As a precursor to a potentially classic MMA showdown, UFC lightweight champion BJ “The Prodigy” Penn and UFC welterweight champion Georges “Rush” St-Pierre kicked off their press tour to promote their January 31 rematch at UFC 94 in Las Vegas.
For those needing a recap, the pair met for the first time at UFC 58 in 2006. After three rounds of back and forth action, GSP won a hard fought—but controversial—split decision victory over Penn.
Much has changed in both men’s careers since that 2006 matchup, and both men insist that they’ve drastically improved since then.
“I’ve improved a lot,” the welterweight champion explained. “When I’m not training for a fight I train my skills—strictly wrestling, boxing, Muay-Thai or Jiu-Jitsu. I sharpen my skills. I’ve seen a big progression in my training fights. I can’t wait to show up and fight BJ. He’s not the same fighter he used to be as well. We’re both going to fight each other in our prime and its going to be a great fight.“
While Penn’s skills have vastly improved as well, his biggest improvements came through a change in mentality to fighting.
“I think I improved my focus and dedication. Everything else comes along with that. I’ve been improving my skills and my conditioning, but if I had to say one thing it’d be my focus and dedication.
“When I was 22 I wanted to become the lightweight champion. I’m going to be 30 next month and I want to become the best ever.”
In the mind of UFC president Dana White, the fight is much bigger than the welterweight title that will be on the line. A victory for either man sets up not only interesting future scenarios, but catapults the victor to further MMA greatness.
“I think that this fight,” White said before a brief pause, “the guy that walks out as the winner is going to be a mega star and be on his way to becoming one of the greats. If BJ wins, he’ll defend two titles. Nobody’s ever done that. If Georges wins there’s another super fight that he could take. This is the kinda stuff that will make one of these guys a legend.”
The additional super fight for St-Pierre is none other than reigning middle weight champion Anderson “The Spider” Silva. And while a St-Pierre-Silva fight is on the table pending a victory by the Canadian welterweight, White cautioned media and fans not to get their hopes up about Penn jumping another weight class to challenge Silva at 185.
“No,” White said when asked about a possible Penn-Silva fight. “I’m sure that will be something he and I will be fighting about, believe me.”
Penn’s career has included a brief stop at light heavyweight for a 2005 bout against current unbeaten Lyoto Machida. According the “Prodigy” his Jiu-Jitsu gives him added confidence, regardless of which weight class he’s fighting in. “It comes from the basic background and ideology of Jiu-Jitsu. Jiu-Jitsu is created where the small man can beat the big man. I’ve been doing Jiu-Jitsu since I was 17 years old and that has always stuck in my head. I think it’s that basic ideology of martial arts that’s ingrained in me. I believe I always have a chance.”
With that said, White was pressed again about a possible Penn-Silva matchup, but remained steadfast in his insistence that the bout will remain little more than fodder for fantasy tournaments.
“BJ doesn’t have the frame to carry that kinda weight,” White reiterated, effectively killing any notion of Penn moving to middleweight. “Is he tough enough to do it? Absolutely. Is he talented enough to do it? Absolutely. Does that mean he should do it? Absolutely not. He doesn’t have the frame to carry that kind of weight,” White said while BJ flexed his muscles, drawing laughter from the press in attendance.
UFC 94: St-Pierre vs. Penn 2 will take place at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. In other action, Thiago Silva will take on Lyoto Machida in a battle of undefeated light heavyweights. The event will also see the return of Ultimate Fighter season one runner up Stephan Bonnar.
Additional Photos by Anthony Springer Jr.