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Inside The Numbers: Comparing B.J. Penn To His Peers

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With a defense of the lightweight championship of the world on the horizon, I thought it was a perfect time to get your opinion on something. If one looks at the top ranked fighters in all seven major weight classes, it's hard to argue against this being the most talented crop of champions in the sport's young history. Because of this, there's plenty of room for discussion as to who does the best job of "running their block". So here's what I want everyone to weigh in on: Is there a fighter in any weight class that runs their block better than B.J. Penn? Now keep in mind that for the purposes of this conversation, you can only consider the body of work that a fighter has put in while competing in their natural weight class (example: you can't consider what Anderson "The Spider" Silva has done at 205 pounds for the purposes of this exercise). Also, it's worth noting that you could easily make an argument to have St. Pierre, Silva, Emelianenko and Machida ranked above Penn in the mythical pound-for-pound rankings right now, largely because of GSP's decisive win head-to-head against B.J. in their superfight earlier this year. However, it can be a thought provoking thing to look at what each fighter has achieved exclusively in their natural weight class.

It's this type of examination that I think helps put Penn's career in perspective. The lightweight version of B.J. Penn has been the sport's standard bearer in that weight class for a long time now. Penn has suffered losses because he dared to fight the likes of enormous 170 pound champion George St. Pierre(a split decision loss and a TKO corner stoppage after the 4th round), 170 pound champion Matt Hughes (whom he split with in Matt's prime) and current light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida (decision loss).  But he's almost flawless at 155 pounds. I wouldn't necessarily argue that Penn is above any of the fighters that I'm about to mention. But I think that an objective look at the stats at least makes a decent argument that his accomplishments fair very well compared to theirs. Again, all this is just meant to get the conversation going heading into Penn's world title defense in early December, but here's why his body of work in his own weight class could be considered at the very least comparable to that of his peers:

B.J. "The Prodigy" Penn (30-years-old)- I have Penn listed as being 12-1-1 (5 TKO's, 5 Submissions) at lightweight. "The Prodigy has pretty much run the show at lightweight. This sport is still young but you'd be hard pressed to make an argument for a better 155 pounder having competed yet. Penn hasn't lost at lightweight since a decision loss to the then world-champion almost 8 years ago. The combined career winning % of the opponents that he has faced is approximately 72%. (Bonus stats: Impressively, Penn only ever had 1 fight at lightweight against a fighter with a losing record. None of his last 10 opponents at lightweight had a losing record.)

Georges "Rush" St. Pierre (28-years-old)- I show GSP as being 19-2 (8 TKO's, 4 Submissions) at welterweight. GSP has become, arguably, MMA's biggest star not named Brock Lesnar. St. Pierre is an enormous 170 pounder that combines unbelievable skill with incredible athleticism. St. Pierre has fought his entire career in one weight class and has avenged both losses (1st round losses earlier in his career to Matt Hughes and Matt Serra). Obviously, GSP has the two head-to-head wins against Penn. But one must measure GSP's accomplishments at 170 against Penn's at 155.  St. Pierre hasn't lost at welterweight since a 1st round TKO loss over 2-and-a-half years ago. The combined career winning percentage of the opponents that he has faced is approximately 76%. (Bonus stats: Incredibly, St. Pierre has NEVER had one fight at welterweight against a fighter with a losing record! This is unprecedented.)

Anderson "The Spider" Silva (34-years-old)- I'm unsure how many of Silva's fights were at 185 pounds (it's been difficult finding this information). I know that most of his fights have been at middleweight so I'll take a stab at it and say that he's approximately 17-3 (11 TKO's, 2 Submissions) at 185 pounds (I realize that may not be completely accurate). Silva hasn't lost at middleweight since a 1st round DQ loss almost 4 years ago. The combined career winning percentage of the opponents that he has faced so far is approximately 68%. (Bonus stats: Silva only ever had 4 fights at middleweight against fighters with a losing record. None of his last 10 opponents at middleweight had a losing record.)

"The Last Emperor" Fedor Emelianenko (33-years-old)- I show Fedor as being 31-1 (8 TKO's, 16 Submissions) at heavyweight. The consensus # 1 heavyweight for some time now, Fedor is at or near the top of most pound-for-pound lists. It is, however, worth noting that the heavyweight division is generally considered by most experts to be one of the more shallow divisions in terms of talent (I realize that doesn't make it true but it is a widely accepted opinion shared by most MMA insiders, including many heavyweight fighters). Emelianenko hasn't lost at heavyweight since a 1st round TKO stoppage on a cut loss almost 9 years ago. The combined career winning percentage of the opponents that he has faced so far is approximately 65%. (Bonus stats: Emelianenko has had 10 fights at heavyweight against a fighter with a losing record. 3 of his last 10 opponents at heavyweight had a losing record.)

Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida- I show Lyoto as being 16-0 (5 TKO's, 2 Submissions) at light heavyweight. Machida has never been defeated in MMA and, until October of this year, had handily won all of his fights. He did win a close decision against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in his first defense at UFC 104 but there was some controversy as many thought that Rua should have gotten the nod. Machida just became the consensus number 1 in his weight class this year. The combined career winning percentage of the opponents that he has faced so far is approximately 66%. (Bonus stats: Machida has had 2 fights at light heavyweight against a fighter with a losing record. 1 of his last 10 opponents at light heavyweight had a losing record.)