GSP-Penn II is 'Hagler-Hearns!'
Report & photos by Chris Cozzone
It’s not often when a great champion in one division leaps up to battle a great champion in a heavier division. Last month in boxing, Manny Pacquiao made the jump to soundly defeat Oscar De Hoya—this month, the focus is on B.J. Penn, UFC lightweight champion who will jump from 155 to 170 to take on Georges St. Pierre, UFC welterweight champ.
The fight headlines UFC 94, televised on Pay-Per-View from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
“You’re lucky to get three or four types of these fights in your lifetime,” says UFC President Dana White.
“This fight is a Hagler-Hearns, a Hagler-Leonard. This is that big of a fight, with both champions in their prime. I know I keep saying this, but this is gonna be the biggest one we’ve ever done.”
White predicted that next weekend’s UFC 94 card would top UFC 92, which had outsold November’s Couture-Lesnar UFC 91 bill.
The fight is a rematch from a 2006 showdown at UFC 58, in which St. Pierre (17-2) won a split decision over Penn (13-4-1) in a three-rounder at 170 pounds. Since then, Penn, who’s made a career fighting out of his optimal weight class, dropped down to 155 pounds to win the lightweight title.
While the two will meet again at 170, St. Pierre says he expects to weigh between 185 and 187 when he walks into the Octagon on Fight Night.
Penn will weigh the same that he is one week out: 170.
“The weight feels great, I’m 170 right now,” said Penn on Thursday. “I don’t have to drop weight for this and I’ll be strong, healthy and carb-loaded for next week. I really think this is gonna be to my advantage.”
Penn says the difference between 2006 and 2009 does not come in weight, but in training.
“I don’t feel it was the weight issue, but a lack of discipline,” says Penn. “It’s how hard you want to win, how you train for a fight. In the past, I wasn’t working as hard. I didn’t have the drive. I was inching by, getting through fights and getting through life … I wasn’t training like a champion.
“But it’s done. It’s the past. We both moved on to where we are now. We’re two totally different people with improved techniques.”
St. Pierre is in agreement with Penn:
“We’re both different now,” he says. “I was always training as hard, but now I’m training smart. I’m much more well-prepared than I was the first time.
“In the first fight, I was not satisfied with the win. I got cut in both eyes and lost the first round, but won the second and third.”
The difference this time around, according to Penn, has more to do with will than technique.
“That’s how I’m going to beat him—with will” says Penn. “Once I get through, he’s going to be empty inside.
“His team has been disrespecting me, disrespecting my skill and what I’ve worked for these last ten years. They constantly say they will finish me in every aspect, that he’s better in every skill.”
The longer the fight goes, says Penn, the “worse it’ll be for Georges.”
St. Pierre’s team, on the other hand, feels the five-round distance favors GSP, not Penn.
“I never said I was going to walk through B.J.,” says St. Pierre. “He’s a very well-rounded fighter and brings a lot of stuff to the table.
“But I have the answer to his problems. I have a game plan and will stick to it.”
Currently, St. Pierre is a favorite on the sportsbooks.
“I love to be the underdog,” says Penn. “It’s been a while since I’ve been one. But fighters who think I can’t win this, it’s because of a lack of confidence they have in themselves.
“I’m B. J. Penn and I’m coming to win this fight.”