To say that the co-main event at UFC 123 is the biggest fight of B.J. Penn’s career might not be much of an understatement.
No, it’s not for a title or even a guaranteed shot at the title, but for the iconic Hawaiian fighter coming off of back-to-back losses for the first time in four years, Penn knows that he needs to win on Saturday night.
After the second consecutive loss Penn suffered at the hands of Frankie Edgar at UFC 118 in August, he went home to Hawaii and realized that without fighting he’s not the same person. So he rededicated himself to training and got motivated for a November return to the Octagon.
“There’s not much to do in Hilo. When I got home after the (Edgar) fight there was a couple of days, I trained for a couple of days when I just hung out and I didn’t have anything to do,” Penn explained. “I drove around the town one day and I was like ‘man, there’s nothing to do, and I would rather be training to fight in the Octagon.’
“I think once you’ve been where (I’ve) been, a lot of other stuff just seems boring. This is the only thing that keeps me not feeling like I have something to live for.”
The dedication that kicked in for Penn that day carried over when UFC president Dana White came calling with the opportunity for the Hawaiian to step back into the cage in November.
“As soon as Dana gave me that text, he said, ‘you want to take a fight with Matt Hughes?’ I started shaking all over my body and I was like I’ve got a reason to live for a couple more months,” Penn said.
Mixed martial arts and fighting have been a part of Penn for pretty much his whole life, and to taste defeat the way he did made him re-evaluate things, but never to the point where he considered walking away from the sport.
The trilogy with Hughes actually served as the ultimate motivation because, as Penn explains, he was ready to face anyone the UFC gave him, but when the former UFC welterweight champion’s name came up, he was smiling from ear to ear.
“I probably would have, coming off two losses, I probably would have accepted anyone Dana offered me, but in offering Matt he kind of offered me a gift because I always hoped me and Matt would (fight) again,” Penn commented.
He stated several months ago that he was just getting back to the art of fighting and putting the rest of the talk to bed when it came to titles, championships, or legacies.
It appears Penn has eased back on that just a little because he knows with a win over Hughes at UFC 123, it’s going to be hard not to look ahead to another run at the belt, but there’s still work to do.
“We’ll see what Dana says. I know I’ve always had a goal to be a welterweight champion again,” he commented.
Penn will try to take that next step when he faces Matt Hughes in the co-main event of UFC 123 in Detroit on Saturday night.