A promising, young prospect picked up the biggest win of his career against a “name” opponent fighting past his prime. It’s a common story in combat sports.
On Sunday, it was Mexican featherweight Yair Rodriguez battering a 38-year-old BJ Penn, who came out of an 18-month retirement.
Rodriguez dropped Penn in the second round with a front head kick and right hand. He followed that combination with a long series of punches and hammerfists on the ground, as referee John McCarthy waited what felt like an eternity to stop the bout. The official stoppage came at the 34-second mark.
The 145-pound headlined UFC Fight Night at Talking Stick Arena in Phoenix. It was Penn’s first appearance since he retired in July 2014, following a one-sided TKO loss to Frankie Edgar.
“This was an amazing fight for me,” said Rodriguez, who improved to 6-0 in the UFC. “I fought a legend tonight. He deserves more respect than I can give him. Thank you for accepting this fight.”
Penn (16-12-2) did not speak in the Octagon but walked out on his own. The defeat was the fourth knockout loss of his career and drops his record to 1-6-1 in his past eight contests.
Although the finish came in the second round, the fight was essentially over in the first.
Penn, who is from Hilo, Hawaii, did well enough closing the distance on Rodriguez initially and looked to work for takedowns along the fence.
Rodriguez (11-1) was too physical and his takedown defense was too good, however. He worked off the cage when Penn managed to get him there and landed hard kicks to the legs and body at range. He rattled Penn with a left head kick midway through the first round, which basically stopped Penn’s aggression for the rest of the fight.
Once Penn wasn’t actively working to get to the inside, he was a sitting duck for the 24-year-old Rodriguez, a promising fighter for the UFC based on his skill and appeal to the Mexican market. He is originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, but now fights out of Chicago.
Later in the first round, Rodriguez grazed Penn with a spinning wheel kick. He threw another hard left head kick that Penn appeared to block, but was still rocked by.
Penn, who trained with Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, in addition to longtime coach Jason Parillo, is widely considered the greatest lightweight in mixed martial arts history. He is a former UFC champion at 155 and 170 pounds and remains one of only three men to ever win titles in multiple weight classes.