B.J. Penn (top): Dave Mandel
Former UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn doesn’t think strength will play a role in his rubber match against Matt Hughes on Saturday at UFC 123.
The fight is at 170 pounds, where Hughes has long been known as one of the most powerful fighters in the division. Penn has beaten him there before but also lost to him. The Hawaiian acknowledged that Hughes is the bigger fighter, but he also says that doesn’t matter.
“Bigger, yeah. Stronger? I feel I’m just as strong as anyone,” Penn said during a recent interview on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “It’s Time” show with Bruce Buffer. “I don’t even feel like I feel people’s strength when we fight. From all the people that I’ve fought, I don’t even really think that strength ends up being a factor. While you’re in there, you can’t really feel it. Everybody feels like they punch the same. When you wrestle them, it feels like they wrestle the same. It’s just who’s got better technique and who moves better. I don’t think that’s going to be the big issue.”
Should he get by Hughes, Penn is considering another run at 170. However, he does not sound interested in bulking up to compete in the division. In particular, he believes lifting weights would be a waste of his time.
“I guess if I was going to put on muscle, it would be by punching the heavy bag and by wrestling bigger opponents because I really question that weightlifting strength and how functional that stuff is,” he said. “I know it’s benefited some people, but for me personally, in my own opinion, [lifting] is just something else to do to work out when you could be doing something that could help you more in the ring. I think it takes time and energy to lift weights, and that’s time and energy that’s being taken away from learning the sport itself. There’s so many aspects of mixed martial arts. We will never be able to grasp all of them, and spending time and energy doing something like lifting weights, I think you’re not getting the most bang for your buck in that area.”
Penn said his best fighting weight is around 164-168 pounds. He weighed 169 Friday ahead of his showdown with Hughes. If nothing else, not having to cut to 155 has reduced Penn’s stress leading up to the bout.
“I’m definitely a lot more happy,” Penn said. “I got to eat a lot. It wasn’t like I was eating a chicken salad and then training for three hours, like what ends up happening to a lot of the guys cutting weight. I’m in great spirits. I’ll be in great spirits all week. Of course Matt’s got to make the weight cut, so during the press conference and during the weigh-in, he’ll be a lot weaker than I am. I get to be a lot more positive going into this whole thing.”
As for the fight itself, Penn suspects that his losses to Frankie Edgar might have misled the Hughes camp.
“I think because my last two fights were so lackluster that people are really wondering what’s going to go on,” Penn said. “I think even Matt Hughes and his crew might be wondering or maybe they’re underestimating me or thinking whether I’m unmotivated or I’m not training properly. … I think they’re going to see a lot different B.J. Penn than they’ve seen, that they’ve had to go up against.”
At the same time, Penn is expecting an improved opponent. He plans on Hughes being top-notch for their final encounter.
“It’d be nice if Matt Hughes left his guard down, but on both sides, for the fans and for each other, we deserve to see the best 31-year-old B.J. Penn and the best 37-year-old Matt Hughes,” Penn said. “It sounds like he’s getting older, but he’s still awesome.”
Listen to the full interview (beginning at 24:10) with Penn, who also discussed how long he’d like to fight.