Ariel & The Bad Guy: Is UFC negligent by booking BJ Penn?

BJ Penn, 40, has lost his past seven fights, yet the UFC is booking him for one more. Jason Silva/USA Today Sports

BJ Penn is a UFC Hall of Famer, a former two-division champion who has had many glorious moments inside the Octagon.

Those moments happened long ago. Penn, 40, has lost his past seven fights and has just one victory in his past 11 bouts, a skid extending to 2010.

When "The Prodigy" lost to Clay Guida in May, it was thought that would be his swan song. But last week, UFC president Dana White said Penn (16-14-2) will fight once more, facing Nik Lentz on a date to be determined.

This was one topic discussed in this week's Ariel & The Bad Guy episode, streamed exclusively on ESPN+. The question was put to Chael Sonnen: Do you still have interest in seeing BJ Penn fight?

Sonnen: Yes, I do, but Ariel, listen, it comes with a caveat. The caveat was put out by Dana White, who then made it public: "Hey, BJ, I will give you this one last match as long as you understand -- and I quote: Win, lose or draw, this is your last match." BJ agreed to those terms. And me, as a fan, a former training partner of BJ that's known him from the very beginning, I'm happy to hear that because I do see what everybody else sees. I do see him slowing down in there. I do see and do know that the human body simply does not get better with time.

This is a grudge match. I love the story of this fight. Nik Lentz, just to remind you, was brought in as a training partner for BJ Penn. Something happened within the very first week. Nik Lentz got an eye cut, and he was put on an airplane because he could no longer spar, and he was sent home. I don't remember if it was BJ who cut his eye or another teammate, but somehow, Nik got a bad taste in his mouth and has been calling for this fight for years. BJ Penn, rightfully, in fairness, thought that he was in too high a position and didn't have to give Nik Lentz the opportunity.

With those losses that were mentioned by the Voice of God [producer], I think that now he sees that this is a very fine fight to do, and [he'll] go out and do it. I think we can have some fun here, possibly even a main card match. Would be great for both of them.

Ariel Helwani: I'm sorry. I'm so shocked. In the year-plus that we've been doing this, I don't think I've ever been speechless. I am shocked by your response, Chael. Yeah, I like this fight -- six years ago. I have no interest in seeing this fight in 2019. This is negligent, Chael. And what? Win, lose or draw, he's retiring? Says who? Says who? Who says that he's not going to go fight for someone else? We said that last fight. We said that two fights ago.

BJ Penn is not the same human being -- forget about fighter -- he's not the same human being. Have you talked to him? Have you seen him? See him in front of your eyes. He is not the same human being. Why is he being put in the cage again, especially against a guy who clearly hates him, Chael? Do you see the way Nik Lentz is talking about him? He wants to ruin him. This isn't Clay Guida, who has respect for him, who has admiration for him, who may take it a little easy. No, this is a guy who wants to ruin BJ Penn, who wants to retire BJ Penn, who wants BJ Penn to never even consider fighting again.

This is negligent. This man should not be fighting. This man shouldn't have been fighting a long time ago. And it pains me to say this because I don't like when media tell people to retire. I don't like it. But in this case, he should be retired. There's no money to be made off this fight. There's no interest in this fight. The fans have openly rejected this fight. Why are we doing this? For what reason -- to give him one more shot? No, he's gotten seven. He hasn't won in almost a decade, Chael.

What are we doing here? What is the point of this? I don't understand it. It bothers me because it shouldn't be happening. In the past, Dana White has come out and said that Chuck Liddell should retire, Big Nog [Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira] should retire. We've talked about this in the past. We've talked about guys who have stuck around too long, and we've helped them make that transition.

Why doesn't BJ get that same respect? Why does he not get the chance to say, "OK, I'm good, I'm gonna sit back, I'm gonna relax"? No, we're going to keep putting him in the cage, over and over again? For what? He's going to get hurt, Chael. Last week, we saw a boxer die. And I'm sorry, but these are the things that I think about when I think about BJ Penn in the cage. This man has taken more damage than anyone, more head strikes than anyone in the history of the sport. This is not right. This is not safe. And it makes me very uncomfortable.


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Sonnen: Ariel, I want to be respectful in my statement here, but I also must be candid. When you use the word "negligent," I cannot help but to offer you: But it's Nik Lentz. And when I say that, I get what I'm doing there. I'm kind of being a jerk. But [Penn] has moved down the ladder. We're not talking about world championship fights anymore. We're not talking about main events. I don't believe we're even talking about a co-main event. I think we're struggling for a main card fight here, of which neither has been a part of for a meaningful period of time. I do think that opponent-wise, it's a little bit more appropriate.

Don't forget what I told you at the very beginning: They've trained together. Even if it was for a very small period, they did train together. BJ has a feel, he has a sense, he knows what he's going into. And regardless of what our eyes are telling us, we do have to ultimately defer to his firsthand experience.

I don't believe it is negligent. I actually believe it is quite responsible, with the caveat that, listen, you want to go out on your terms? But here are the terms. Make sure you make these yours, BJ: Win, lose or draw, this is your last one.

You did bring up a fair point, to say, who's to say he's not going to go somewhere else? But that's when I think we can start to deal with the negligence. I think we are on par here with the opponent. I think the oddsmakers, before this fight comes, it's going to be very close. I think they're going to agree with me. And the competition itself? Don't come back and do an "I told you so." I don't know. But leading into the fight, I think we have used a level of responsibility. I think it's a fair match.

Helwani: I don't want to suggest that the UFC has to look out for every single fighter when it's their time to walk away. That's asking too much. There's no union or anything. They don't have to do that. No one's saying they have to do that. But there are certain guys who are pillars of this sport, founding fathers of the sport. Chuck was one of those guys. And I don't understand how we pushed for him to retire, and we gave him this nice little soft landing. But with BJ, we keep trotting him out there. Why is that? Why can't we just help him make that transition?

Because again, I can guarantee you this: Win, lose or draw, Chael, whenever this fight happens, he is going to keep fighting. Look at the stuff that's going on. Look at the headlines. Look at the stuff he's dealing with outside the cage. He will keep fighting. If we don't help him -- if people don't sit in front of him and say, "BJ, this isn't healthy. You aren't doing yourself any good. You're going to pay for this somewhere down the line" -- he doesn't have any real friends. Clearly, no one is looking out for him right now.

I will just say it: I don't like it. I don't want to see it. I have no interest in it.