When BJ Penn entered the UFC octagon Sunday night in Vegas the scheduled opponent was Frankie Edgar, but the real adversary was Father Time.
In the post-fight press conference, Penn confirmed his retirement after Edgar won a third-round technical knockout in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter 19 finale in the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Penn came into the conference late, as he required stitches above his left eye to close a gash Edgar opened with an elbow.
“This the end,” Penn said. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘Why did you step back in the octagon after the beating that Rory MacDonald gave you? And the reason is I really needed to find out. If I didn’t make this fight happen for myself, I would’ve always wondered and went back and forth and begged (UFC President) Dana (White) to let me get back in. And I guess I just needed some closure.”
Edgar used his stick-and-move strategy to set up takedowns, which he landed almost at will in each round. The Toms River, N.J. native then employed brutal ground-and-pound to finish the Wainaku warrior.
When referee Herb Dean called a halt to the hostilities at 4:16 of the round, Penn was bleeding profusely from a gash over the outer corner of his left eye, opened by a hard elbow from “The Answer” delivered from the top on the canvas. He also had visible swelling under both eyes from fists and elbows delivered while both fighters were grounded.
The bout, a 145-pound featherweight tilt, was scheduled for five 5-minute rounds, and it was the third time Edgar defeated Penn in three fights.
“Frankie did a great job. I shouldn’t have came back,” Penn said in the cage afterwards. “I shouldn’t have been in the ring tonight.”
Edgar (17-4-1) took Penn’s lightweight championship belt by winning a close but unanimous decision April 10, 2010, in Abu Dhabi. “The Answer” won the rematch in a more decisive manner 4 1/2 months later.
For Penn (16-10-2), he’s now 1-5-1 in his last seven fights and is now on a three-fight skid. He retired after sustaining heavy damage from welterweight Nick Diaz at UFC 137 on Oct. 29, 2011. He returned and took another beating in a lopsided loss to MacDonald on Dec. 8, 2012, after being called out on an online podcast by the young Canadian welterweight. He hadn’t fought since that bout.
Penn is 35, still a young man, but no longer a young fighter. White told the media prior to Sunday night’s tilt he would pressure Penn to retire if he lost.
Penn remains a fan favorite and the crowd cheered loudly for him, both at the beginning and ending of the fight.
Penn, who won the world black belt jiu-jitsu title at 20, was on the vanguard of the UFC’s burgeoning popularity and was the first among lighter-weight UFC fighters to become a Pay-Per-View main-event draw. An unconventional thinker and fighter, Penn has fought in weight classes as high as light-heavyweight, taking on Lyoto Machida in Japan. He’s a surefire future UFC Hall of Famer.
Sunday night’s loss represents only the second time Penn has found himself on the wrong side of a TKO. The previous time was at UFC 94 against then-welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre in the so-called “Greasegate” fight, when the Canadian fighter’s corner was caught on camera putting Vaseline on St-Pierre’s body. Unlike Sunday night’s fight, which was a referee stoppage, Penn’s corner didn’t allow him to come out for the fifth round of that bout, also in Las Vegas, on Jan. 31, 2009.
“I got nothin’ but respect for BJ,” Edgar said afterwards. “It’s a bittersweet victory. I said I wanted to finish him because he’d never been finished … and I almost feel bad about it, in a sense.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.