Roundtable: Is BJ Penn Still A Top 10 Welterweight?

B.J. Penn

Analyzing Penn’s UFC welterweight rank, bout against MacDonald

With B.J. Penn accepting a challenge for a likely UFC 152 fight from fast-rising welterweight Rory MacDonald, takes a look at the biggest questions that come along with the news, including Penn’s place in the division and his chances against the Canadian this September.

1. As it sits right now, is B.J. Penn a top 10 welterweight in the UFC?

Matt Brown: The fan in me wants to say “yes” very badly.  But the realist inside me says “no way” to Penn being a legit top 10 guy in the division.  I’d love for him to prove me wrong because I think the sport is better with a guy like BJ Penn at the top…or at least in the mix.  You take fighters like GSP, Koscheck, Hendricks, Diaz, Condit, Fitch, Ellenberger – I think BJ is the underdog in each of those fights as it stands today.  He’s close to the top 10, but it will take a win over MacDonald for him to truly earn a spot on the list.

Duane Finley: At this point in time, the UFC Welterweight division is perhaps more competitive than it’s ever been. While a year ago I would’ve ranked Penn in the Top 10, in this current shark tank I don’t see him making the cut. It’s no secret Penn’s best days in the Octagon have come as a lightweight. He has pulled down a few big wins and a UFC title at 170 pounds, but the only division he ever dominated was the lighter one. The legend has struggled with well conditioned wrestlers throughout his career and unfortunately that is exactly what he is getting with Rory MacDonald.

Nate Lawson: Tough call, but I have a hard time putting Penn in the top ten UFC welterweights. Aside from his knockout over Matt Hughes at UFC 123, the former champ is winless in his last five fights. Yes, he has faced stiff competition, but, as his bout against Nick Diaz displayed, he is no longer a threat to the division’s best. Put Penn’s reputation aside and simply look at what he’s done at 170 lbs. recently. He just does not have a spot in the top ten of a division that has developed so much, while he’s won so little.

2. Why do you think he turned down a potential Josh Koscheck fight, but accepted a fight with Rory MacDonald?

Matt Brown: I can’t seem to put a finger on it. It would seem to me that a fight with Koscheck is better all around for Penn.  Kos has a much bigger name in the sport and is probably perceived by the casual fan to be far superior to Rory MacDonald (and that’s if they even know who Rory is).  Further, if you happen to lose to a guy like Koscheck, your reputation doesn’t take a big of a hit.  Koscheck has his bones in the sport, where MacDonald would be making his at your expense.

Duane Finley: I was thinking about this yesterday and I really don’t have a clear answer. I think Koscheck is the better match up because of his willingness to stand and exchange. Penn’s boxing skills have always been top notch and Koscheck’s willingness to get into fist fights would’ve played into that strength. On the flip side, Koscheck’s gas tank has never failed and when he commits to out-wrestling you, he is most likely going to succeed. The only other factor I can see playing into the decision to pass on Koscheck and accept MacDonald is respect. MacDonald is a young student of the game and could come into the fight giving Penn too much respect where Koscheck has slayed his share of dragons and wouldn’t worry about that situation.

Nate Lawson: A Koscheck-Penn fight would have been fun, but I think Penn recognizes the appropriateness of this match up against MacDonald. All signs point to the Canadian quickly becoming the future of the division, while Penn is certainly a large figure in the 170 lb. weight class’ history.  Why not unite the two generations, especially if this indeed is the last we see of Penn in the cage? Of course, it could also have something to do with the fact that a 22-year-old called him out. Both options are plausible, but I’m leaning toward the latter.

3. Your way-too-early prediction? Who wins the Penn vs. MacDonald fight?

Matt Brown: I’ve always hated the “it depends on which BJ shows up” argument when discussing who will win a fight between Penn and his opponent.  Is BJ one of the most dominant fighters the sport has ever seen when he puts it all together?  Yes.  But that’s the wild card here and I don’t like having to deal in uncertainties when picking a fight.  I’m going with MacDonald because what you see is what you get.  He’s come out and fought the same way since entering the UFC (though he’s getting better every outing) and I’ll take the consistency over the potential of “the good BJ” showing up any day.

Duane Finley: While September is a few months away my early pick is going to be and stay Rory MacDonald. I’ve been fortunate to be cage side for his last two fights and this kid has a gear most other fighters lack when the action hits the ground. Where other fighters use top position to score points and kill a little bit of time, MacDonald is settling fools and finishing fights. Penn is on a different level than Che Mills or Mike Pyle but he is in the exact same boat as Nate Diaz when it comes to the Octagon and facing Rory MacDonald. Both should’ve passed on the fight and focused their energy on competition at 155 pounds.

There is always the chance Penn catches MacDonald with something early. The young Canadian has been dropped by a lesser striker like Mike Guymon and finished by current Interim champion Carlos Condit. Both instances were the result of strategic mistakes and if MacDonald doesn’t iron them out; Penn could find victory in this fight. Otherwise I believe MacDonald’s skill set will simply be too much for Penn to handle and this bout plays out much like the second go around with Georges St. Pierre did at UFC 94. Penn gets taken down and beaten up until he decides enough is enough.

Nate Lawson: Given that I have Penn outside my UFC welterweight top ten, it should come as little shock that I’m taking MacDonald in this bout. He has been extremely impressive over his short UFC career, including in his loss to Carlos Condit, and I’m not alone when saying the best is still in front of him. Unfortunately for Penn, his best disappeared some time ago. I’m not predicting a MacDonald stoppage, but he’ll take home a unanimous decision, and I think Penn comes out of it looking a lot like he did after his fight against Diaz. With his wrestling and grappling, MacDonald will take another big leap up the welterweight ranks this September.