B.J. Penn was born as Jay Dee “B.J.” Penn III was born on December 13, 1978 in Kailua, Hawaii. He was born to Lorraine Shin (who is Korean and Hawaiian) and Jay Dee Penn (who is Irish American).
After being exposed to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by his neighbour Tom Callos, Penn started training in the sport when he was 17 years old.
In order to find individuals to train with, Callos had posted flyers at neighbourhood gyms. B.J.’s father Jay Dee Penn called Callos to let him know his sons were interested.
Callos then imparted his knowledge to B.J. and his brother. Shortly after, B.J. relocated to San Jose, California. He started training at the Ralph Gracie BJJ academy with Dave Camarillo (who now trains Zuckerberg). The two went on to become good friends. He made the decision to pursue a martial arts career while he was still in San Jose.
Ralph Gracie taught Penn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu beginning in 1997. Gracie finally awarded Penn his purple belt. He then relocated to Nova Unio, where André Pederneiras ultimately gave him his black belt in 2000.
A few weeks later, he won the black-belt division of the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship. Additionally, he became the first non-Brazilian to do so.
Penn’s performance at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship caught the eye of the UFC, and he eventually transitioned to mixed martial arts. In May 2001, Penn made his professional mixed martial arts debut with the organization by defeating Joey Gilbert at UFC 31.
B.J. Penn then showed off his powerful striking abilities by eliminating lightweights Din Thomas and Caol Uno. However, he ended up losing to UFC Lightweight Champion Jens Pulver via decision.
Following Pulver’s departure from the organisation as he relinquished his belt, a match between Penn and Uno took place at UFC 41 in 2003 to choose a champion. However, the match resulted in a draw and the UFC subsequently suspended its lightweight division.
Later that year, Penn made a comeback by defeating Takanori Gomi to win his first MMA title. It was the Rumble on the Rock Lightweight Championship. The event was promoted by his brother and the Fighting and Entertainment Group, the parent company of the biggest kickboxing organisation K-1.
At UFC 46 in 2004, Penn won his first UFC title. Penn moved up in weight classes and challenged the five-time reigning UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes as he had already defeated every eligible opponent.
Hughes was heavily favoured to win the match, but he lost it four minutes into the first round by rear naked choke after giving up his back with only 23 seconds remaining in the round. The match is still remembered as one of the biggest upsets in mixed martial arts history and one of the greatest submission victories ever.
Penn decided to compete for the K-1 organisation of the Japanese Fighting and Entertainment Group since there weren’t any challenging bouts for him in the UFC. The UFC swiftly stripped him of the welterweight championship, alleging that Penn had broken the terms of his contract. The organization also alleged that by signing, Penn had shown a desire not to defend his title. Penn said that his UFC contract had already ended in a lawsuit he filed against the organisation and made public.
In his second bout for FEG, Penn competed at welterweight once again. He won the match via arm triangle choke in under five minutes at the 2004 K-1 MMA Romanex event against Duane Ludwig.
At K-1 Hero’s 1 in March 2005, Penn competed against future UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida. Penn was defeated by a unanimous decision. Later that year at the K-1 World Grand Prix in Hawaii, Penn competed against veteran Renzo Gracie and won by unanimous decision.
UFC president Dana White stated at UFC 56 in early 2006 that Penn and the UFC reached a settlement. He said that Penn would return to the UFC as one of the top welterweight contenders.
When Penn made his comeback on March 4 at UFC 58, Georges St-Pierre defeated him by split decision to become the top contender at welterweight. Although St. Pierre was awarded the victory following a three-round decision, some fans felt that B.J. Penn had done enough to get the win.
TUF 5 made its premiere on April 5, 2007. B.J. Penn served as one of the coaches. He led a team of eight lightweight competitors in the series. In June 2007 at TUF Finale, he competed in a rematch against Jens Pulver. He ended up winning the match via a rear naked choke submission. The two hugged after Pulver tapped out.
The UFC scheduled Penn to compete against Joe Stevenson at UFC 80 in January 2008 for the interim lightweight championship. At 4:02 of the second round, Penn won the Lightweight Championship via rear naked choke. He licked Joe Stevenson’s blood off of his gloves as a way to commemorate the victory. With this victory, Penn joined Randy Couture as the only other combatant to have UFC championships in two distinct weight divisions.
In August 2009 at UFC 101, Penn faced Kenny Florian and successfully defended his belt. At 155 pounds, Penn seemed to be in substantially better physical condition than in his prior matches.
