This article is a small part of an ongoing effort by The MMA UnderGround to understand what really works. The focus is not on what happens in the arena, but rather, what happens on the street. If you liked it, check out more stories on:
1. Martial Arts on The Street
2. Dojo Storms
3. Style vs. Style
BJ Penn is one of the greatest fighters in mixed martial arts history.
In 1997 he began learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Ralph Gracie, and in 2000 received his black belt from Nova União founder André Pederneiras. It was believed to be the quickest promotion to black belt in history. Any doubts that it was too fast were erased when just three weeks later Penn won his division at the Mundials (world jiu-jitsu championship) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, becoming the first non-Brazilian to do so. Penn had already won bronze at brown belt in 1999, and silver at blue belt in 1998.
And he was greater still at MMA, a sport where he fought at Featherweight, Lightweight, Welterweight, Middleweight, and Heavyweight/Openweight. Penn, a UFC Hall of Famer, is one of only seven people to hold UFC belts in two weight divisions.
UFC president Dana White says "The Prodigy" is the figure who popularized the lighter divisions in the league.
"[Penn was] the first crossover pay-per-view star for the Ultimate Fighting Championship's lighter weight divisions," said White, adding "[through his] accomplishments, B.J. Penn built the 155-pound division."
And B.J. Penn has had some issues. He fought far longer than he should have, competing eight times without a single win across a span of nearly a decade. He was finally released by the UFC after the below incident.
"He won't fight again, that's it," said UFC president Dana White to ESPN. "That's a wrap. It's not even that this was the last straw. I didn't love him continuing to fight anyway, but with the relationship that he and I have - he gets me on the phone, begging me for another fight. It's hard to turn him down. After what I saw in that video, B.J. needs to, you know, he needs to focus on his personal life before he thinks about fighting."
The popular narrative is simple - B.J. Penn fought with a guy (named Kimo), outside a bar (called the the Lava Shack, on the Big Island of Hawai'i), and got KTFO (Knocked The F@$% Out). That's all true. And too, it's more complex than that.
For one thing, it is far less well known that Penn then came off the floor and flattened Big Kimo decisively.
For another thing, the random-guy-crushes-B.J. story ignores a fact about Hawai'i. I have worked in combat sports in over 20 US states and over 30 countries, and nowhere is there even remotely close to as many skilled fighters as Hawai'i. The average guy has some background in boxing, or MMA, or Jiu-Jitsu, or scrapping. You can bet bottom dollar Kimo does too.
If you watch Penn before he gets knocked out, he is trying to corral Kimo, but not strike him. He even invites Kimo to punch him again; Kimo obliges.
Penn conceded that he had been drinking, and detailed what happened from his perspective in an interview with TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter.
“I’m at a concert going to meet a friend that I’ve known since we were really young kids and I’m over there and an acquaintance of mine, he gets mad about something," said Penn of Kimo. "You know something was said or it was an old past thing and then he wants to fight about it.”
“I was like, ‘No, no, I don’t want to fight, we’re friends, everything is cool.’ He even walks outside and I’m thinking, this is silly I’m going to go get him, calm him down and get him to come back inside and enjoy the concert, we’ve got some other friends there. I walk outside to go give the guy a hug and then he hits me twice and I’m like no, calm down. I try to give him another hug and he hits me a couple more times and he hits me again.”
“Whoever put that video up cut it in half, I wish they had the whole thing that showed me trying to hug the guy. Finally, my adrenaline picked up because he was hitting me so much so I said go ahead and hit me again, really I thought the guy would eventually just say forget it BJ, whatever, walk away, but he hit me and he hit me good and knocked me down and then when I got back up he tried it again and I just had to defend myself and that’s what you see in the second video.”
One could detail mistakes made by B.J. Penn, like, "Never underestimate your opponent." Or the less well-known adage, "Never ask a large man named Kimo to punch you in the face." Or don't wait within close reach of someone who might punch you.
The bottom line though, is that the best self-defense advice ever given is, "avoid places where there are drunk people." And of course, it helps to avoid being drunk yourself, too.
Early in 2021 Penn was arrested and charged with DUI. Video recorded by a bystander shows a drunk, and belligerent Penn in handcuffs, cursing at the police and the man recording. The charges were dropped early in 2022. It is believed that that is not Penn's only DUI.
That's no way to have to remember a legend. So let's close with this; it could be the best walkout of all time.