Rubber matches are always fun. Matt Hughes and B.J. Penn will have their chance at a third dance this Saturday at UFC 123 at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
With these fighters splitting the wins in the first two go-arounds, a third match presents an opportunity for Penn and Hughes to get bragging rights in the fight game.
The first meetings were epic, to say the least. Penn took the first at UFC 46 with a rear naked choke late in the first round, while Hughes snatched the following meeting at UFC 63 with a third round TKO over the Hawaiian.
The thing about this match-up is it makes for one of the most high profile rivalries in the history of the UFC. Both fighters were welterweight champions. Both have been at the top and were, at one time, the face of the organization.
Specifically for Matt Hughes, the rivalry stems from that first loss to Penn way back on Jan. 1, 2004.
“The big thing with B.J. is he beat me,” Hughes said at the UFC 123 pre-fight press conference. “That’s where the rivalry comes from.”
The 37-year-old Hughes still appears to have the competitive fire in his eyes and getting one up on his competition remains a focus at this stage in his career. The two-time welterweight champion explained that his activity over the past year has kept him in prime fighting shape.
Apart from focusing on getting the best out of three over Penn, Hughes has kept up a good regimen when preparing for his pending bout.
“I had a great training camp,” Hughes said. “I was able to cut everything away and schedule that for Thanksgiving, so my training camp has been great. I split my time up between my gym and Jeremy Horn’s gym out in Salt Lake City. I like getting away from the family where I can really dedicate my time to training, so my training camp has been pretty typical of… the last year.”
When talking about his up-coming UFC 123 opponent, Hughes admits that Penn can be one of the most dangerous fighters out there; Penn’s track record can speak for that. But his last performance, in Hughes’ eyes, failed to live up to the skill set of “The Prodigy.”
“Sometimes he looks really sharp out there,” he said about Penn. “When he fought Florian, he was all over the place, had great gas. And this last fight against Frankie Edgar… it didn’t look like B.J. to me.”
Go back about four-and-a-half years ago. At that time, B.J. Penn was on the losing end of two straight fights. Subsequently, he went on to fight another former champion in Jens Pulver. What happened in that fight was a complete and utter domination by Penn en route to a submission win over “Lil’ Evil.”
The same feeling looms over this fight. Penn is, once again, owner of two consecutive losses, and Hughes knows that he’s in for a night of hard work come Saturday.
“Coming off two losses — I fully expect the best B.J. that’s ever been in the Octagon to show up on Saturday night.”