Sad news in the world of mixed martial arts, as Jay Dee Penn Sr., father of UFC Hall of Famer BJ Penn, passed away Thursday.
Penn was 76 years old. He had been battling with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease over the last several years, though no official cause of death has been determined.
BJ Penn revealed the news on Instagram, writing, “Love you Pop! Thanks for teaching me how to think past the pain, never give up, and the importance of America’s children who died for our freedoms. Love you forever to the sky. I will celebrate you till I see you again! Thanks for giving me the greatest life ever and always hugging me and making me breakfast.”
A native of Kansas who ultimately found his way to Hawaii, Mr. Penn raised six children with his wife Lorraine Shin-Penn, naming three of the boys after himself. And while he was a master carpenter and successful businessman in his adopted home state, he was drawn into the fight game when he realized that a tenant of his, Tom Callos, was teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Interested in getting his sons involved, Mr. Penn sent his sons Reagan and Baby Jay (BJ) to Callos, and that was the spark that led to one of the most storied careers in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts. BJ Penn would become the first non-Brazilian to win a gold medal in the black belt division of the Mundial World Jiu-Jitsu Championships, and in 2001 he made his MMA debut in the UFC. By the time of his induction into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2015, Penn had won world titles in the lightweight and welterweight divisions, competing against – and defeating – the best fighters in the sport.
Throughout it all, his father was by his side, always taking care of his son each step of the way.
“I always enjoyed my conversations and dealings with Jay Dee Penn,” said former UFC owner, Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta. “He was a great negotiator and a very proud father of his son, BJ Penn. He will be missed.”
A familiar face to those in the business, Mr. Penn left a positive impression with everyone he met as a classy gentleman quick with a smile, a kind word or a story to tell.
“Mr. Penn was very unique to deal with,” said UFC President Dana White. “I had an absolute blast talking to him on a weekly basis in the early days of the UFC. He was a good man who loved his family very much and would do anything to help his kids succeed.”
Jay Dee Penn is survived by his wife Lorraine Shin, six children and several grandchildren.
The UFC sends its sincerest condolences to the Penn family on their loss.