Penn Out for the Year, but Ready for a Big 2007
By Thomas Gerbasi
It’s a new and uncomfortable position for BJ Penn. Unable to train after being diagnosed with strained muscles and a broken rib suffered during a gallant effort in defeat against UFC 170-pound champion Matt Hughes at UFC 63 on September 23rd, Penn is stuck on the couch, just like the many who questioned whether he was truly injured late in the second round of the welterweight championship bout.
But according to a medical report by Dr. Sameer Nagda, Penn did fracture the right tenth costochondral junction and did strain the adjacent intercostal musculature and oblique musculature during the Hughes bout, putting to rest speculation that ‘The Prodigy’ simply ran out of gas between rounds two and three. One of those who did question Penn’s conditioning was Hughes, who avenged his 2004 loss to the Hawaiian via a third round TKO. It’s something that doesn’t sit well with Penn.
“I want to smash his face so bad,” said Penn. “I don’t think about anything else except smashing Hughes’ face. I don’t like him at all.”
There will be no face smashing in Penn’s immediate future though, as he will probably not return until 2007.
“I’ve been out for three weeks already and the Doctor said don’t do anything for at least another two weeks – nothing at all, just stay on the couch,” he said. “I’ve been bored as hell. I can’t surf, can’t do nothing. When I try to tread water with my hands, it pulls, plus I can only lie in certain ways, so I’m sure I’m out for the rest of the year.”
It's not the way Penn planned things, or the way he expected them to go when he walked into the Octagon at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim on September 23rd. Filling in on short notice for the injured Georges St. Pierre, Penn felt that he was mentally and physically ready to beat Hughes a second time and once again claim the UFC welterweight crown.
And for the first round and three quarters, things went according to plan as Penn’s standup was crisp, and his ground game was stellar as usual. Then, late in the second, as Hughes looked to ground and pound his way to victory yet again, something happened.
“Hughes was doing good, he was still fighting, and I was against the cage in my guard, and Hughes was throwing these big elbows,” recalls Penn. “I was thinking ‘man, this guy is really trying to hurt me, he’s throwing these elbows hard.’ (Laughs) And then he overthrew one and I was waiting for it. I snuck up his side instead of going to his back, and as soon as I started to come around the side and as I lifted my right arm over to reach around for his hip, I didn’t think my rib broke; I thought it was a separation. I felt something I never felt in my life; I felt a gap in my side right where my ribs meet the top part of my stomach muscles. I felt that gap for like a second and then it closed and as soon as that happened I realized that I had to finish the fight.”
Strangely enough, he almost did, as he worked for a potential fight ending submission on the longtime champion that Hughes admitted forced him to say a little prayer as the seconds ticked away on the round.
“I got on his back, look at the clock and realized that there was only a minute and 15 seconds,” said Penn, who admits grabbing Hughes’ shorts in an attempt to get more leverage. “I gotta do something now, I’ve got to try to put him away. My regular thinking if I would have gotten to his back would have been to stay on him like I did on (Takanori) Gomi and just kept beating him up – hitting him, bloodying him up, maybe even take my time and get a choke.”
“I tried to trap his arm with my legs so I could get a rear naked choke on him and then he spun real quick so I went to the next thing,” continues Penn. “I went to the triangle, which is a move I really like to do from there and then I started grabbing his arm and pulling his arm with all my might and we all know Matt defended well and ended up surviving.”
Ten minutes down, 15 to go, and 15 to go with a broken rib. Penn gave no thought to quitting.
“I knew something was wrong, but I knew I was in great condition, so I figured I’ll just come out and kick his ass again,” he said. “So I’m sitting down, and then I stand up and I knew I didn’t feel good. But I said, ‘screw it, earn your belt. Through pain, you don’t feel good, you feel tired, so what, go out there and earn it, this is what you’ve got to do to become a world champion.’”
“I felt that UFC world championship around my waist,” he said. “I know what that feels like and I wanted it again. It’s almost like the Lord of The Rings with the precious, that ring. It’s like you’ll do anything for it and you’ll put yourself in harm’s way and it doesn’t matter.”
It wasn’t going to happen, not on this night. Penn was visibly bothered by the injury and looked sluggish at best in round three. Hughes, like a veteran champion, smelled blood and pounced, and soon it was over as Penn took a series of unanswered shots to the face.
“Even when (referee) Big John (McCarthy) stopped the fight, I thought I got out,” he chuckles. “I was gonna try and grab his leg, but then I realized the fight got stopped, and then I realized that I couldn’t move or breathe.”
Penn was propped up and virtually carried back to the dressing room after the fight, and now he’ll just have to sit and wait for his next shot at glory in the Octagon. There will be no shortages of challenges waiting for him when he gets back though.
“I want to fight St. Pierre, I want to fight Hughes, and you’ve also got the winner of TUF 4 that’s going to get a title shot, and you’ve got Diego (Sanchez) as well. I’m just going to sit here and see what (UFC President) Dana (White) wants to do. I just want to go back, get in good shape, and get out there again.”
Penn’s attitude is positive, though his disappointment is obvious. He was thisclose, but not close enough. All he hopes for is that a shot at redemption will come again.
“The hardest thing and one of the reasons why I went out in the third round is that it felt like destiny,” Penn admits. “It felt like this was gonna happen. When I lost to GSP (St. Pierre), I was really hard on myself because I knew I didn’t do my homework and I did get tired in the third round, that’s for sure. In this one, I did everything right – I trained, I did all my explosive training and long-distance training and conditioning, everything I was supposed to do - and then something like this happened. But life is good. Everything always works its way out, and everything happens for a reason. I thought that night was supposed to be the greatest night of my life, but it will be saved for another greater day.”