by Damon Martin – MMAWeekly.com
His focus is on Diego Sanchez and defending his lightweight title on Saturday night, but B.J. Penn admits that he plans a return to the 170-pound weight class at some point in the future. Even UFC president Dana White says it’s a move he expects.
The last trip for Penn didn’t go as planned when he faced current welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre in January, losing by fourth round stoppage. But with a new strength and conditioning program, White says this could be the best B.J. Penn we’ve ever seen.
“I said to him earlier without being goofy or condescending, I said, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ It’s unbelievable what he’s done in the last year,” White said. “This kid has completely changed his life, his training regimen is sicker than anybody’s I’ve ever seen in the UFC. This kid’s been coasting on talent for 10 years and now he’s doing the right thing. I’m proud of him.”
The idea of wanting another shot at St-Pierre still sits with Penn. White understands that if the Hawaiian does all the right things at lightweight, his move back to 170 seems inevitable.
“No, I don’t think he has,” White said when asked if Penn has gotten past wanting to challenge St-Pierre for a third time. “I think if he cleans out this division, I think he’s probably going to want to go back to 170 and take a run at that again. I think he’s a different human being now than he was last time they fought.”
Penn’s desire to fight St-Pierre still sits in his mind, but White says he’ll have to do more than just want the fight to make it a reality.
“You don’t just abandon your title, move up to 170 and fight GSP with the way you lost to him the last time. He’d have to fight a couple of top contenders at 170 and (then) maybe,” said Penn‚Äôs boss.
“There’s probably a couple other guys here that deserve a shot at B.J. before he took off. There’s probably a couple more here, and then I would consider it cleaning out his division.”
Names like Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar both came up as potential opponents for Penn at lightweight, but if he gets past those challenges, and of course Diego Sanchez on Saturday night, the Hawaiian’s return to welterweight could become a reality.
A fighter who has always wanted to command a legacy when he leaves the sport, Penn knows his time at 170 is far from finished, too.
“I’m sure I’ll fight outside of the lightweight class before my career is done,” the lightweight champion stated.
UFC Lightweight Champion B.J. Penn:
Challenger Diego Sanchez: