by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com
“I run as hard as I can. I lift as much weights as I can. I do as much jiu-jitsu as I can. Why not take this as far as I can? You know? Just see how far you can go, for once in your life. Step up and see what you really could have done. That’s what I want to do.”
That is how B.J. Penn thinks. He doesn’t dwell on wins and losses or how many championship belts collect dust on his mantle or how many fancy cars he can park in the garage. He operates on a different plane, a plane reserved for icons and legends.
“I want to leave a mark in this sport. When I was 22-years-old, I wanted to become the lightweight champion of the world.” Penn did that. He has also held and walked away from the welterweight title that he will soon fight for.
“I’m going to be 30-years-old next month and I want to become the best ever. And this is my chance,” he said of his iconic bout with fellow legend seeker Georges St. Pierre.
The bout will be a rematch of a controversial split decision that Penn lost to St. Pierre nearly three years ago. But for Penn, it’s not about avenging that loss or even capturing St. Pierre’s UFC welterweight title that will be on the line at UFC 94.
“Our first fight doesn’t even come into play,” he told MMAWeekly.com. “He’s a different man; I’m a different man. It has nothing to do with this fight. It’s like I’m fighting a new person.”
It’s not about the rematch. It’s not about the title. It’s about the fight to be bigger than the game. There are plenty of contenders to Penn’s own lightweight championship, but that’s not where he dwells. He dwells in the childhood dreams of becoming the next Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, or John Elway.
“Kenny Florian is great, Joe Stevenson is great, Sean Sherk is great, and Tyson Griffin is great. I’ll never say anybody can beat me, but maybe they might do damn good and maybe do something to me, but do I sit there and put my head down on the pillow and think, ‘Man, if I had one chance. Man, I wish I could fight one of those guys.’ There’s no way.
“But do I sit down on my bed and think, ‘Man, I got the opportunity; I’m fighting Georges St. Pierre. Half the people in the world think Georges St. Pierre is the best fighter. The other half say it’s me.’ You know what I mean? It’s just a no-brainer. That’s what I think about the whole time,” says Penn with visions of being seen an iconoclast dancing across his eyes.
“I got the opportunity, the lightweight champ versus the welterweight champ… This is that fight. This is that Rocky-Apollo Creed, that Hulk Hogan-Ultimate Warrior, that Joe Frazier-Ali. This is it.”
Granted, he’s in a sport where there are rules and parameters that are to be followed. That has been one of UFC president Dana White’s greatest challenges when it comes to the goals of B.J. Penn.
“The problem I always talk about with B.J. is trying to contain this kid and keep him focused on staying at 155 and defending his title there,” said White recently. “Should B.J. win, one of the things he would do is defend two titles at the same time. Nobody has ever done that (in the UFC). It’s never been done.”
That might still be a bit harder to pull off than White states, although he has readily admitted that he and Penn have butted heads in the past over such matters and are likely to do so again, especially if Penn defeats St. Pierre on Jan. 31.
The Hawaiian isn’t sure, win or lose, if he’ll be motivated to defend the belt that currently sets him atop the 155-pound division. “I honestly don’t know the answer to that question,” he responded when questioned if he would defend the lightweight title. “One fight at a time, we’ve got to see exactly where my head is after this fight.”
Not skipping past St. Pierre, a fight that flies in the face of White’s plans for Penn is something that puts the twinkle in his eye that defending his lightweight belt against another contender doesn’t seem to.
“I wonder how I’m ever gonna be able to top this in my career, you know?” as Penn considers not a mandated defense of his current championship, but the challenge of another mega-fight, another stepping stone to building his legend as the best fighter on the planet.
“I’m definitely looking for mega-fights and if Anderson Silva is one of them, why not shoot for the stars?”
That is not a fight that the head of the UFC foresees for Penn, even if he does defeat St. Pierre. “B.J. doesn’t have the frame to carry that kind of weight,” stated White of a challenge to Silva’s 185-pound divisional title.
“Is he tough enough to do it? Absolutely. Is he talented enough to go up there and do it? Absolutely. Does that mean he should do it? Absolutely not. He doesn’t have the frame to carry that kind of weight. And it just makes no sense, no sense at all.”
Penn would beg to differ, at least if all goes as planned against St. Pierre. ” If I go in there and just destroy St. Pierre in two or three minutes, could (White) really argue about it?
“In the end, it’s the fans that are gonna want it. If I sit there and I say, after I just beat Georges St. Pierre in three minutes, and say, ‘I want to fight so-and-so.’ Do you think the fans are gonna say, ‘Boo,’ we won’t pay for that?”
That, however, is a fight for another day. Right now, Penn must focus on the dream at hand. If he is to secure his legacy as the best fighter ever, Penn knows he has the culmination of his struggles towards that goal standing across the Octagon from him on Jan. 31.
“This is that moment. This is that hour. This is that moment that I’ve been waiting for my whole life.”