UFC 123 will mark B.J. Penn’s return to the welterweight division for the first time since a January 2009 loss to Georges St-Pierre, but it was more opportunity than necessity that brought him back to 170 this time.
Originally offered a fight against Kenny Florian, Penn was set to stay in the lightweight division after consecutive losses to current champion Frankie Edgar, but when UFC president Dana White came calling with an offer to fight Matt Hughes, the decision to go back to welterweight was just too easy.
Penn and Hughes have battled twice before, splitting the series at one win a piece, and now a final bout in the trilogy will settle things once and for all.
“Dana tried to put a fight together with me and a few guys and I guess that fell through,” Penn said recently, eluding to the proposed fight with Florian. “Then Dana offered me the fight with Matt, and he said Matt’s got some obligations, but he’ll put those on the side to put together another great fight with you, and I was really excited.”
Is this fight the beginning of a run for Penn at welterweight or just a single opportunity that was too good to pass up?
“I think if I feel good and everything goes well, maybe I’ll fight a few more fights here,” Penn revealed. “Whatever, 155, 170, you know a lot of people are doing it. I’m not the only guy, so I don’t think that’s out of the question.”
Penn admitted that while he was originally of the mindset to get ready for a lightweight fight, the chance to close out his rivalry with Hughes was too good to pass up.
The Hawaiian has fought several times at 170 pounds, ableit with mixed results. Through five fights at welterweight, Penn has gone 2-3 overall, but four of those fights have been against either St-Pierre or Hughes with a win over Duane Ludwig accounting for the fifth fight.
As Penn prepares for another turn at welterweight, he says he hasn’t made any huge changes in his training. He knows Hughes will be the bigger fighter come fight night, but he believes skill trumps size any day.
“I haven’t done anything drastic,” he said about the move back to welterweight. “I’ve just been training. I brought in some good sparring partners to help me for the fight to push me, and I feel good. I feel like I haven’t missed a beat. I feel like it was just yesterday when I was fighting at welterweight.”
Penn’s return to 170 pounds may have been necessitated by the Hughes fight, but that doesn’t mean the Hawaiian won’t stick around for the right opportunity. He still has a desire to go back and conquer the lightweight division all over again, as well.
The hunger inside of B.J. Penn simply never goes away.
“I feel great at welterweight, there’s no doubt that I would love to fight the best welterweights out there,” he stated.
The test for Penn will come via Matt Hughes because a loss could be devastating, but a win puts him right back in the conversation to face another top ten opponent in either division he chooses.
Right now, Penn will focus on the fight at hand and worry about weight classes after UFC 123.