UFC 94: "St. Pierre vs. Penn 2,″ the blockbuster Super Bowl weekend UFC pay-per-view (PPV) event, features the welterweight superfight between former 170-pound champion and current lightweight kingpin BJ Penn versus reigning welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre.
It's the rematch mixed martial arts fans have been demanding for over two years.
Penn and St. Pierre have already met inside the Octagon at UFC 58: "USA vs. Canada" in 2006, which resulted in a controversial split decision win for St. Pierre. "The Prodigy" brutalized "Rush" for much of the first round, but then he stormed back and hung on in the final two frames to get the winning nod.
Most at the time felt at the very least it should have been a draw because of the lopsided opening stanza; however, the judges ringside did not agree. Regardless, it was a great fight and the encore will likely be even better since both fighters have improved significantly over time.
And that’s a scary thing to say – these are two of the most gifted pound-for-pound talents in the sport going up against one another in the prime of their careers. Its historical significance cannot be overstated.
BJ Penn appreciates that significance, and also understands that he'll be fighting a much more evolved St. Pierre on January 31. That understanding has helped him stay focused during training camp for what he hopes will be the biggest - and perhaps most definitive win of his career.
"I’m coming in, in great shape. I’m going to be real strong and real fast and in great condition. I've got a lot of stuff I'm going to come after him with. I’m going to try to knock him out. I’m going to try to slam him on his head. I’ve got no secrets. I’m just going to go out there and grind this thing out and I’m going to win this fight."
One of the biggest criticisms of BJ's past has been his apparent lack of preparation for big fights. Conditioning issues may have gotten the better of him in his first fight with St. Pierre as well as his second fight with Matt Hughes.
Penn seemingly exorcised those demons with a successful transition to lightweight, where he's won three straight, including a dominant performance over Sean Sherk at UFC 84 to win the 155lb strap. Still, Penn knows there are no guarantees upon returning to the welterweight division.
"George is a real athletic guy so you've got to be smart out there. You've got to be thinking, weighing everything out as the fight is going. I’m training five hours a day. I’m training really hard for three hours in the morning, two hours at night. I’m just going full blast. I do 12 rounds a day. I do calisthenics, running and sprints, eating healthy food and honestly? I could fight right now. I could fight right now, today. I’m ready to go!"
Georges St. Pierre also had his share of hiccups en route to the division title. "Rush" was seeing a therapist at one point to help him deal with confidence issues and pre-fight anxiety that stemmed from his meteoric rise to the top. Like Penn, he seems to have put his issues behind him.
"I don’t know if he's worried. Everybody is talking about him, whether he's nervous for this fight or if he's taking it light or what. I’m sure he knows that I’ve got some skills that I’m bringing to the table. But you never know, fighters, they get too confident sometimes."
Confidence - or perhaps overconfidence - is something Penn has been asked about before with his constant switch between weight classes earlier in his career. BJ has gone on record in the past about unifying multiple titles within the UFC, but he appears to be grounded coming into this fight.
"That's not even in my mind right now. I said a few years ago it would be great if I could be the 155-pound champ, 170-pound champ and 185-pound champion, but I’m just concentrating right now on this fight. I want to thank all the fans for supporting me and all the fans that support the sport period. Thank you very much. I also want to thank BJPenn.com and thank RVCA and Cage Fighter and Troy "Rude Boy" Mandaloniz."
BJ Penn is headed for a night unlike any other in UFC history. His rematch with Georges St. Pierre, if it indeed lives up to expectations, could go down as one of the greatest fights of all time. The Prodigy is ready to do his share, and has a little message for his opponent on January 31:
"Don’t take this thing lightly. This isn’t a joke. I’m going to come full blast and say, I’m ready to die. I'm going to beat you."