MIXED MARTIAL ARTS
BJ Penn of Hilo gazed out at the crowd after beating Jens Pulver in a UFC bout in Las Vegas last night.
Hawaii’s BJ Penn pulverizes Pulver
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LAS VEGAS » The six-pack abs that BJ Penn showed off when he entered the octagon last night said everything that needed to be said.
Hungrier than he has ever been, a slimmed down Penn put on a jiu-jitsu clinic, frustrating Jens Pulver with submission move after submission move before finally choking out "Lil Evil" in the main event of the UFC Ultimate Fighter Finale last night in Las Vegas.
Penn has always been regarded as one of the best mixed martial artists in the world, but suspect training habits have always been his flaw, until last night.
Penn dominated all aspects of the fight and looked -- for the first time since his return to the UFC -- like the man that at one time was labeled as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Pulver and Penn have never gotten along, and took turns hurling insults at each other prior to the fight. But after it was done, an emotional Pulver embraced Penn in the ring, admitting that he is one of the best.
"Obviously my weakness is on the ground and BJ is a savage," Pulver said. "How can you not respect someone that can do the things he does."
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BJ Penn finally showed the world that UFC President Dana White knew what he was talking about when he called Penn the most talented mixed martial artist in the world.
"The Prodigy" toyed with Jens Pulver for a round and a half, showing off a beautiful display of jiu-jitsu skills, before eventually finishing him by submission with a rear naked choke at 3 minutes and 12 seconds of the second round in the main event of the Ultimate Fighter Finale show last night at the Pearl Concert Theater at the Palms Resort and Casino.
Penn (12-4-1) broke a two-fight losing streak in the UFC by dominating Pulver (21-8-1) both standing and on the mat, nearly submitting him multiple times before eventually locking in the rear naked choke.
"Honestly, I have been fighting these past five years just to fight Jens Pulver," said Penn, who is from Hilo. "Even though I beat Matt Hughes and had all these fights at all these weights, it really was all to go back to fight (Pulver)."
This was Penn's first fight at 155 pounds in the UFC since his return two years ago, and it seemed to make a big difference, as he uncharacteristically was able to slam Pulver twice in the first round. Once on the mat, Penn remained patient, maneuvering for position, until eventually going for his signature submission holds. He twice nearly submitted Pulver with an armbar and a triangle choke, but seemingly gave up on the moves to inflict more damage.
"I really wanted to see if I could knock him out cold from the mount," Penn said. "I haven't fought at 155 in a while and he seemed to be really light."
Round 2 began just like the one prior to it, as Penn took Pulver down by tripping his leg, and within 30 seconds had him mounted. Pulver rolled to his back in an attempt to escape, but Penn locked his legs around Pulver's body and eventually choked him out.
"The biggest difference is that I'm a grown man now," the 28-year-old Penn said in comparing this fight to the first meeting between the two in 2002, which Pulver won by decision to hand Penn his first loss. "I didn't drink alcohol for six months and ran 5 to 9 miles a day."
That was a big difference for Penn, who admitted in the past to only training for "half an hour a day." But after being stopped in his last fight by Hughes, which was the first time in his career he lost by TKO, he hired a nutritionist to help him with his weight, and looked in the best shape he has been in a long time.
"Losing to Matt Hughes -- that way was very embarrassing," Penn said. "I didn't want to be disappointed again like I have been the past two years."
His performance clearly showed he is at the top of the lightweight division, but at this stage of Penn's career, it's about more than just titles. He likely would be in line for a title shot later this year if he stayed at 155, but Penn makes no bones about not wanting to cut down to that weight. He weighed 163 pounds when he entered the cage last night, and wants to keep his weight around 170.
"The only reason I came back down to this weight was to fight Jens," Penn said.
The obvious fight next for Penn is a rubber match with Hughes, but he already has a welterweight title shot against champion Matt Serra scheduled for after the filming of the next "Ultimate Fighter" reality series in which they'll be coaching. That would mean Penn would have to wait almost a year for that fight with Hughes, putting his upcoming fight plans in doubt.
"No disrespect to the other fighters, but there's nothing for me at 155," Penn said. "There could only be one person to fight and that's Matt Hughes."
In the co-main event, Nate Diaz won a UFC contract by beating Manny Gamburyan in the second round after Gamburyan's shoulder popped out of its socket on a takedown attempt, forcing him to tap out.
University of Hawaii alumnus Andy Wang didn't fare well in his fight, losing to Cole Miller by TKO in just 70 seconds. The much bigger Miller dropped Wang with a left high kick to the temple and pounced on his fallen foe, finishing the fight with strikes.