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SI’s Josh Gross discusses what’s next for BJ Penn in his UFC career

By Zach Arnold | September 1, 2010

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From his SI radio show on Tuesday:

“If you want to point to one thing, really one thing that’s the difference between Frankie Edgar and BJ Penn at this point in their careers, motivation. The motivation to be champion. Nothing was going to stop Edgar from fighting the fight that he wanted, nothing, and BJ Penn certainly wasn’t going to do that and he couldn’t do that. You saw BJ get frustrated over the course of the fight, you know, things that he had wanted to do, things that he had hoped to happen and he was in shape, he was ready. This is the first time, I think, the first time in BJ Penn’s career where he fought someone of his size and was dominated and I don’t know how he’s going to react to that. I talked to his trainer, Rudy Valentino, on Monday. BJ apparently was already back in the gym, doing cardio, they want to keep him in the shape that he was, they don’t want him eating and getting fat and blown up. But it’s a motivation issue, really. How’s he going to react to losing to a guy that’s his size, smaller. Really? Frankie Edgar, I mean… I was one of many people calling for him to drop down to Featherweight. Looks foolish now, perhaps, but he is as small as you get in the Lightweight division. This is not BJ Penn going up in weight and losing to larger men. This is someone who he’s fighting who is his peer, who’s smaller than him, who beat him in every aspect of the fight. I don’t know how BJ Penn reacts to that. It will be very interesting.

“There has been talk in previous losses about retirement. These are words that, he actually openly spoke out about retirement. My understanding is that he’s not saying that now. He’s gotten already past any possible point of saying I’m going to walk away from Mixed Martial Arts. So, BJ Penn fans, rejoice in that. He will fight again. What exactly his motivation is and where exactly he goes, what he accomplishes, I don’t know, but can he rebound? I mean, can he find the form that he did 9, 10 years ago when he started in this thing, when he blew through people? I don’t think so. I don’t think so. Not unless there’s a major shift in his life. He’s a father now. He’s got a young child. Married, I think married, but he definitely has a long-time girlfriend. I don’t, I just don’t see him recapturing what he had. I don’t, I think it’s very difficult if you’re a fighter, especially someone who was anointed early on as he was, The Prodigy. I mean I think says it all in terms of what people’s expectations were of BJ Penn. When you have that and all of a sudden you can’t compete at the level that you once could, mentally you can’t get up, you can’t meet the challenge in front of you… I don’t think BJ’s the kind of guy that’s going to fight until he can’t do it any more. I don’t think he’s the guy that’s going to be like a James Toney, 42, out of shape, looking for a pay day. That’s not BJ Penn. He’s never been that way, he’s always expressed the exact opposite, he doesn’t want to do that. So I’m, you know, I don’t know.

“I think lots of interesting choices ahead. Is he fighting for himself any more? You know, he always did fight for himself, that was his motivation. He wanted to prove what he had and he did that in a lot of ways and I got some criticism, too, for the piece that I wrote afterwards saying that he’s not the best Lightweight of all time. Ummm…. maybe for this moment he still is, but he won’t go down as that. There’s no way he goes down as that. I don’t see it. His excursion up to the higher weight division in the middle of his career was a big mistake. I said that then and I say that now and I think in the end, that’s the reason why we will not have seen BJ Penn reach his max potential in the sport. Great talent. Great, great talent, but I just don’t see it.”

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