UFC 87 Notebook: St. Pierre-Penn Looks Certain

By Brian Knapp Aug 11, 2008
A rematch between welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre (Pictures) and lightweight titleholder B.J. Penn (Pictures) appears all but inevitable after St. Pierre dominated Jon Fitch (Pictures) in the featured bout at UFC 87 “Seek and Destroy” on Saturday at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

The two mixed martial arts titans met at UFC 58 in March 2006, as St. Pierre eked out a controversial split decision against the Hawaiian. Penn has pushed for a rematch ever since, and St. Pierre seems a willing participant.

“I want to be a real champion,” St. Pierre said at the post-fight press conference for UFC 87. “I want to be the best in the world, and to be the best in the world, you have to fight the best in the world. I want to give a [title] shot to everybody who deserves it.”

Penn (13-4-1), long heralded as one of the top five pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, has posted three consecutive victories since he returned to the lightweight division. He last appeared in May when he stopped former champion Sean Sherk (Pictures) on strikes and defended his 155-pound belt at UFC 84.

B.J. Penn (Pictures) deserves it,” St. Pierre said. “He’s an incredible fighter. I’m not a coward. I’m not a guy who’s going to duck people.”

St. Pierre (17-2) has won 10 of his last 11 fights, including four straight. He battered Fitch for five rounds, going the distance in a championship bout for the first time in his career. The 27-year-old Canadian called Fitch his toughest test to date.

“After the third round, I was looking at the clock,” St. Pierre said. “Jon Fitch (Pictures) -- he never died. I tried to finish him many times. I was like, ‘My God, what am I going to have to do to beat this guy.’”

Florian wants second crack at lightweight title

One-time lightweight title challenger Kenny Florian (Pictures) positioned himself as a top contender for Penn’s 155-pound crown with his unanimous decision victory against Roger Huerta (Pictures) at UFC 87. However, with Penn poised to move up in weight for a ballyhooed rematch with St. Pierre, Florian (10-3) understands he may be forced to wait until sometime in 2009 for his crack at lightweight gold.

“I don’t really want to wait around,” said Florian, who dropped a unanimous decision to Sherk in a match for the vacant UFC lightweight championship in 2006. “I want to fight before the end of the year. Hopefully, I’ll fight around the same time [as Penn and St. Pierre] and then fight B.J. after that.”

On a five-fight winning streak, Florian’s stock has never been higher. The 32-year-old believes fans want to see him test his skills against Penn, one of only two men to hold UFC titles in two weight divisions. While Florian would undoubtedly be a heavy underdog if the fight were to come to fruition, he believes he could hold his own against Penn inside the cage.

“Obviously, the fans will love the fight,” Florian said. “I think I’m going to win every fight. I’m not going to go in there and lay down for anybody. Yeah, he’s talented; he’s a great fighter, but when the UFC tells me to fight someone, I’m going to train to win.”

Bonuses awarded to quartet

St. Pierre and Fitch were handsomely rewarded for their efforts in a five-round battle for the welterweight championship at UFC 87, as they received matching 60,000-dollar bonuses for “Fight of the Night.” St. Pierre retained his title with a one-sided unanimous decision over the hard-nosed but overmatched Indianan.

Unbeaten in four fights since his upset loss to Matt Serra (Pictures) at UFC 69 in April 2007, St. Pierre took down Fitch at will, punished him on the ground and had the former collegiate wrestler in trouble on several occasions. In addition, the Canadian became the first man to ever pass Fitch’s guard inside the Octagon. St. Pierre’s quickness and technique surprised Fitch, a product of the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif.

“He’s a little bit faster than I expected,” Fitch said. “I thought he was fast but not that fast. His overall strength wasn’t super imposing. His hips are incredibly strong and quick. It’s a God-given gift that you can’t really learn.”

St. Pierre and Fitch were not the only combatants who left the Target Center a little heavier in the wallet.

Two-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Demian Maia (Pictures) picked up the 60,000-dollar “Submission of the Night” bonus after he secured a fight-ending rear-naked choke in the third round against the tenacious Jason MacDonald (Pictures). An emerging force at 185 pounds, Maia (8-0) remained undefeated in eight professional bouts. He has finished his last five opponents.

Finally, Rob Emerson, a cast member on season five of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series, earned a 60,000-dollar bonus for “Knockout of the Night” after he destroyed Manvel Gamburyan (Pictures) in just 12 seconds. Emerson (8-6) leveled Gamburyan with a straight right hand and then put him away with a left on the ground. Gamburyan (8-3) had never been knocked out in 10 previous fights.

This & That

Two of the longest winning streaks in major mixed martial arts competition came to an end at “Seek and Destroy.” Fitch had won 15 straight matches dating back to his December 2002 defeat to Wilson Gouveia (Pictures), and Huerta had reeled of 13 wins in a row since his no contest with Melvin Guillard (Pictures) in June 2004 … UFC rookies went 1-4 at UFC 87, with Jon Jones scoring the only victory among Octagon newcomers. Jones (6-0) defeated International Fight League veteran Andre Gusmao (Pictures) by unanimous decision … Royce Gracie (Pictures)’s longstanding record of eight consecutive victories inside the UFC -- a mark Fitch tied -- remains safe for now. However, UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva (Pictures) will seek his eighth straight win against Patrick Cote (Pictures) at UFC 90 on Oct. 25 in Chicago … “The Ultimate Fighter” alumni went 3-2 at “Seek and Destroy,” as American Top Team’s Ben Saunders, Florian and Emerson all notched victories. Saunders (6-0-2) submitted Ryan Thomas with a second-round armbar.
<h2>Fight Finder</h2>
Around The Web