‘The Prodigy’ Timeline: A Look Back At The Legendary Career Of BJ Penn


Future Hall of Famer and former two-weight class UFC champion fought the final chapter of his storied career last night (July 6, 2014), and unfortunately for ‘The Prodigy,’ it did not go according to plan. The sad scenes following the ugly TKO loss to Frankie Edgar were not akin to the usually fiery Hawaiian slugfests, but were that of a warrior going out on his shield.

An illustrious  13-year career for Penn was started way back in 2001, where a 22-year old black belt under Andre Pederneiras debuted against Joey Gilbert at UFC 31 in Atlantic City . A first round TKO win for Penn led him to fights with Din Thomas and Caol Uno at UFC 32 and 34, respectively, which would both end with the same result.

In just his fourth professional bout, Penn faced the first-ever UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver, who looked to make his second consecutive defense of the belt. It proved to be too much too soon for the young kid from Kailua, as he lost a majority decision to ‘Lil Evil’. But it was clear even at this point that Penn had a very bright future ahead of him.

Penn went 5-1-1 in the UFC before taking a fight in K-1 ROTR, beating future Pride star Takanori Gomi by submission. Back to the UFC and ‘The Prodigy’ won his first title, beating Hall of Famer Matt Hughes by submission at UFC 46, winning the welterweight belt in the process. Signing once again to fight with K-1, Penn was stripped of the 170-pound strap.

Wins over Duane Ludwig, Rodrigo Gracie and Renzo Gracie made the UFC realize the error of their ways and they once again signed Penn to the promotion, now touting a 10-2-1 record. BJ then experienced back-to-back losses against Georges St-Pierre and Matt Hughes as a welterweight, sending him back to lightweight where he would defeat his old foe Jens Pulver by submission at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 5 finals.

Then in 2008, Penn won the vacated lightweight strap against Joe Stevenson, and unified it against the former champ Sean Sherk with a now legendary flying knee at UFC 84. The win makes Penn the second ever two-weight UFC champ. Another attempt to win the welterweight title from new champion GSP was unfruitful at UFC 94, but Penn would go on to defend his lightweight strap twice more against Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian. Here is where Penn’s championship days ended, and the inevitable end began.

Frankie Edgar, the man who retired BJ Penn last night, ironically began the slide that led to their third and final meeting. ‘The Answer’ shocked the world at UFC 112 by taking the lightweight championship from Penn in a close decision, and again by defending the belt at UFC 118 against ‘The Prodigy’. Penn’s last win as a pro came against Matt Hughes in their rubber match, in the form of a swift KO at UFC 123.

A draw against Jon Fitch led to a brawl against Nick Diaz at UFC 137, where Penn showed his trademark grit, but lost a one-sided decision. It seemed age was catching up with Penn, as he laid dormant for over a year, before returning to fight Rory MacDonald in December 2012. Penn’s chin and heart held up, but he was no match for the younger ‘Psycho’. All the accomplishments and raw talent of the old days were becoming a nostalgic memory for BJ.

Nearly two years off before last night’s TUF 19 Finale didn’t help Penn’s chances, but it is testament to how brave he is getting back in the octagon. In a cruel twist of pugilistic fate, the place that Penn had made his home as ‘The Prodigy’, and indeed helped build, played host to his brutal exit from the sport. You can’t take away what BJ Penn has done for the sport, and we here at LowKick salute you!

Enjoy a video highlight of Penn’s greatest fights below

  • Thanks for the memories BJ. You got in there with the best for most of your career, even stepping up to fight other division champions and even taking on a LHW when still a LW. People question your heart and motivation but any true fan knows you got heart to do what you've done. Enjoy your retirement now.

  • My favourite fighter of all time! BJ was far from being an athlete; he was just a born fighter. Truly deserved his nickname the Prodigy. Besides MMA, I don't think most fans realize just how impressive his jiu jitsu accomplishments are.
    Enjoy your retirement Champ!