Penn’s future is unclear

In mixed martial arts, a fighter's performance is sometimes just as important as the decision.

B.J. Penn got the victory he desired against Renzo Gracie at Friday night's K-1 World Grand Prix event at Aloha Stadium, but it wasn't the dominating performance many people expected. Now the fighter, who was widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world just one year ago, finds himself isolated from the kinds of elite fighters he beat to forge his legend.

He earned his reputation as one of the best fighters in the world after consecutive submission victories over Takanori Gomi and Matt Hughes, but has been on a crusade to fight heavier opponents since. As a result, he's 3-1 at 185 pounds and above and has gone the distance in three of those. Only two of his first nine fights, all at 170 pounds and below, ended in a decision.

"People don't understand that people fought each other before weapons -- this is the most natural thing you do," Penn said. "They didn't have weight classes, and true martial arts is about fighting everyone."

His recent fights have been slower and more methodical, and none have featured the explosive knockout power that made him famous in his first UFC appearances. Near the end of the final round in his fight against Gracie, Penn was able to secure the mount and seemed on the verge of inflicting the first real damaging blows of the fight when the bell sounded.

In the first round, Gracie took down Penn early, but he was never able to inflict much damage while Penn was grounded. The second round saw both fighters stay on their feet, with Penn getting the better end of a few exchanges. Even then, the fight seemed to be going at such a slow pace that there was a smattering of boos from the 12,000 in attendance.

"Of course a knockdown or submission would be great, but as a fighter, you take what is given to you," Penn said.

The UFC has become the standard bearer of mixed martial arts in the U.S., as its popularity has skyrocketed in the last few years. It's now being seen on free television, and buys for pay-per-view events have exceeded 200,000. Fighters like Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and even Hughes have become the face of the sport in the U.S., but not Penn.

After beating Hughes for the welterweight title in January 2004, Penn decided to fight for K-1 four months later, against the UFC's wishes. Not willing to see their champion fight in another promotion, the UFC cut ties with Penn, stripping him of the title, and neither side has spoken to the other since. As a result, while huge with local and hardcore mixed martial arts fans, the newer casual fan may not know much about "The Prodigy".

Penn also has to deal with an upcoming trial after allegedly punching a police officer in May that could affect any future fights. He's been rumored to be close to signing a deal to fight Jeremy Horn, and also has been on record as saying he wants to fight Pride star Wanderlei Silva, but Penn knows anything could happen.

"I have no clue what's going to happen next, but I just want to be involved with as many super fights as I can and I will fight the best fighters in the world," Penn said.

Fortunately for Hawaii fans, those fights could take place in the islands, as K-1 is happy with how Friday's event went and plans to return in the near future.

"For the first time a fight event took place at Aloha Stadium, we're happy with the turnout," said Daisuke Teraguchi, the International Operations Manager for Fighting & Entertainment Group, which is the managing company behind the K-1 corporation.

"We'd absolutely like to come back."

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