What would the MMA world think if GSP showed up for a fight looking like his training camp consisted of a brisk walk to Taco Bell for lunch every day, followed by a 100 meter sprint to Krispy Kreme for dessert? We’d say he’s unprofessional, out of shape, no longer cares, ready to be put out to stud, etc. He set a lofty standard for himself by always being in tip-top condition, even when he may have been less than highly motivated to actually fight.
If you’re BJ Penn, on the other hand, it’s okay to be out of shape because all that means is you’re unmotivated, and since it’s been that way from the beginning, you get a pass. In fact, he not only gets a pass, he gets a built-in excuse. Not for him to use as a cop out, of course – BJ is a warrior who just don’t roll that way – but his most ardent fans will incessantly throw out reckless phrases such as, “BJ wasn’t in shape,” “BJ wasn’t motivated,” or my personal favorite, “If BJ was in shape and/or motivated he would have killed [insert opponent here].”
It’s become commonplace to make excuses for BJ, and it’s the curse of being a prodigy. When you’re so fucking good at something that even at half speed you excel, it doesn’t exactly inspire the motivation required for improvement.
Case in point: watch BJ’s first three MMA fights, all in the UFC, none of which lasted more than a round, all of which ended by violent knockouts, and two of which were against ranked opponents in Din Thomas and Caol Uno. Not to mention the fact that he earned a BJJ black belt in only three years, and was the first non-Brazilian to win the Mundials in the black belt category.
Contrast that with GSP (whom I use as a counterpart only because he personifies professionalism and high expectations) whose MMA debut saw him take a controversial submission win in a David and Goliath fight against the now bantamweight Ivan Menjivar, then destroy two unheralded opponents in the equally unheralded UCC promotion, and who knew nothing of jiu jitsu at the time, and you can see where GSP’s drive to improve came from. He simply required it to make the most of his considerable athletic gifts, whereas BJ didn’t, not at first anyway.
So where am I going with this? Here we are, damn near in 2013, and BJ nuthuggers are STILL making the same excuses. In his upcoming fight against one of the current MMA prodigies: Rory McDonald, the talk is still centered around BJ’s conditioning and motivation. And BJ still spoon feeds it to the masses, as evidenced by the video. We’re all getting stiffies because BJ did what he’s supposed to do – get his carefree, beach bum, Hawaiian ass in shape for a fight.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that BJ’s in shape and taking this fight seriously. That will make it interesting, for the first round and a half anyway when he’s hell on wheels. But then if he doesn’t get the finish, abs or flabs, he’s going to fade under the pressure of a larger, more physical foe, and probably lose a decision. His activists will not be able to use the built-in motivation and conditioning excuse now, but I’m quite sure they have the “He came out of retirement” defense ready to roll.