5 YRS AGO – HYDEN: Penn’s “retirement” prompts thoughts of how good he could have been if he tried harder, Diaz leapfrogging Condit to get GSP

By Frank Hyden, MMATorch contributor

B.J. Penn (photo credit Stephen R. Sylvanie © USAToday Sports)

B.J. Penn “retired” in the cage after losing to Nick Diaz at UFC 137. There’s a lot of good things to write about B.J., about how he was a champion in two different weight classes, and about how he was in some of the biggest fights in UFC history. However, there’s another part of B.J. and his career that has to be written about as well. B.J. Penn is a classic example of someone who got by on his talent more than his work ethic. There’s no question that B.J. Penn is a MMA Hall-of-Famer, the only question there is when do you make it official. There’s also no denying that B.J. could have done even more if he had been able to realize his full potential.

I don’t want to focus on the negatives and what he didn’t do, I just believe in looking back with clear eyes. How many times has it been said that, “Well, it depends on how motivated B.J. is” when we were talking about the possible outcome of a fight? The answer is far more than we should have.

I don’t believe in glossing over the negatives and only discussing the positives, whether I’m talking about an athlete’s career or someone’s life after they’ve passed. After Steve Jobs died people came out of the woodwork to praise him and laud his accomplishments. However, they also glazed over all the bad things he did and the horrible ways he treated some people. I find that disingenuous, and an insult to everyone’s intelligence. What’s even worse is when former enemies or those who criticized Jobs while he was alive were falling all over themselves to say good things about him. Some even apologized to him for criticizing him when they were totally in the right to do so in the first place. I find that disgusting and stomach-turning.

I personally don’t think that B.J. has fought his last fight. I think he’ll come back and fight in a few Legends-style match-ups. I do believe he’s done trying to go after titles, but not fighting period. However, even if I did believe that he had fought for the last time, I’m not going to gloss over things he did that I didn’t agree with. B.J. Penn did not realize his full potential as a fighter. That doesn’t make him a bad person, nor does it make him a bad fighter. B.J. Penn was a great fighter, when he was motivated. I think he could have been considered among the all-time greats if he had focused himself and always gave 100%.

Jon Jones finds himself in a similar spot. He’s flying high and on top of the world. He’s more physically gifted than pretty much everyone he fights, much as B.J. was. The most interesting question about Jones right now is, what happens when he loses for the first real time? How does he respond to that loss?

A common thread among the all-time greats of any sport is that they’re generally not the best athletes or most gifted. Jerry Rice is the unquestioned greatest receiver of all-time, it’s basically impossible for anyone to argue otherwise. Rice was not the most gifted receiver of his day, but his work ethic was so far beyond anyone else that he made himself into the best. He took the gifts he had and he turned himself into the great receiver of all-time.

Jon Jones and B.J. Penn are two of the most physically gifted fighters I’ve ever seen. Perhaps that gives you a different mindset than someone not as gifted. Taking those talents and applying yourself can send you to heights rarely seen. B.J. did great things in his career, no question. I just wonder what he could have done if he had focused and applied himself as much as he could have?

Nick Diaz jumped over Carlos Condit and is now getting the next shot at George St. Pierre’s UFC Welterweight title. I still think that Condit poses more of a threat to GSP than Diaz does, but that’s a topic for another day. After beating B.J. Penn at UFC 137, Nick said that GSP is scared of him and faked an injury to duck him. This boggles the mind on several levels. First, GSP was slated to fight Condit, not Diaz. So how could GSP be ducking Diaz if they weren’t even scheduled to fight that night?

To add further water to Nick’s argument that GSP is ducking him, GSP told Dana White that he wants to fight Nick and that he plans on crushing him. How exactly is that the actions of a man that’s scared of you? I think that Nick is saying these things to try to motivate himself, not because he believes they’re true. It’s much the same way that Michael Jordan would make up things that his opponents supposedly said, all in an effort to motivate himself.

The problem is that you don’t say these things publicly because you open yourself up to ridicule. Only the most fanatical of Diaz fans believe that GSP is scared of Nick. The rest of us in the real world know that GSP has nothing to be scared of. GSP has fought and dominated some of the best fighters in the world including, but not limited to, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Jake Shields, and B.J. Penn. GSP has nothing to be scared of when it comes to Diaz. That’s not to say that Diaz can’t win, just that GSP has fought great fighters before so why would he be scared of fighting another one?

I personally believe that GSP is going to beat the piss out of Nick for five rounds and earn his typical five-round dominating decision win. I know that GSP is extremely upset at the junk that Nick has been talking, but I have to go with what I know, and what I know is that GSP doesn’t finish opponents these days.

I could see GSP finish Nick because, just as Nick is like Jordan, so is GSP. If you were playing Jordan on the court, the worst thing you could do is to start talking trash. Jordan was already motivated to want to destroy you, by his own internal trash-talk. By vocalizing that trash talk, you motivated Jordan to a level that very few people could achieve. If you just shut up and handled your business, there was a good chance you could succeed. It was possible Jordan might overlook you. If you opened your mouth, though, you were basically done. Tom Brady is a current example of that. Some guys you want to trash-talk because it might get them off their game. Other guys you want to be silent around, because smacktalk motivates them and they will go after you all day long to crush you.

That’s how GSP is. Trash-talk motivates him and makes him want to destroy you. If Nick had been quiet, I think he would have had a good chance to win. Instead, he opened his mouth, and I think he’s going to get his ass handed to him because of it.

Comments and suggestions can be emailed to hydenfrank@gmail.com and you can follow Frank on Twitter at @hydenfrank.

NOW READ THE PREVIOUS “5 YRS AGO” FLASHBACK ARTICLE: 5 YRS AGO – PENICK’S TAKE: UFC 137 continues Donald Cerrone’s surprising emergence as legitimate Lightweight Title challenger

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