MacDonald's challenge lures Penn out of short-lived retirement
B.J. Penn, who retired last October, will likely fight Rory MacDonald at UFC 152
Penn was challenged by Josh Koscheck but preferred the 22-year-old MacDonald
Dana White has wanted Penn to return, though he's just 1-3-1 his last five fights
"UFC just offered me to fight BJ Penn... I said YES!!!!! Just waiting on him!!!!!! Let's scrap bra?"
That was Josh Koscheck taking to Twitter three weeks ago with every ounce of enthusiasm in him to try to lure the former lightweight and welterweight champion out of retirement. No such luck. Within hours Penn, who had called it quits last October after getting beat up by Nick Diaz, issued this firm, if playful, response via the ubiquitous online source of All The News That Fits In 140 Characters: "I know it costs a lot of money to live that lavish lifestyle, big house, fast cars & you need big fights but sorry I'm not coming back anytime soon!"
Well, BJ sure has an interesting concept of "not coming back anytime soon." This week the 33-year-old announced that he will indeed come back, accepting the challenge not of Kos but of a different welterweight. "Rory, I accept your challenge!" Penn wrote on his website, BJPenn.com, on Wednesday. That was a couple of days after rising star Rory MacDonald had appeared on the MMA Fighting online radio show The MMA Hour and said of him, "I'd love the opportunity to fight a guy I've looked up to for a long time and watched since I've been a young kid."
Aw. Who could resist falling in love with such a heartfelt call-out? Well, Koscheck could. You can almost hear him stomping around that big house of his in northern California, screaming and waving a mortgage bill in the air. He probably wishes he was as witty as Diaz and had come up with something as memorably enticing as "Don't be scared, homie."
Is that what's going on here, though? Is this a case of Penn ducking Koscheck? Is he afraid? Or was he simply perturbed that the former welterweight challenger, in his tweeted calling out, had used nearly 10 percent of the allowed 140 characters on exclamation points? Then again, maybe BJ was offended that Kos had referred to him as a women's undergarment ("Let's scrap bra?").
Penn eventually did explain himself, going on his website's Just Scrap Radio show and saying it wasn't so much MacDonald (13-1) as the young fighter's pedigree that enticed him to put off his future occupation of Hawaiian beach bum for a while. The 22-year-old trains at Tri-Star Gym, the same Montreal facility that is home to Georges St-Pierre. And Penn apparently is still not over his two losses to GSP, especially the second one, back in 2009. That was when the welterweight champion battered him for four rounds before BJ's cornermen threw in the towel and took their fighter to the hospital. "My last fight against Tri-Star didn't go so well," he said, "so I would love to take another crack at Tri-Star to show them."
This is where BJ Penn (16-8) is these days as a fighter and a human being. He's no longer chasing title shots. He's chasing demons. And while Josh Koscheck can be as devilish as they come, he has nothing to offer Penn's psyche. A win over Kos would be a win over someone who's barely backed up his bluster in recent fights, losing to Johny Hendricks last month, taking a slim, disputed decision from Mike Pierce earlier this year, and last September knocking out the mummy of Matt Hughes, a guy Penn had taken out in 21 seconds.
A victory over MacDonald, on the other hand, would be Shangri-La for Penn, a sign of enduring reinvigoration, the old king of the jungle taking a bite out of the young lion. Rory MacDonald is a more dangerous and difficult opponent for Penn than Josh Koscheck would have been. And yet it's the right fight.
The UFC hasn't weighed in yet, but expect Penn vs. MacDonald to go down Sept. 22 in Toronto at UFC 152.
Dana White & Co. have been seeking Penn's return ever since he walked away from the octagon last fall. Initially, BJ said a couple of weeks ago on Spike's MMA Uncensored Live, he was offered a fight with Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez. But apparently Penn doesn't feel the same way about the Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu camp -- home of Melendez and Diaz -- as he does about Tri-Star, because he declined.
Then it was Koscheck's turn to bait Penn, and the UFC had a hand in that, too. Kos, while a guest on the Spike TV show last week, said the behemoth fight company that pays his bills asked him to "stir something up" with BJ, to which host Craig Carton wisecracked, "When the UFC asks you to stir something up, I bet they don't have to ask twice." And Kos just flashed his mischievous smile.
Even the MacDonald challenge, as heartfelt and organic as it seemed to be, had the UFC's fingerprints all over it. Rory's trainer, Firas Zahari, told The MMA Show with Mauro Ranallo the other day that the UFC had "suggested" the fight to MacDonald behind the scenes before he publicly asked for it.
That's not to imply that MacDonald was being insincere. He clearly has thought about what lies ahead in his career and what opportunities might not be there forever. "I know I'm going to fight all these guys in the top 10 eventually," he said. "I'm a young guy, and these guys are going to be around for a long time. And I know I'm going to get my shot against all these guys, and maybe I'll be missing my opportunity if I wait too long with BJ."
Of course, the Penn he'll fight this fall isn't the Penn longtime fans remember. Since the beginning of 2010, BJ is just 1-3-1. However, the losses were against Diaz and former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar (twice), and he owns a draw against the tough Jon Fitch. So he's been in with some of the best.
Even so, BJ is not the same explosive fighter who emerged on the scene in 2001 at UFC 31. MacDonald surely couldn't have handled him back then, since, um, Rory was not yet 12 at the time. Then again, MacDonald has been fighting as a pro since he was 16, and other than a late TKO loss to interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit in a bout that Rory was leading, he's crushed everyone he's faced. He's not faced the relentless line of top-shelf competition that BJ has, though.
For that reason, Penn believes MacDonald is biting off more than he can chew. While acknowledging Rory as "a great challenge and a great test," he reiterated that he has something to prove to Tri-Star. "I want to show them, I want to show the world that you're not going to just walk in and kick my butt for four rounds," said Penn. "No way. You're going to the hospital, too. If I go to the hospital, you're going to the hospital, too."
That might be so, BJ. But based on what we've seen of MacDonald, a likely scenario if both fighters end up in a hospital is that Rory will be paying respects at the bedside of a battered Penn, bearing a get-well bouquet. Then again, this is BJ Penn we're talking about. Forever known as "The Prodigy," and now a Faded Legend with perhaps one final act of prodigiousness left in him.
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