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Classic Fights: BJ Penn, The Early Days

Going into his UFC 118 title rematch against Frankie Edgar, BJ Penn is carrying a title that he hasn’t had since before UFC 80 — former champion. We’re willing to believe that the Prodigy had an off night in Abu Dhabi, but if he wants his belt back he’ll have to relocate the kind of violent aggression that got him to the top in the first place. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at four of Penn’s early fights that set him up as a star in the UFC, and laid the groundwork for the legend that was to come…

BJ Penn vs. Joey Gilbert, UFC 31, 5/4/01

As the first non-Brazilian to win the black belt division at the Mundials, Penn entered the UFC with a reputation to uphold. But he wasn’t looking to become the next Royce Gracie. Even from the beginning, the Prodigy was a true hybrid fighter, whose grappling and striking worked in tandem. His Octagon debut was against another UFC newbie, Joey Gilbert (1-1 MMA record at the time), and though Gilbert showed impressive ground defense in neutralizing Penn’s attacks and positions, Penn was finally able to flatten Gilbert out on his stomach and whale him in the head until the ref stopped the fight with three seconds left of the first round. It looked like there might be something to this BJ Penn kid after all.

BJ Penn vs. Din Thomas, UFC 32, 6/29/01

Penn returned to action just eight weeks later to take on another fighter who was making his UFC debut. But even though Din Thomas was new to the Octagon, he’d already been around the block, compiling a 12-1 record with all victories by stoppage and a notable win over future champ Jens Pulver. Penn plays guard for a while (and shows off his famous leg flexibility at the vid’s 2:13 mark), but once Thomas starts to threaten with ground-and-pound, Penn escapes to his feet and turns Din off with a perfectly-placed knee to the jaw. The Prodigy was no fluke, and the UFC’s fledgling lightweight division was officially on notice.

BJ Penn vs. Caol Uno, UFC 34, 11/2/01

Another fight, another step up in competition. Caol Uno (15-4-2 at the time) was the reigning 154-pound boss of Shooto, and unquestionably one of Japan’s greatest MMA fighters. After losing his first UFC title fight to Jens Pulver at UFC 30, he rebounded with a quick TKO against Fabiano Iha and tried to make it two in a row against the young Hawaiian rising star. Things didn’t go according to plan. Uno starts things on a high note with a flying kick, but Penn keeps his cool, stalks Uno down and hammers him with uppercuts until Larry Landless rushes in to save Uno’s life at the 11-second mark. Penn is out of the arena before Uno can get to his feet. Two years later, Penn and Uno had a rematch for the lightweight title, which Pulver vacated in March 2002; the match was ruled a split-draw after five rounds and the title remained vacant for three-and-a-half years.

BJ Penn vs. Paul Creighton, UFC 37, 5/10/02

Penn experienced his first bit of career adversity at UFC 35, when he lost a majority decision to Jens Pulver in his first title fight. Four months later, he was back in the cage for a tune-up against Paul Creighton, a 2-0 prospect who came from a jiu-jitsu and wrestling background and was making his UFC debut. Creighton is a game opponent who turns the bout into a grappling match and repeatedly puts Penn on his back. But three minutes into the second frame, Penn scores mount, and once again, he ends it with his hands. The jiu-jitsu phenom wouldn’t score his first victory by submission in the UFC until his ninth pro fight, choking out Matt Hughes at UFC 46 to win the welterweight title.

Cagepotato Comments

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ghostboner- August 24, 2010 at 10:32 pm
Who gettin banned? Not Ghee ugh tein! I remember someone saying their comment was deleted but I didn't think CP was stooping to the ball peen ban hammer. That doesn't bode well.

I think we will see the motivated B.J. come for this one. I'm sure the smack talk on Frankie is bullshit but I think he really wants that belt back.
mtnthc- August 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm
Potato head or cabbage patch, you be the judge
ThrashingMad- August 24, 2010 at 12:20 pm
hmm, so I guess in the early days of the UFC every ref was either Big John McCarthy or someone who looked exactly like Big John McCarthy.
shitbag- August 24, 2010 at 10:47 am
BJ is done. I said this before the KenFlo fight and he made me look like a dumbass. Well BJ, the balls in your court again. Obviously BJ Penn listens to me.
ReX13- August 24, 2010 at 10:46 am
Gill >> Nope, my whole weekend is actually pretty busy. Um, how's the weekend of the 18th look on your calendar?
DazedNConfused- August 24, 2010 at 10:36 am
BJ is so naturally talented. Just makes me mad sometimes when he comes in out of shape or not prepared. The motherfucker could wreck people on a monthly basis if he stopped smoking the cheeb and got into the gym (then again I'm not one to talk about that har har har)
DazedNConfused- August 24, 2010 at 10:35 am
Great post.
This is the kinda stuff I like to see, not articles about Dan Quinn.
GILL-uh-TEEN- August 24, 2010 at 10:16 am
@Rex... I didn't want to out you in front of CP Army, but since the word is out... are you free for a little scrubbing this Saturday?
Viva Hate- August 24, 2010 at 10:12 am
Did you mean Bottle Washer or Ball Washer? Just checkin

