A loss tonight to Frankie Edgar would spell the end of the legendary mixed martial arts career of BJ Penn.
Retirement talk has been a major part of each of Penn’s past three fights, but this time there seems to be more certainty.
Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White has said he would insist that Penn retire should he lose to Edgar in the featherweight main event of “The Ultimate Fighter 19 Finale” card at Mandalay Bay.
“That makes a lot of sense for Dana to say that. I respect that,” said Penn, 35. “I have talked about retirement before obviously. So do or die or not, I’m going to go out there and enjoy this whole thing.”
Penn announced his retirement in the cage after a loss to Nick Diaz in October 2011. He was coaxed into a return after several challenges issued by Rory MacDonald, eventually losing to the welterweight contender by unanimous decision in December 2012.
He again indicated he was done fighting, only to return tonight.
Penn denied he was drawn back by an overwhelming desire to finally beat Edgar, who took the lightweight belt from Penn in April 2010 and won a rematch in August 2010.
It’s at least a part of the reason, though.
“I don’t know about fixated,” Penn said. “I believe everyone out there would want to have another shot at somebody that beat them. I remember when Frankie was fighting Gray Maynard, he said that’s the one loss he wanted to avenge. I think that’s just part of life. I just think that’s human nature, bottom line.”
The bigger mystery might be what the fight does for Edgar, who dropped to featherweight after losing his belt to Benson Henderson in February 2012, then lost a rematch six months later.
Edgar got an immediate shot at the 145-pound title against Jose Aldo and lost that fight, too. He rebounded with a win over Charles Oliveira a year ago today.
A win over Penn, who is 1-4-1 in his past six fights, including the losses to Edgar, wouldn’t appear to help Edgar’s chances much of getting another title shot.
“It’s still BJ Penn,” Edgar said. “If I go out and win impressively and look good, it still means something. I’m an easily motivated dude. I want to get better and improve as a fighter. I want to make sure I don’t lose the third time out. That would kinda suck.”
If this indeed is the end for Penn, it marks the conclusion of a brilliant career.
He made his MMA debut at UFC 31 in 2001 and has held the organization’s lightweight and welterweight belts, fighting some of the biggest names along the way. He no doubt will enter the UFC’s Hall of Fame as soon as he is officially done fighting.
Penn acknowledged he has little left to accomplish.
“Not much, I guess,” he said. “I don’t have much to prove, but I’m just doing it because I love it. I’m here because I love to be here. I’m just going to go enjoy myself.
“This latest run really comes down to just this is what I do. This is what I’ve done my whole life. This is all I know, and it just comes down to having fun and doing what I love.”
There was some question about his mindset entering the MacDonald fight. If that’s the case this time, he’s certainly doing a good job hiding it.
“I’m enjoying talking to (the media), seeing old friends I’ve seen come interview me over the years, and I’m just enjoying the bright, beautiful blue sky outside, and I’m just going to ride this until the wheels fall off,” he said. “I feel really comfortable. I feel I have a lot of tools right now that nobody has really seen. I’m so comfortable right now because I know what I’m going to try to do. I know what he’s going to try to do.
Penn and Edgar served as opposing coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter” leading up to tonight’s fight. The season titles for the light heavyweight and middleweight tournaments will be decided on the card, which airs live on Fox Sports 1 (Cable 329) beginning with the preliminary card at 4 p.m.
Corey Anderson will fight Matt Van Buren for the light heavyweight title, and Eddie Gordon will meet Dhiego Lima for the middleweight crown.
Also, Las Vegan Robert Drysdale will make his UFC debut against light heavyweight Keith Barish.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.