Abu Dhabi: His name may be “Baby Jay” Penn, but the 34-year-old strides the world of Mixed Martial Arts as a giant - regarded as one of the greatest fighters in the sport’s history.
Born in Hawaii, Penn and two of his brothers share the name Jay Dee but being the youngest, his nickname is “Baby Jay.” Now on the verge of stepping down from the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) where he is only the second man to win two titles (Lightweight and Welterweight) in UFC history, Penn feels the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship will have a lot of ramifications in the future on Mixed Martial Arts.
Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview, Penn, who is here as a special guest of the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship, described the huge impact the event is having on the sport.
Gulf News: When do we see you back in action? Or have you called it a day?
B.J. Penn: I might fight again, I am not actively seeking to fight again but I think I may. I fought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) for 13 years; the UFC does not want to see me get hurt I think… so maybe I fight again or maybe not.
You mentioned getting hurt. How does your family react when they sometimes have to see bloodied faces?
I would be the first to say that I was never the same fighter after I had kids, after I had my two daughters, I would say that. It’s true. But regarding the injuries and blood…it took my mother a long time to be able to bear and watch it.
But If I get injured I don’t like to go home, because I don’t want to my kids to see me hurt because they are going to get scared. In fact, it is all these things that makes me wonder if I have to step away.
Being on the circuit for such a long time, how do you think the fighters view the Abu Dhabi World BJJ Championship now?
I never thought that in a million years that the UAE is going to be a very big place in Jiu Jitsu. But then again, I was just a kid from a small town in Hawaii and the UAE is so far. You know what...it is a dream; it is a dream for the people to come here. Whenever the trials happen, everybody runs to go to the trials…this is an amazing event.
This is the fifth edition of the championship here. How much of an impact has it had on the world of martial arts?
Maybe if this professional event was here 13 years ago, I wouldn’t have fought Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) but I would have done this to pay the bills.
This is very big, this is going to have a lot of ramifications in the future. It is going to steal a lot of MMA talent because they are going to say,
‘I don’t have to go get punched in my face. I can do what I love and still pay my bills.’
You have seen the UAE nationals in action and you have been organizing some “Masterclass” sessions here. What does the future hold for Emirati fighters?
There is a lot of talent and the sport is very popular here. I think in the next two to five years, there is going to be at least one or two UAE fighters who are going to be in the top level with everybody else. I believe this for sure.
How appealing can the BJJ be to kids in comparison to other sport like football or tennis. Is it difficult to woo them to the sport?
Everybody wants to be tough. People are going to take to Jiu Jitsu. See in any other sport when the athletes get mad, they start to fight. At that point, they forget the sport they are playing and start the other sport (fighting)!
But it’s a good question if the sport is as appealing. If you see people playing soccer and some Jiu Jitsu, which way will you go? I think it’s better left to each individual as to what he is good at.