At UFC 107 in December 2009, Penn faced Diego Sanchez for the UFC Lightweight Championship. Penn effectively neutralised Sanchez’s offence, displaying deft footwork and evasive head movement while showing immaculate takedown defence against 27 attempts from Sanchez. The match was stopped at 2:47 into the fifth round via TKO after a kick caused a significant gash above Sanchez’s left eye on his forehead.
With the win, Penn broke Jens Pulver’s previous record and set a new record for lightweight title defences.
In April 2010 at UFC 112, Penn faced Frankie Edgar in his subsequent title defence. Despite entering the match as the heavy favourite, Penn was defeated by a unanimous decision. His eight-year record of undefeated streak in the lightweight class finally snapped.
After their two previous bouts at UFC 46 and UFC 63, Penn faced Matt Hughes in UFC 123 in a rematch. After knocking Hughes to the ground with a right hand and continuing to attack him on the mat, Penn knocked out Hughes in the first round in only 21 seconds.
After the event at UFC 123, Penn stated: “You’re my idol — Matt Hughes, you’re my idol, you will always be my idol, thank you.”
UFC President Dana White announced that Penn would face top welterweight contender Jon Fitch at UFC 127 in Australia. In order to prepare for the bout, Penn worked out with Floyd Mayweather Sr. and Matt Hughes.
Fitch was taken aback when Penn took him to the ground rather than employing his stand-up techniques. The match ended in a draw and Fitch’s five-bout winning steak snapped.
At the in the main event at UFC 137, Penn competed against Nick Diaz. Penn ended up losing the match via unanimous decision. Following his loss, Penn talked about wish to retire. He said: “Joe, this was probably the last time you’ll see me in here. I can’t keep performing at the top level. That’s it Joe. I got a daughter and another daughter on the way, I don’t want to go home looking like this. I’m done.”
When welterweight contender Rory MacDonald repeatedly challenged B.J. Penn, he responded by accepting his challenge. The match between Penn and MacDonald occurred in December 2012 at UFC on Fox 5. Penn was defeated in the match by unanimous decisions. Although B.J. Penn has expressed a desire to return to the lightweight division of the UFC, Dana White said after the bout that he would want to see Penn retire from mixed martial arts.
In September 2013, Penn’s comeback from a layoff and transition to the Featherweight category was announced on UFC Tonight. It was stated Penn would coach against rival Frankie Edgar for the 19th season of TUF. This was Penn’s second time as a head coach. At TUF 19 Finale in July 2014, the two coaches squared off against one another for the third time.
Penn ended up losing the match in the third round by TKO. During the news conference after the match, Penn declared his desire to once again retire.
The next years were plagued with Penn losing consecutively in the UFC. He was dropped from the promotion at the beginning of September when video footage of him punching customers in a pub brawl in Pahoa, Hawaii, emerged.
His name ‘B.J.’ is a shortened form of the name “Baby Jay”. His father gave the names ‘Jay Dee’ to three of his four children. The three boys with the name ‘Jay Dee’ have different nicknames to prevent confusion: ‘Jay’ (Jay Dee Penn), ‘Jay Dee’ (Jay Dee Penn II), and ‘Baby Jay’ (Jay Dee Penn III).
Penn was born in Hawaii and is quite proud of his Hawaiian culture. As a nod to his Hawaiian background, Penn often played Hawaiian music during his walk-out entrances. Penn has also said that he deeply identifies with his Korean heritage and that he has visited South Korea to conduct seminars.
Penn has two daughters. However, he has never been married as according to him “it doesn’t matter that much in Hawaii.”
Penn is a co-author of Mixed Martial Arts: The Book of Knowledge. In 2009, Penn also starred in the movie Never Surrender.
Penn declared his desire to run for governor in the 2022 Hawaii general election on October 5th, 2021. But he lost in the Republican primary as he came in second place behind winner Duke Aiona.
Penn has a long history of acting violently after drinking. After a brawl outside of a pub in Kihei in January 2015, Penn was taken into custody and charged with assault.
Penn’s ex-girlfriend Shealen Uaiwa obtained a restraining order against him in October 2019, claiming years of physical and s*xual abuse. It was granted in February 2019 and remained in effect until October 2021.
It was announced by Fox Sports during the live coverage of UFC 187 in May 2015 that Penn will be inducted into the revamped UFC Hall of Fame in the Modern Category during festivities leading up to UFC 189.