- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - The Hilo neighborhood of Wainaku might not appear on most maps, but many who haven’t been to Hawaii have heard of it.

That’s because whenever BJ Penn fought in the UFC, the promotion’s cage announcer, Bruce Buffer, would exclaim, “From Wainaku, Hilo, Hawaii, BJ Penn!”

Penn and his beloved home turf will be immortalized when he is inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. The ceremony will take place July 11 during the UFC’s annual International Fight Week in Las Vegas.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling for me to be recognized like this. It’s validation for my career, and it’s an incredible honor,” Penn, 36, said Saturday during an interview with the Tribune-Herald on his parents’ covered lanai in Wainaku.

Penn, who held both the UFC welterweight (170 pounds) and lightweight (155 pounds) belts during his storied 13-year-career, retired July 6 last year after a loss to fellow former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar in Las Vegas, the UFC’s hometown. It was his third loss to Edgar, who took Penn’s lightweight belt with a unanimous but controversial decision April 10, 2010, in Abu Dhabi. It also was at 145 pounds, an unnaturally low weight for Penn.

Penn’s career record was 16-10-2, but numbers don’t tell the entire story.

Penn fought at weights ranging from 145 to 191 pounds, and never shied away from fighting bigger men, including Lyoto Machida, who later became the UFC light-heavyweight champion. And Penn never tapped out, nor was he ever knocked down by a punch, during his career.

In a statement, UFC President Dana White described the 36-year-old Penn as “a legend and a no-brainer for the UFC Hall of Fame.”

“He is one of only two people to win two UFC titles in two different divisions, and he beat a who’s who of his era,” White said.

The other fighter to win UFC belts in two divisions is former light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion Randy Couture, who’s also in the UFC hall.

The names of people Penn notched victories against include: former UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes, who’ll be inducted with Penn, twice in three meetings; former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra; former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver, once in two meetings; former UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk; former Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi; Renzo and Rodrigo Gracie, members of the first family of Brazilian jiu-jitsu; plus top contenders Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian.

Penn himself won a world Brazilian jiu-jitsu championship at 20, just days after earning his black belt. That earned him his nickname, “The Prodigy.”

When Penn entered the UFC a year later, there were great expectations, and far more often than not, Penn didn’t disappoint. His first fight was a first-round technical knockout of Joey Gilbert on May 4, 2001, at UFC 31.

“When I walked into the cage to meet Gilbert, it was an unbelievable feeling,” Penn said. “This wasn’t some guy on the street or a neighborhood fight. This was a guy who trained and who had traveled (from Chicago) to fight me in the octagon.”

Penn said he entered the UFC feeling confident about his chances in a sport where physical courage is as important as athleticism and training.

“I had this belief in myself, and I don’t know where it came from,” he said. “Toughest guy in the world. Baddest man on the planet. Where does that come from? I hadn’t been around the world, and I didn’t know who was out there, but I thought I could kick anybody’s ass.”

During his Tribune-Herald interview, Penn noted a number of highs in his career. He said two of his favorite fights were quick knockouts - his last fight against Hughes in 2010, which also was his last win. Penn knocked out the UFC legend in a mere 21 seconds.

But his fastest KO was in his third fight, against Caol Uno of Japan. Penn rushed across the cage, caught Uno unaware, and finished him on the ground in 11 seconds.

As for lows, Penn acknowledged there have been plenty of those, too. He noted the final stretch of his career when he went 1-5-1, including the final win against Hughes, all three losses to Edgar, losses to Nick Diaz and Rory MacDonald, and a draw with Jon Fitch.

“The last several fights were hard,” he said.

Supporting his family, which includes longtime partner Shea Uaiwa and their daughters, Aeva Lil’u, 6, and Kulia, 3, won’t be an issue. Asked what’s next, Penn said, “I’m a businessman. You know, business is competitive, and I love competition.”

Penn, of course, has the Kinoole Street gym in Hilo that bears his name and likeness. He also owns a piece of the UFC gyms in Honolulu and Waikele, Oahu. His BJPenn.com is one of the top mixed martial arts websites, and has moved into online news, as well. In addition, he has a share of his family’s real estate business.

Looking back on his career, Penn said, “I’m going into the UFC Hall of Fame. I fought for 13 years. Fighting took me all over the world. I’ve fought in Hawaii, on the mainland, in Europe, in Asia (and) Australia. And I won my jiu-jitsu world championship in South America.

“I never thought that all this could happen to a boy from Hilo. I want to thank everybody who believed in me and who supported me throughout my career. I’ve really enjoyed it all, and I’m still enjoying it.”

___

Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, https://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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