BJ Penn's top five UFC fightsBen Blackmore February 28, 2011
1. Matt Hughes - UFC 46
Calm, calculated, and quite simply: BJ Penn. The Prodigy from Hawaii was never supposed to beat the reigning welterweight champion. Hughes had smashed a gaping hole in the 170lb division, winning 13 in a row including six in the UFC. His wrestling was suffocating, his ground-and-pound destructive, and his jiu-jitsu supremely under-rated at the time. Penn was a natural lightweight making his return to the UFC after drawing with Cael Uno in his previous Octagon appearance. From the opening klaxon Penn's hands were faster, concerning Hughes enough to open the chance of a takedown. Now on top and in Hughes' guard, Penn was about to show the world how exceptionally talented he is in the art of jiu-jitsu. Working methodically, guard turned to half guard, which almost became side control. Hughes was working overtime to keep his opponent at bay, so much so that he failed to defend a huge right hand from a now-upright Penn. It was the beginning of the end, Penn pouncing to take Hughes' back, locking on a rear naked choke with 23 seconds remaining to chop down a giant. Not only the greatest fight in Penn's career, but one of the greatest moments in the UFC full stop.
2. Caol Uno - UFC 34
If the Hughes win was considered and methodical, Penn's victory over Caol Uno was the exact opposite - from start to finish. Making only the third appearance of his UFC career, a 23-year-old Penn came sprinting out of the dressing room, clearly keen to build on victories over Joey Gilbert and Din Thomas. Uno, making his 23rd career appearance, clearly felt he needed to put the cocky Hawaiian in his box early. Reacting to the opening bell, the Japanese star came rushing across the Octagon, aiming a wild flying knee wide of its target. Penn simply stepped aside and, far from being intimidated by the fast start, he responded in devastating fashion. Wasting no time in pressing forward, the Prodigy's first strike switched off Uno's senses, crumpling him against the cage in 11 seconds. The follow-up strikes were accurate and punishing, although largely unnecessary, but they were the strikes of a man who wanted to leave a lasting impression. Clearly psyched, Penn then exited as he had entered, sprinting back to the changing room to complete the job. The pair would meet again later in their careers for the lightweight title, with the bout this time ending in a draw.
3. Joe Stevenson - UFC 80
As memorable for the bloodied, battered image of Joe Stevenson as the awesome performance of Penn, this was the night that he finally got his hands on the UFC lightweight title. Upgraded to a championship fight after Sean Sherk was banned for a failed drugs test, Penn was fighting for the 155lb gold for the third time in his career. Having already held the welterweight strap, this was his chance to join Randy Couture as one of only two men to have won titles in separate weight divisions. Stevenson was a game competitor, but he barely stood a chance as Penn lit up Newcastle's Metro Arena. The opening right hand of the fight floored Stevenson, who then spent the rest of the round on his back fending off Penn's advances. Then came the shattering elbow, carving Stevenson's forehead wide open, leaving him to return to his corner covered in claret. He came out fighting in the second, but Penn's hands were quicker and more deadly, opening the cut again to force a doctor's intervention. The fight was allowed to continue, so Penn began raining down blows to the face of a clearly beaten Stevenson, who gave up his back four minutes into round two to allow Penn to claim the lightweight title in the same manner he won the welterweight crown: Via rear naked choke.
4. Kenny Florian - UFC 101
If Penn's victory over Stevenson was the rubber-stamping of his lightweight legacy, the taking apart of Kenny Florian was a crucial part of maintaining it. Following defeat to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 94, Penn the prodigy had suddenly become Penn the penetrable. Absolutely exhausted and destroyed by St-Pierre's superior clinch work and takedown offence, Penn suffered much more than just a defeat against the welterweight champion. The fact that he quit between rounds told its own story, so the inevitable questions over his wrestling and stamina were there when he returned at lightweight to defend his belt against Florian. "Ken-Flo" tried to follow the blueprint too, clinching against the cage at every opportunity, but he simply could not force Penn to the mat. No lightweight had done so in the five previous years, and Florian wasn't about to be the first. Penn paced himself, then picked his moment to attack in the fourth round, locking on his favoured rear naked choke to confirm his status as the undisputed lightweight king.
5. Diego Sanchez - UFC 107
The cut on Stevenson's head was messy, but the wound opened up on Diego Sanchez was the stuff of horror movies. Penn spent weeks in the build-up to the fight listening to trash talk from Sanchez, who accused the Prodigy of being scared, of not having the heart of a fighter. "Meet me in the middle" was the taunt of the Nightmare. Penn stayed quiet, unerringly confident, and within 30 seconds of the opening bell he had met Sanchez in the middle, with devastating results. Sanchez instantly hit the deck, before taking the kind of hammer blows that Brock Lesnar used to finish Randy Couture. To his credit Sanchez fought on, and on, and on. Rarely has a fighter taken more punishment as Penn utilised his pin-point right hand, his dirty boxing, and his exceptional takedown defence. On 27 occasions Sanchez looked for the takedown, on 27 occasions he was sent packing. He looked like he might at least escape with the dignity of lasting the distance as the fifth round started, but then came a head kick from Penn that split his opponent's forehead wide open. Sporting a broken nose, a severely split lip and now a rearranged forehead, Sanchez was stopped on medical advice. Penn had met him in the middle.