Prodigy – a person, especially a young one, endowed with exceptional qualities or abilities; an impressive or outstanding example of a particular quality; an amazing or unusual thing, especially one out of the ordinary course of nature.
BJ Penn, also known as “The Prodigy” is a legendary iconic figure in professional combat sports, particularly Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts. Amongst the incredible list of combat sport achievements accomplished by BJ Penn, he was one of the fastest men to achieve the rank of black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
BJ Penn became the first non-Brazilian to win the black-belt division of the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He is the second MMA fighter to win UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) titles in two different weight categories (lightweight & welterweight).
Jay Dee Penn was born December 13, 1978 to father Jay Dee Penn (Irish descent) and mother Loraine Shin (Korean descent) in Kailua on the Island of Oahu. Like his brothers born before him, they were all named Jay Dee (younger brother named Reagan). To avoid confusion each of the sons named “Jay Dee” goes by a nickname: 1st: “Jay”, 2nd: “Jay Dee”, and 3rd: “Baby Jay” which is where the “BJ” comes from. The Penn family moved to Wainaku, Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawai’i when BJ was still a youngster. Wainaku, Hilo is where BJ grew up and calls home.
With a household full of young boys similar in age it was only natural to be competitive, each to prove himself against each other; boys will be boys. BJ was 17 years old when his father introduced him to Tom Callos, Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor who recently moved to Hilo from Brazil. At first BJ was reluctant, but quickly gained an interest in the combat sport. In 1997 BJ moved to San Jose, California to begin training at the Ralph Gracie BJJ Academy. It was here during his time in San Jose that he decided to pursue a career in martial arts. BJ moved on to Nova União academy where he was eventually awarded his black belt in 2000. Only few weeks later he became the first non-Brazilian to win the black-belt division of the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship.
Lorenzo Fertitta and Dayna White of the newly aquired UFC convinced Joe Silva to give BJ a match. In 2001 BJ’s 11 second KO over Caol Uno in his 3rd UFC match put him on the map, in the spotlight of MMA. In 2004 BJ got his wish to move up a weight class defeating Matt Hughes for the Welterweight Championship belt. BJ’s title was stripped when he fought in the K1 organization against UFC’s liking. BJ returned to the UFC in 2006 and in 2008 defeated by rear naked choke to obtain the UFC Lightweight Championship. BJ Penn moved up and down the weight classes, his last (to date) fight came at a TKO lost to Frankie Edgar in 2014.
The legendary two-time, two-division UFC World Champion BJ Penn “The Prodigy” was inducted in the Modern Era category of the UFC Hall of Fame in July 2015.
BJ Penn operates the Penn Fitness & Training Center in downtown Hilo, Hawai’i.