Saturday night we witnessed another case of a proud old lion in BJ Penn being overtaken by a young, up-and-coming lion in Rory MacDonald. Actually, not just a younger lion, but a younger, bigger, stronger, faster, and quite possibly a more well-nourished lion.
A young lion who evidently enjoyed doing the Ali shuffle in the face of an all-time great, which in turn ignited quite the boo-storm in the arena. As this all unfolded, I asked myself, did we just witness Rory MacDonald go heel?
As far as the action in the fight, Saturday night went as most folks expected. While some folks hoped a motivated BJ would be too much for the less experienced MacDonald, that was just nostalgia talking.
From the opening bell, MacDonald dominated Penn in what was very close to a flawless performance as MacDonald continues to earn the respect of fans and the rest of the welterweight division. While Rory looked more comfortable on the feet than ever, Penn never looked like much of a threat, and as with recent fallen greats like Chuck Liddell and Fedor Emelianenko, it can be tough to watch a once-proud lion take a beating.
But even if the face of three rounds of consistent and ruthless punishment, Penn would not be finished, and could walk out of the Octagon with his head held high, knowing that he always stepped up and went toe to toe with bigger foes, never playing a points game, never bathing in Vaseline between rounds, and always looking to finish.
Moving up in weight to battle Georges St Pierre and Lyoto Machida illustrated that BJ Penn would never back down, never talked catch-weight, and always fought with the spirit of a warrior. Even ‘brawler’ Nick Diaz took to cage leaning to tire out Penn before turning their fight into a one-sided affair on the feet.
Penn truly is a fighter’s fighter, and for the reasons listed above, BJ Penn will retire a legend with the utmost respect, and the all time Pound for Pound fighter in my book.
That brings us to MacDonald. Even in the midst of watching Rory impressively dismantle a legend, there were a great many boos raining down when he was shuffling his feet, dropping his hands, and otherwise illustrating the lengths to which he was manhandling The Prodigy.
Although at the post-fight presser he said he meant no disrespect to Penn, it can be tough for some to see it that way. Many folks thought it was a move to make a fighter who has been accused of being a bit reserved seem more unpredictable and zany.
Others thought it may have been rooted in a feeling of resentment at Penn’s insinuation that MacDonald was on illegal performance enhancers and Penn’s insistence on blood tests leading up to the fight. McDonald said it was more a way to get Penn off-balance.
I wonder if there’s a bit of all three in there. It’s not as if he was having trouble connecting on Penn before doing the showboating bits. But even if he meant no disrespect, he could not be oblivious to how it looks.
When Bigfoot Silva defeated Fedor Emlienanko, he burst into tears and spoke of the dream it was to defeat such a legend. When MacDonald defeated Penn, he repeatedly did the Ali Shuffle, and that’s an image that fans could have a tough time forgetting.
Time will tell if MacDonald heads further down that path or if it was all a big misunderstanding. One thing is for certain. The guy is a hell of a fighter and if he keeps dominating folks and improving his game, he may one day live to be destroyed and humiliated by a young lion. And it’s quite likely no one will boo.