Oh and congrats!
RwilsonR- August 24, 2010 at 10:11 am
Oh... and since the topic is BJ Penn - I really hope that fucker loses convincingly this time! I hope he comes in fat and out of shape, and that Frankie makes his lazy ass quit in the later rounds. There is something about him that just makes me want to see him horribly embarrassed every time he steps in the octagon. Make it happen Frankie!!!
RwilsonR- August 24, 2010 at 10:07 am
Good to have you back, Gui, but sucks you had to join up with your alter ego Gill. It just doesn't sound right.

The fascists around here have been pretty liberal with the ban hammer lately, it seems. Which is strange, because I thought the Nazis fled to Argentina, not to Canada.

Congrats on the twins.
GILL-uh-TEEN- August 24, 2010 at 9:43 am
@Rex13 Thanks for the congrats. They sleep great so far (I do put them out with a guillotine every night... Belcher is my inspiration).

I emailed them a day or so ago and they haven't responded. I don't expect an explanation or any response for that matter...

As Chief Bottle Washer and Bellator Expert, you probably already have the inside scoop ;)
ReX13- August 24, 2010 at 9:30 am
Gui uh teen >> First, congrats on them babies. Hope you're enjoying sleep dep, especially with effing twins.

Second, if you've caught a ban, follow up with the guys and see if you can get your tag reinstated. It's happened.

GILL-uh-TEEN- August 24, 2010 at 9:23 am
@danomite... it sickens me to go with GILL...
danomite- August 24, 2010 at 9:01 am
I'm sorry, but you think THIS bj might show up at 118? Ummm...this BJ had hair and abs. You might as well ask him to bring those things back too. Also, I should point out that he isn't fighting Paul Creighton's and Joey Gilberts' anymore.

I'm also having doubts that this is the real Gui-uh-teen. The old Gui-uh-teen was very adamant about the correct pronunciation of guillotine and the new one is pronouncing it the way that the other one hated. or maybe he just ran out of ways of typing Gui phonetically.
ytrebil- August 24, 2010 at 8:31 am
That's cruel...

...fancy naming a kid 'Ben'.
GILL-uh-TEEN- August 24, 2010 at 8:26 am
@ytrebil Thanks man. I named them Ben and Asshole after the current CP admins.
ytrebil- August 24, 2010 at 8:23 am
Congrats on the littluns Gilly.
ytrebil- August 24, 2010 at 8:22 am
Ahhh El Burrrrr. I don’t know about that. I’m not particularly ‘down’ with the guidos and US wiggers, but chavs are vile human beings. There’s definitely a sliding scale for ‘chavness’.

They enjoy spitting, swearing, abusing people for no reason, drinking cheap alcohol, wearing fake clothes, listening to drum 'n' bass, throwing bottles of pi$$ at festivals, having an extremely low IQ, thieving, breeding at a young age and just generally acting like a bunch of c***s.
GILL-uh-TEEN- August 24, 2010 at 8:21 am
You might want to reserve El Infamous Burrito... the power hungry banners could get you next! ;)
GILL-uh-TEEN- August 24, 2010 at 8:20 am
No idea man. I hadn't been commenting for awhile (wife just had twins), and I come back to a ban...
DaltonSwayze- August 24, 2010 at 8:19 am

knucklesamitch Says:
Tue, 08/24/2010 - 08:01

I get to the bah for UFC fights wicked early (around 8:30)...I eat and drink up until about 10:00...Then I maybe have 1-2 more beeahs from 10-1, and I have no problem making the 25min trip back home. The place usually has wicked awesome specials...It costs me about $45 for a burgah, enough beeah to enjoy myself but not get arrested and the fights are included. At home it's $55 for the PPV in HD, plus I still need to buy beeah and order a pie.

Pretty good, but you should've said "head to the packie" instead of "buy beeah".
El Famous Burrito- August 24, 2010 at 8:16 am

Another victim of the banhammer? What gives? Did you say something bad about Rush?
El Famous Burrito- August 24, 2010 at 8:15 am

LOL. That's pretty damn good!


I'll save people the trouble. Chavs are like a cross between wiggers and guidos with a funny British accent.
GILL-uh-TEEN- August 24, 2010 at 8:11 am
It's GUI- uh-TEEN. I haven't been on here in awhile, but BG or MR blocked me. WTH?