MIXED MARTIAL ARTS
‘Prodigy’ has 1 more shot at relevance
STORY SUMMARY »
If BJ Penn is going to regain his status as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, he must be victorious tonight.
"The Prodigy" fights at 155 pounds for the first time in four years when he takes on Jens Pulver today in the main event of the Ultimate Fighter 5 Finale Show in Las Vegas.
Penn enters the fight on a two-fight losing streak while Pulver was shocked by Joe Lauzon in a knockout loss last year.
With both of their UFC careers at a standstill, they were picked as coaches for the most recent season of the popular reality show that pitted 16 lightweights trying to earn a six-figure UFC contract.
The show just finished airing with Manny Gamburyan and Nathan Diaz fighting in the final. Also competing in the event is University of Hawaii graduate Andy Wang.
Penn is a former UFC welterweight champion, but after returning from a 26-month absence from the organization, has lost twice.
Penn is 11-4-1, while Pulver sports a 21-7-1 record.
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As impressive as BJ Penn's history of accomplishments is, none of it matters now.
Sure, he is a former UFC welterweight champion.
Yeah, after practicing jiu-jitsu for only three years, he became the first non-Brazilian to win the gold medal in the black-belt division of the Mundial World Championships.
Fans that preceded the free television debut of the UFC still regard Penn as one of the most talented fighters in the sport's young history.
But for the majority of mixed martial arts fans who have only gotten into the sport during its recent boom into the mainstream culture, Penn is just another fighter who lost a razor-thin decision to former welterweight champion Georges St.-Pierre and was punched repeatedly in the head with his arms tied behind his back in a TKO defeat to Matt Hughes.
"The Prodigy" has one last chance to prove his status as one of the sport's elite when he takes on former lightweight champion Jens Pulver today in the Ultimate Fighter 5 Finale at the Pearl Concert Theater at Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. The event begins at 12:30 p.m. Hawaii time, with the television broadcast beginning at 3 p.m. on Spike (Ch. 76, Dig. 559).
"I definitely gotta win this fight," Penn said. "Let's face it. You can't be losing three fights. There are no playing games. I'm going to crush him."
The two shared plenty of tense moments serving as coaches during the Ultimate Fighter reality series. Nathan Diaz and Manny Gamburyan, both members of Team Pulver during the show, are the two finalists from the show and will fight for a six-figure contract with the UFC.
Diaz defeated Grey Maynard in the semifinals by submission in the second round with a guillotine choke, while Gamburyan defeated Joe Lauzon by unanimous decision in a fight many considered an upset. Lauzon had knocked out Pulver in a fight just before the show was taped.
"I had a feeling Nate was going to make it all the way," Penn said. "Manny was tough, too. In the end, I was bummed out no Team Penn guys made it to the finals. They deserved it sticking it out there for six weeks."
This fight marks the first time Penn has fought as a lightweight in the UFC since fighting to a draw with Caol Uno over four years ago. Questions about his cardio have come up after his recent two defeats, but Penn is already walking around at 160 pounds and says he's not fooling around anymore.
"I have been running more than ever before in training hard for this fight," he said. "Like I said, I can't afford to lose again."
The fight is a classic matchup of grappler vs. boxer as Penn's ground game is well noted, while Pulver is known for his devastating knockout ability on his feet.
After starting his UFC career with a draw, Pulver racked up six consecutive wins before leaving the UFC to fight for Pride in Japan. The UFC dropped its lightweight division for more than three years before the revitalization of the division as evident by the reality show, which featured only lightweights.
"It's the fastest, most exciting division out there," said Pulver while in Hawaii for an Icon Sport show a few months back. "I'm starting from scratch for this fight and I'm going to fight like I have nothing to lose, because I don't."
Roger Huerta, who graced the cover of Sports Illustrated a month ago, will also be in action, as will University of Hawaii graduate Andy Wang, who was a contestant on the show until losing a two-round decision to Brandon Melendez. His fight is not guaranteed to be shown on the television broadcast.