Hawaiian native Jay Dee “BJ” Penn is one of the most talented fighters in the UFC. In 2000, he became the first non-Brazilian to win a gold medal at the World Jiujitsu Championship in Brazil. Four years later, he displayed his mastery of mixed martial arts by jumping a weight class to defeat the reigning UFC welterweight champion, Matt Hughes. On January 31, 2009, he will try to repeat his feat of martial arts skill by taking on the current UFC welterweight champion, George St. Pierre, who is regularly ranked along with Penn as one of the top five mixed martial arts fighters in the world.
Here is a partial transcript of David Samuels’ ringside conversation with Penn before the Rampage Jackson-Forrest Griffin fight last summer:
David Samuels: First of all, it’s a real honor and a pleasure to meet you. Watching you, Anderson Silva, George St. Pierre, is really a different experience than watching even an old school martial arts-trained fighter like Chuck Liddell. You guys came up as MMA fighters. You don’t get caught between stances. Is that an accurate perception? Do you see a difference between you and George and the generation that came before you?
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BJ Penn: Well definitely, in the days of early UFC, you would probably see that a lot. Chuck was probably right on the verge. I came a little bit after Chuck. That’s a good observation.
DS: You got your start in Gracie jujitsu. Talk about the influence of Gracie jujitsu on the development of MMA, and whether the sport has moved beyond the foundation provided by the Gracies.
BJ: The sport has definitely moved beyond that founding idea of MMA, but without a doubt we wouldn’t be sitting here right now if the Gracies didn’t come here and teach their style and create the UFC.
DS: Talk to me about the influence that Brazilian fighters have had on mixed martial arts in America.
BJ: Without a doubt, if it wasn’t for the Brazilians, beginning with the Gracies, we wouldn’t be here. They’re a fighting culture, and they will always have fighters forever, until we stop doing this sport. Out of Brazil, they’re always gonna have another Wanderlei Silva, another Minotauro, another Anderson Silva. They come from a hard place, and they’re there to fight, and they want to kick your ass.
DS: Tell me about going down to Brazil and being the first non-Brazilian in history to come back with a gold medal in the black belt category in jujitsu.
BJ: I remember getting to the finals, and I remember telling myself, you know what, I might never be in this position again. And I think that’s the time I changed my life. That was the first time when I told myself, ‘I’m gonna go out and I’m gonna do it right now. It doesn’t matter what anybody says. It doesn’t matter what the odds are. If my arm breaks or my leg breaks, I’m gonna win this match. I’m gonna get it done.’
DS: Was the whole audience rooting for your Brazilian opponent?
BJ: Oh yeah, for sure. a lot of people were rooting for the opponent. I remember running up into the bleachers and then a bunch of them are talking saying, 'You’re the first, you’re the first.' It really didn’t mean that much—when it happened, I was like, 'Whatever, I’m the first.' But now as time goes by, I look back and I’m like, Man, I was the first -- like maybe the first guy in Japan who beat the Japanese at Judo, you know?