UFC Hall of Famer BJ Penn was supposed to return to the Octagon on April 23, 2016, at UFC 197. That was delayed temporarily by a police investigation. Then he was set to return vs. the beatable Dennis Siver on June 4, 2016, at UFC 199. Then Siver was out with an injury, and Cole Miller. Given that one of Miller’s great strengths is Jiu-Jitsu, and Penn is a former world champion, Cole seemed like a fair fight. Then Penn was suspended for a time over use of an IV.
When he returned he was suddenly scheduled to fight the #3 ranked featherweight, Ricardo Lamas. That is a big jump from a durable Dennis Siver, on a two-fight losing streak, who hadn’t fought in a year. And Penn, 38, was not getting younger. Then Penn withdrew with an injury, and the entire show was canceled.
Now Penn fights Yair Rodríguez on Sunday, January 15, 2017, at UFC Fight Night 103. Yair is currently ranked 10th in the division, and undefeated in the UFC having won all five fights in the Octagon. He won fight of the night or performance of the night in three of the last four. It’s a huge step up from Siver, but that’s exactly what Penn wants, as he is intent on a title shot.
“My whole goal right now is to just get that third world title, said Penn to Shaun Al-Shatti for MMA Fighting. “And then we’ll see. If it takes a little while, maybe we walk away. If we get it quick, then maybe we go to 155. I don’t know. I don’t know, but I know … I’m in here to fight and I’m going to win on Sunday, and you’re going to see me again quick after this, for sure.”
Penn is 1-5-1 since 2009, and his previous comebacks were beatendowns. However, the fighter explains that he has changed.
“I’m more disciplined,” said Penn. “Right now I’m 153 pounds and just hanging out. I’ve been walking around for the last two months at 156. I’ve been under 160 all year though, so it’s been good. I like being lean. Man, some people were sending me some old pictures last night, and man, I was heavy. Back in my middleweight days and stuff. But yeah, I’m enjoying it. I’ve enjoyed being in shape this year.”
Getting into the UFC is extraordinarily hard. Staying is way harder, and winning a belt places the champion among the toughest people on Earth. The first person to win two UFC belts was Randy Couture, in 2003. Next year Penn equaled the feat. No one else won UFC belts in two divisions since Conor McGregor, a dozen years later. Now Penn wants to be the first to win belts in three divisions.
“What’s still driving me is I want to just keep getting better,” he said. “I love martial arts. I love everything about it. Definitely, the third title is also 100 percent driving me — getting those three titles in three different weight classes, that would just be an awesome accomplishment for myself, and then I could probably get some sleep at night. That is my driving factor.
“But man, it’s more than that. I just love it. I love fighting. I love the competition. I love the struggle. That’s what it is, man. It’s a struggle, and I love it.”