare for his next fight with Matt Hughes at UFC 123 next weekend.
"I tried some stuff in the Frankie Edgar fight. I didn’t defend the takedowns as hard as I wanted to because I wanted to try a couple sweeps, but I didn’t have the conditioning. [It’s] always a wake-up call when you lose because you know you’re going to alter something in your training; something has to change in the training," he says. "I’m going to train pretty traditional. I’m going to do a lot of striking, a lot of grappling and I’m gonna run hard and I’m gonna do everything I need to do."
That’s not to say that he’s taking Hughes lightly.
Penn says that the Iowa native’s ground game is as good as anyone’s and that he wasn’t surprised that he choked out Renzo Gracie black belt Ricardo Almeida in his last fight.
"I think Matt looked good in his last three fights. Almeida came in [and] he thought he was gonna do something at 170 and Matt took him out. Anything Matt Hughes does doesn’t surprise me. Remember when he picked up Frank Trigg and ran him across the cage? Anything he does, it’s just not surprising.
I remember Tony DeSouza [used to get me in the submission Hughes tapped Ricardo with] me all the time," he explains. "It’s a strong position. You let someone like Matt grab you like that and that could be the end of you… [When Hughes had me in the mounted crucifix in the second fight] I thought, ‘I’m gonna get out. I’m gonna get out,’ and then when they stopped the fight, I was like, ‘Yeah, I got out.’ I didn’t realize the fight was over. I was like, ‘Wow, he slipped off the top or something.’"
Surprisingly, he doesn’t think that Hughes has a strength advantage.
"Nobody feels strong when you’re fighting," Penn says. "Everybody feels the same. When you’re in there everyone is going 100 percent so it just kinda feels like one guy got leverage or the position and that’s it, so everybody feels about equal because everybody’s fighting for their life in that place."