It’s old lion vs. young lion this weekend as former UFC lightweight champion BJ Penn comes out of a self imposed retirement to take on the super talented Yair Rodriguez in the main event of UFC Fight Night 103 in Phoenix, Arizona.
It’s been two and a half years since Penn last stepped foot inside the Octagon, and over six years since he last recorded a win, but regardless the Hall of Fame icon is once again just hours away from making the walk for his 29th professional fight.
Ahead of him lies one of the most exciting talents in the UFC’s featherweight division. ‘Al Pantera’ has a pro record of 9-1 and is undefeated in the UFC. Regardless, Penn maintains he’s once again motivated and has typical lofty goals on his return to action.
“I’m all in. We’re going for the 145lb title,” he said yesterday. “When we get that title, I’ll sit down with my friends, family and trainers and talk about what’s next – talk about the future. A man’s mind changes from time to time. But 100% we’re going to go for that belt first.”
Penn believes his opponent’s team has made an error in accepting this fight and Rodriguez is in for a rude awakening. “The manager made a big mistake for Yair,” Penn added. “The manager just didn’t look. He probably thought, ‘Ah, BJ is done. He’s a big name.’ But he didn’t look back in history.
“Whenever I get embarrassed, or I lose bad, I come back 10 times stronger every single time. I think the manager is going to have to be sitting there now and think, ‘I really did a bad move for this kid’s career.’”
For Rodriguez, on paper, there isn’t any upside in getting a win over Penn, who isn’t even in the top 15 of the UFC’s official rankings. However, defeating a true icon of the game in another UFC main event slot will do wonders for his profile. And the Mexican insists he isn’t allowing any emotions get in the way of the fight.
“I have nothing against him personally – this is just a sport, a competition,” Rodriguez said. I didn’t ask for the fight. I know he’s saying that. I don’t know why he’s saying that. He’s someone I respect a lot, but I’m never going to ask for a fighter or a fight. The UFC calls you and asks you, do you want to fight this guy? You say yes or no – that’s it. I’m never going to ask for a fight.”
As a former champion there may not be anything left to prove for Penn, but having lost his last three in a row, getting a win over what many believe to be the future of the featherweight division wouldn’t be a bad way to kick off one final championship campaign.