B.J. ‘The Prodigy’ Penn (born Jay Dee Penn) was born on December 12th, 1978 in Hilo, Hawaii. After being introduced to martial arts by a friend Penn began his formal Brazilian jiu jitsu training at the age of 17 under Ralph Gracie. He was awarded his black belt in the art by Andre Pederneiras in 2000 and went on to become the first non-Brazilian to take the gold medal in the black belt division of the Mundial World Championships in Brazil.
B.J. eventually caught the eye of Dana White and the Ultimate Fighting Championship and received his formal invitation in 2001. Penn began his UFC fighting career in the lightweight division and fought his first bout against Joey Gilbert at UFC 31. Penn easily took Gilbert out with strike, winning with a TKO in first round. Two fights later Penn had won his first three UFC fights by TKO, and all in the first round.
UFC 35 brought Penn together with Jens Pulver, one of the UFC’s top lightweights, for a title match. Penn sported improved striking skills but ended up losing the fight by decision. Pulver left the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2003, relinquishing his title, and the UFC immediately scheduled a title fight between B.J. Penn and Caol Uno. The fight was decided as a draw, a failure which lead to UFC management dropping the lightweight division altogether.
After Penn defeated Japan’s number-one ranked lightweight later that year he announced that he would be bulking up in order to challenge UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes. Hughes had defeated all eligible fighters in his division and was heavily favored to win his fight with Penn. ‘The Prodigy’ proved himself that night however, managing to defeat Hughes with a rear naked choke only four minutes into the fight.
A few short months after taking the welterweight title Penn signed to the K-1 fighting organization and UFC management immediately stripped him of his title with the reasoning that he had breached his contract. Penn claimed that his contract with the UFC had expired but the two parties were unable to come to an understanding on the matter.
B.J. fought in the welterweight and middleweight divisions, winning his opening two matches by decision. After a controversial decision to take on light heavyweight Ryoto Machida and his subsequent loss, Penn dropped back down to the middleweight division, defeating Renzo Gracie by unanimous decision.
Ultimate Fighting Championship CEO Dana White announced in early 2006 that a settlement had been agreed upon by Penn and his organization and that Penn would be returning to the UFC immediately as a top welterweight contender. In his first bout back with the UFC B.J. lost a close decision to Georges St. Pierre.
Although St. Pierre’s win over Penn earned him a title match against welterweight title holder Matt Hughes, Penn was given the opportunity when Georges had to withdraw due to injury. The Penn and Hughes rematch took place at UFC 63 on September 23rd, 2006 with ‘The Prodigy’ controlling the first two rounds handily. Penn was an entirely different fighter in the third round and Hughes was easily able to bring him to the mat and rain blows on him to end the fight with a KO. It was revealed after the fight that Penn had suffered a serious rib injury during the second round and was barely able to breathe during the closing minutes of the battle.
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