The more I think about it, the less I like the idea of B.J. Penn possibly fighting Sean Sherk for the UFC lightweight title in November.
While I’m not a big fan of how B.J. comes off in public at times, I’m a huge fan of his talent. Does he deserve a shot at the lightweight title? Yes, but only if he’s committed to the 155 pound division.
I realize why the UFC is interested in having Sherk vs. Penn, it’s clearly the biggest marquee match the division has to offer and will help create more awareness for the 155 pounders.
While it makes sense in the short-term, how much does it make in the long-term?
It’s uncertain as to how long Penn would like to remain at lightweight. He’s made it clear he doesn’t like to make the cut and his plan is to return to welterweight sooner rather than later. He might only have 1-2 fights in him at lightweight, if that.
So the UFC might be able to give us a hell of a match at 155 pounds this November but what happens next if Penn wins? Will he keep the title and continue to represent the lightweight division? Or, will he drop the title and move on to greener pastures?
I love the UFC’s lightweight division but if Penn wins the title and doesn’t respect it enough to keep it, it makes the division not look as meaningful as it should. Whoever becomes the next title holder will look like a second class fighter because he didn’t beat Penn for the title.
Another scenario to consider is what if Sherk wins? That would give Penn three losses in his last four UFC fights. While losing to Sherk wouldn’t kill his career, it would put him in a deep hole as far as needing to rack up a lot of wins before he can fully restore his stock.
I have no problem if Penn doesn’t want to fight at lightweight. Personally, I would prefer him to move back at welterweight. He’s too good not to try and rebound and make another run at the elite fighters at 170 pounds such as Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre. The dynamic of having three studs at welterweight in Hughes, GSP, and Penn could make for the most electric weight class in all of MMA. They’ve all fought each other before but I could watch them fight each other for years. It’s like when the Fabulous Freebird, the Midnight Express, and Rock ‘N’ Roll Express fought each other over and over in the NWA/WCW. Those matches never got old.
Regardless of whether he fights at lightweight or welterweight, someone who isn’t passionate about the lightweight division shouldn’t be fighting for the title. There’s no doubt Penn would be a tremendous asset at 155 pounds but the UFC has enough depth at lightweight that it doesn’t need Penn to compete there in order for the division to strive. There is no shortage of potential future challengers for Sherk with fighters such as Roger Huerta, Kenny Florian, and Joe Stevenson ready for title shots.
The long-term future of the division is sound with Thiago Tavares, Clay Guida, Tyson Griffin, and Frank Edgar. Then you have tested veterans such as Hermes Franca, Spencer Fisher, and Sam Stout. Hell, I also forgot about Marcus Aurelio and the TUF 5 fighters such as Nate Diaz, Manny Gamburyan, Gray Maynard, and Joe Lauzon. I’ve just rattled off a cavalcade of fighters and I’m still sure I left someone out.
If Penn can’t commit to the division long-term then he shouldn’t be allowed to fight for the title. One solution that might satisfy all parties involved is to have Penn compete in both divisions on a simultaneous basis. It would be a brutal schedule but if anyone is talented enough to compete for titles in two separate weight classes, it’s Penn.