For MMA legend BJ Penn, the fire still burns since first competing professionally in 2001. In his new book Why I Fight (Harper Collins), co-authored with David Weintraub, Penn tells the inside story of how a kid from Hilo conquered the UFC and beyond. From getting in trouble in high school to the events that led to his break with Ralph Gracie, all the gritty details of his life are there.
FIGHT! got a sneak preview of the book and the chance to pick Penn’s brain for some poignant Q&A.
FM: What prompted your decision to write Why I Fight at this juncture in your career?
BJ: Now is as good a time as ever. I’m not done with my career, but I’ve been in the sport about 10 years now. There’s a lot of stuff that went on in my career as far as winning the world title, why I left the UFC, what my thoughts were when I was having problems with the UFC, what my thoughts were about fighting in Japan, and many other things. I just wanted to give my fans some more insight on the way I think.
FM: Growing up in Hilo, Hawaii, you mention several early street fights. How did this build your character and help prepare you for the professional stage?
BJ: You learn how to give and take. You learn how to win some and lose some, and that’s what life is about. I’m not the biggest, fastest, or strongest person in the world. I’m not the greatest athlete you’ve ever seen. Any average Joe off the street can relate to someone like me. I represent the average, normal human being.
FM: Why do you have no hesitation to fight anyone at any weight class at any time?
BJ: I think a lot of that comes from being a kid and getting into fights with people. If someone pisses you off, you’re never going to ask him how much he weighs, that’s one. And number two, that’s the whole thing about jiu-jitsu and that’s the whole thing about martial arts. That’s what it was about, that’s why martial arts were created—so the small man could fight the big man and do well. You’re there to win.
FM: It seems like the message in this book is that people should pursue what they love.
BJ: I definitely think people should pursue what they love. Find what you love to do and become the best at it. Other than that, you’re wasting your time. And the people around you—you’re wasting their time too if you’re not doing what you love to do. I just want to thank my fans and all the fans of MMA in general. Without you guys, we wouldn’t be in our sport. And check out BJPenn.com. I put a lot of time into that website.