Penn: Rubber Match with Hughes New ‘Reason to Live’

By Mike Whitman Nov 17, 2010
B.J. Penn: Dave Mandel |

Following his second-consecutive loss to Frankie Edgar, former two-division UFC champion B.J. Penn was a little out of sorts.

A once-dominant champion, Penn had cleared out virtually all challengers in the lightweight division heading into his UFC 112 title defense against Edgar in April. Edgar fought Penn inventively, using his quickness to outfox the heavily-favored champion and snatch his belt away. Many fans and pundits felt Penn had won the fight, however, and labeled the Hawaiian's unanimous decision defeat a fluke. At UFC 118 just four months later, Edgar did it again, defending his new title and leaving Penn with nowhere to go and no one to fight.

“I was kind of bummed out [after the loss to Edgar]. When I got home after the fight, there were a couple of days where I didn't train. I just hung out, and there was nothing to do. I don't want to sit in the bar and drink,” said Penn during a UFC 123 conference call. “I didn't get banged or bruised up too much, so I just got back to training and thought about getting the lightweight title back.”

It was then that Penn was contacted by UFC president Dana White about a possible third fight with Penn's old welterweight nemesis, UFC hall of famer Matt Hughes. The fighters have butted heads twice before, both times for the welterweight championship. In their first fight at UFC 46, Penn shocked the world by moving up in weight and smashing the seemingly invincible champion. In their second go-around at UFC 63, Hughes weathered early offense from Penn and outlasted the Hawaiian, earning a third-round TKO victory to even the score.

The pair is scheduled to square off in the co-main event of UFC 123, which takes place on Nov. 20 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Mich. Penn's return to welterweight was met by the press with immediate questions regarding a title shot for the winner of his bout with Hughes.

“I think it's premature to be talking about a title fight. I definitely think Matt has worked his way back up the ranks. My goal is to be the welterweight champ again, and I wouldn't mind being the lightweight champ again, but I’m taking it one step at a time,” said the former jiu-jitsu world champion. “[I’m comfortable at either] 155 or 170. If I do well against Matt and feel good at welterweight, there's no doubt I’d like to fight best welterweights out there.”

In training for a foe as familiar as Hughes, Penn claims he hasn't done anything out of the ordinary. That's not to say, however, that his regimen has undergone no changes since the loss to Edgar.

“I’ve been changing my training, doing roadwork, trying to push my different energy systems. You've got to improve everything -- boxing, takedowns, wrestling,” said Penn. “[Regarding Hughes], I haven't done anything drastic. I’ve just been training. I brought in good sparring partners for the fight, and it feels like yesterday when I was fighting at welterweight. I’m just preparing for the legend, preparing for Matt.”

When asked about whether he's afraid of losing any fans after suffering back-to-back defeats, Penn dismissed the idea.

“I just have to keep on going. It's definitely about the fans. I don't worry about losing all my fans. Whatever true fans you've got will stick by you, so that's nothing to worry about,” he said.

Penn, 31, has been good-humored about his opportunity to fight Hughes for a third time, even going so far as to credit mixed martial arts as his primary motivator in life.

“After two losses I would have fought anybody, but it was kind of a gift from Dana to get to fight Matt. I think when you've been where [Matt and I] have been, a lot of other things seem boring. This is what gives me a reason to live. When I got that text [from Dana], I got chicken skin all over my body. I’ve got a reason to live for a few more months.”
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