Former lightweight champion B.J. Penn stated on UFC Tonight that he is “warming up to the idea” of a UFC return. While he was vague as to whether or not it will become a reality, UFC President Dana White has been persistant in his efforts to bring “The Prodigy” back to the octagon.
When Jay Glazer asked the Hilo’s favorite son which division he would be competing in, Penn was non-committal but did say “I can see myself at lightweight again.” Absent from the division since 2010, the lightweight landscape has certainly changed at the top. Looking at the division, several promising match-ups appear for the Hawaiian, whether the fights are winnable is altogether different story.
Top Lightweights in The UFC:
Benson Henderson: While Penn lorded over the UFC lightweight division, Benson Henderson had just come up on a run as WEC champion. The two athletes actually trained together leading up to Penn’s UFC 107 bout with Diego Sanchez. Henderson admitted to finding “The Prodigy” incredibly difficult to takedown, but was able to hold his own with the world-class fighter. Henderson has proven himself to be world-class and more with a string of impressive UFC victories. The fact remains that was then, this is now and few men can fight with the intensity of Benson Henderson. While it’s not necessarily a bad match-up for Penn, it’s certainly not an easy one.
Frankie Edgar: The man who sent “The Prodigy” back to the welterweight division is still hovering around the lightweight title, fighting closely enough with the new champion to earn an immediate rematch. While many, myself included, feel that Penn was robbed of a decision in their first meeting at UFC 112, it was closely contested. Then came the immediate rematch; “The Answer” absolutely thrashed the former champion over five rounds, soundly taking a lopsided decision. While a third match-up between the two would be a big draw, it doesn’t make much sense at this point.
Nate Diaz: Given the events of UFC 137, where Nate’s elder brother, Nick, beat the tar out of Penn, it’s hard to imagine this being a favorable match-up for the former champion. As impossible as it may seem, Nate is even more aggressive than his brother and strikes in even greater volume. Given Penn’s inability to deal with Nick’s offense, it shouldn’t be surprising that Nate’s overwhelming volume of punches may just be too much for the former champion
Grey Maynard: Penn has done historically well against wrestlers at lightweight and while Maynard has very powerful hands, Penn has been hurt on the feel a grand total of once in his MMA career. Penn’s troubles against wrestlers at welterweight have predominantly come against larger men with an explosive first step. Maynard, true to his “Bully” moniker, has a wrestling game is based heavily on strength and technique as opposed to explosiveness. I see this being one of the more favorable match-ups for Penn at the top.
Clay Guida: Guida’s upcoming bout with Grey Maynard should tell us where he stands right now, but given his history with top opposition, I don’t see him winning. I can’t think of a worse match-up for Guida than Penn. While it may be a sellable fight, perhaps even make for an exciting main event on Fox, this fight just seems like an easy win for “the Prodigy”.
Anthony Pettis: After emphatically rebounding from a loss to Guida in his promotional debut, Pettis finds himself in the title hunt once again. Pettis’ varied arsenal of strikes proves as possibly the best litmus test for what Penn has to offer today’s lightweight division. With Pettis having shown improved offensive wrestling and extremely slick jiu jitsu, a clash of styles between “Showtime” and the Hawaiian should prove to be extremely interesting. Penn’s boxing and head movement are excellent, as far as MMA goes, but he rarely checks leg kicks, which Pettis throws in spades. Pettis is also blessed with the ability to attack from all angles using nearly every appendage on his body. This is legitimately the most interesting match-up at this point, hopefully one MMA fans are treated to if Penn does indeed return.
While it remains to be seen whether or not the B.J. does come back to fighting, there is certainly no shortage of new opposition for the former lightweight kingpin to face. Whether Penn can regain glory, depends on what happens in the cage. To be honest, would anyone be surprised if Penn received a title shot behind one solid victory at 155lb.? That is the most realistic scenario if Penn does plan on making a trek back to the gold. At the very least, Penn adds even more depth to the absolute best division in MMA, watching Penn fight even one more time would be a treat for almost any MMA fan. Hopefully it becomes a reality and not just something the Hawaiian felt pressured into saying.