Best & worst of B.J. Penn

B.J. Penn (right) kicks Sean Sherk during their classic bout at UFC 84. (UFC photo)

B.J. Penn (right) kicks Sean Sherk during their classic bout at UFC 84. (UFC photo)

NEIL SPRINGER -- SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 2:52 PM ET

In the short history of mixed martial arts, there has never been a competitor quite like B.J. Penn.

Already a heavily decorated Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt prior to stepping into the octagon, Penn's first fight was practically an event unto itself.

That night at UFC 31, the 30-year-old Hawaiian stopped Joey Gilbert with strikes in the first round, and began what has turned out to be one of the more polarizing legacies in MMA.

In the eyes of his most devoted fans, Penn can do no wrong -- even when logic and reason sometimes dictate otherwise. Those who despise him, on the other hand, will go so far as to ignore his incredible skill and fighting spirit in an attempt to discredit him.

Regardless of where you stand on Penn, he will go down as one of the most naturally gifted competitors the sport has ever seen.

Remember, this is a guy who for years didn't train seriously and still reached the top of the UFC mountain. Most fighters in MMA would have to work twice as hard to be half as successful.

The man was born to be a fighter.

Love him or hate him, fans talk about Penn and tune in to see him fight. With this in mind, here is a look at some of the more memorable moments of his career.

THE BEST

4. Penn vs. Joe Stevenson (UFC 80)

In one of the most dominant performances of his career, Penn destroyed Stevenson en route to capturing the then-vacant lightweight title.

Penn landed a hard elbow, opening up a nasty cut on Stevenson's head. Despite the blood gushing from his forehead, Stevenson was allowed to continue the fight. He came out fired-up in the second round, but it wasn't long before Penn put him away with a rear-naked choke.

In a powerful message sent directly to every other lightweight competitor -- though more specifically, Sean Sherk -- Penn licked Stevenson's blood off his own fists following the bout.

3. Penn vs. Caol Uno (UFC 34)

In his third MMA match, Penn was set to face Japanese grappler and top lightweight Caol Uno at UFC 34. The winner would get a shot at division champion Jens Pulver.

Going in, Penn was considered the underdog due to Uno's skill and experience.

In one of the most stunning knockouts in UFC history, Penn unloaded on Uno, rendering him unconscious in 11 seconds.

2. Penn vs. Sean Sherk (UFC 84)

In one of his greatest performances in the octagon, Penn retained his lightweight title against former champion Sherk.

For three rounds, Penn continually slipped his jab past Sherk's defences and used superior head movement to avoid counterstrikes. Takedown attempts by Sherk were immediately brushed off.

As the fight progressed, Sherk received a cut under each eye and his face became swollen and red -- the story of the fight was clearly etched on his face.

Near the end of the third round, Sherk stumbled backwards into the cage. In a desperation move, he attempted a takedown by springing off the fence, only to eat a huge knee to the head.

Penn then unloaded with strikes to put him away.

1. Penn vs. Matt Hughes (UFC 46)

In one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, Penn moved up a weight class to challenge Hughes for the welterweight championship.

At the time, Hughes was riding a 13-fight win streak, with five successful title defenses. He looked unbeatable.

In typical Penn fashion, he took the fight straight to Hughes. With the champion on his back, Penn landed a huge punch to Hughes' midsection. Moments later he sunk in a rear-naked choke to win his first UFC title.

THE WORST

4. Comments following win over Stevenson (UFC 80)

In the lead-up to UFC 80, Penn spent less time talking about Stevenson than he did Sherk, who tested positive for steroids following his UFC 73 victory over Hermes Franca.

Every chance he got, Penn ripped into Sherk for the failed drug test.

With the lightweight title around his waist, Penn yelled, "Sean Sherk: You're dead!" into Joe Rogan's microphone. This brought an angry Sherk into the octagon.

If fans were expecting fireworks, they left disappointed. Penn quickly walked up to Sherk and shook his hand before exiting the cage.

Certain MMA outlets claim Penn tucked his tail between his legs, even speculating he was afraid of the former lightweight champion. However, in the end, he would prove them wrong with the TKO stoppage of Sherk at UFC 84.

3. Walking out of UFC as champion following UFC 46

After his epic title victory over Hughes, Penn found himself without an immediate challenger. K-1 then made him an offer to face Duane Ludwig in Japan.

Penn accepted the fight, but was told by UFC management that he was violating his contract. He went ahead with the bout anyways, submitting Ludwig in under two minutes, but was stripped of his UFC championship.

Penn then attempted to sue Zuffa, parent company to the UFC, for taking away his belt, but lost in court.

Eventually they settled their differences and Penn returned to the octagon against Georges St. Pierre at UFC 58, losing a close split decision.

2. Penn vs. Georges St, Pierre (UFC 94)

Prior to UFC 94, Penn only had four losses to his name -- a majority decision against Pulver, unanimous decision versus Lyoto Machida, the aforementioned split decision in his bout with St. Pierre and a TKO stoppage at the hands of Hughes.

However, each of these bouts were very competitive -- he had never been dominated before. That is, until his rematch with St. Pierre.

Penn, one of the most dangerous competitors in MMA, was completely neutralized at UFC 94. The first round was close enough, but it was downhill from there as St. Pierre wore him out.

It was easily the most disappointing performance of Penn's career and would be number one on this list if it wasn't for...

1. Greasegate

Between rounds at UFC 94, St. Pierre's cornerman, Phil Nurse, could be seen applying Vaseline to the fighter's face and rubbing his neck and shoulders. At the time, cornermen were allowed to apply the substance only to the face of their fighter, nowhere else.

Penn's camp complained during the bout and members of the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) subsequently wiped down St. Pierre's neck and shoulders.

Following the loss, Penn filed a formal complaint with the NSAC against St. Pierre and his camp, alleging they were illegally greasing him up to make him slippery. As a result, he wanted the fight decision to be overturned and declared a no contest.

St. Pierre claimed the neck and shoulder rubbing was a part of a breathing technique that many fighters use between rounds. Still, UFC president Dana White admitted he was furious with Nurse, but cleared St. Pierre of any wrongdoing.

However, this didn't stop Penn from releasing a video accusing St. Pierre's camp of cheating.

In the end, the rules were modified so only cut men can apply Vaseline to a fighter. The NSAC also refused to overturn the decision, which prompted Penn to claim he would never fight in the state of Nevada again.

The incident has no doubt cost Penn some fans and it will be interesting to see what kind of reception he receives at UFC 101 when he defends the lightweight title against Kenny Florian.


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