And so the announcement that no one expected came this past week: that B.J. Penn would return to the UFC to fight a man that he has previously lost to twice inside the Octagon, Frankie “The Answer” Edgar, with the most recent of those losses being fairly conclusive in favor of the New Jersey native.

This announcement is shocking for three main reasons.

First, it was widely expected that Penn would not fight again following his most recent fight against an admittedly larger opponent in Rory MacDonald in a fight that was not comfortable viewing for any MMA fan who has seen Penn bring much-needed star power to the lower weight divisions during his UFC tenure.

Second, Penn is moving down two weight classes from that last outing against MacDonald and is fighting at a weight class that he has never fought at before. It is normal for fighters to drop down a single division when struggling with noticeably larger opponents, but two is verging on the extreme or desperate, dependent on your viewpoint, especially for a fighter who has struggled to make 155 pounds in the past due to a perceived lack of motivation and conditioning.

Finally, the announcement was a shock, as it sets in motion a trilogy fight unlike any other. This trilogy is not a settling of a score or a rubber match, but a trilogy to give Penn the chance at redemption for losing on both occasions that he has fought Edgar.

One concern when making this fight is that there has been a question mark against Penn’s drive to fight and his hunger to condition himself into an athlete that could utilize the natural talent he has been given to its fullest extent. He has had no intention in recent training camps to leave the comfort of home and instead has stayed with familiar faces who (from the outside at least) seem content to tell Penn whatever he wants to hear.

At the beginning of his career, Penn exploded onto the scene by winning his first three fights, crowned by knocking Caol Uno out in just 11 seconds. Then came defeat at the hands of Jens Pulver, a loss Penn later avenged. It is this refusal to accept defeat that has driven Penn to call out Edgar. Penn, like his legions of fans, remain confident in his ability, not allowing a loss to remain uncontested and stipulating that a “motivated” Penn or a “hungry” Penn would easily beat the likes of Edgar and others who he has lost to in recent times.

Penn’s bullish pride was again a motivating factor in taking the MacDonald fight, in the hope a victory would justify a shot at the welterweight kingpin, Georges “Rush” St-Pierre, a rival to whom Penn suffered two losses in his esteemed career.

In every fighter’s career, there comes a point where the body cannot replicate the mind’s intent. Although Penn stepped into the fight with MacDonald nine months ago with every intent on beating the Canadian, he was just a step off the pace compared to the rising star of the welterweight division.

The similarities between the GSP fights and the Edgar fights are readily apparent. In both first meetings, the fights were closely contested with narrow victories going to Penn’s opponents. In the second meetings, the victories were much more conclusive and there were signs of a slowing down on Penn’s part, at least compared to the competition he was facing (which admittedly was the very best).

By the time his return comes around in mid-2014, Penn will have been out of competition for around 18 months, which is a long time for any fighter let alone a man who has looked off the pace in his recent fights and is almost four years removed from his last victory against Matt Hughes way back at UFC 123 in November 2010.

So, when the return comes, will we see the return of the “Prodigy” or a stubborn legend that refuses to ride off into the sunset?

As things stand, Penn should be safe in the knowledge that he is one of the most recognizable names that the sport of MMA has ever produced and was the pioneer for the 155-pound weight class at a time when it was not considered as attractive to the casual fan as it is today.

The real problems with this fight will only really present themselves if Penn were to beat Edgar at the third time of asking. Does Edgar get an immediate rematch? Does Penn stay at 145 pounds or does he move up to fight Benson Henderson? If he’s staying at 145, does he get an immediate title shot against Aldo? Does Penn retire content with the fact he has avenged two losses that had haunted him previously?

On the face of it, there are a lot of questions that could present themselves if Penn were to somehow win, which begs the question: why would Edgar put himself in what is essentially a lose-lose situation?

If Edgar beats Penn, he is beating a guy who has been out of action for the better part of two years and was considered to be done in the sport. Even if he beats him comfortably, it is likely that Penn will be excused for having been drained from a weight cut he has never experienced before and/or ring rust.

If Edgar loses, where does he go from there? There had been talk of him fighting Urijah Faber previously, but Edgar was reluctant to move to 135 pounds. A loss may make his mind up to do just that. That scenario might indeed be the best outcome all around—Penn wins and stays at 145 to challenge Aldo, Edgar drops to 135 to battle it out with the likes of Michael McDonald before challenging either Renan Barao or Dominick Cruz in what would be a true showcase of high-level footwork the likes of which the UFC has not yet seen.

What is safe to say is that Penn is always entertaining. As a coach, he will certainly deliver excitement for viewers of The Ultimate Fighter, but, from a fighting standpoint, there are question marks over the fight and its relevance, especially for Frankie Edgar.

Photo: B.J. Penn (R) delivers a punch (Heavy MMA)

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer
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Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.