The first American to ever win an IBJJF world championship, and a UFC Hall of Famer, BJ Penn is a legend of the sport who has no problem dedicating all of his triumphs to BJJ.
In an attempt to go back to his roots in the lead-up to his December 29 return to the cage opposite Ryan Hall at UFC 232, last month he paid a visit to Brazil. The training at Nova União, which helped him win the 2000 world title, was just a fraction of the gifts given to him by the gentle art.
“Jiu-jitsu changed my whole life,” Penn told us at Gracie Pro 2018, in the first time we spoke with him in 15 years. “I would just be a guy drinking beer at the beach. It’s so beautiful to see this day, because I see so many people from Brazil, from Nova União in Australia, in Canada… This thing gave so many lives to so many people… Thank you so much, everybody in Brazilian jiu-jitsu — the Gracie family, André Pederneiras. Everybody. Thanks for pushing this jiu-jitsu.”
It was through BJJ that Penn first came to Brazil in his early twenties. He refined his ground knowledge, earned his black belt, became a world champion and then migrated to mixed martial arts. His first UFC belt came through a rear naked choke imposed upon Matt Hughes.