ULTIMATE FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP
UFC is not coming to Hawaii until at least 2009
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The Ultimate Fighting Championship's much-anticipated debut event in Hawaii won't happen until at least July of next year according to UFC President Dana White.
White, who told the Star Bulletin six months ago that he was close to finalizing a deal to hold a show at Aloha Stadium this year, said he will wait until a recently passed bill to regulate mixed martial arts goes into effect.
House Bill 1866, which establishes many new rules to help legitimize the sport, was enacted into law last July, but isn't effective until July 1, 2009.
"Thirteen new states regulated (mixed martial arts) last year and Hawaii is one of them, so we want to go over there, but the regs aren't done," White said. "We're not like all these other cheese dog shows that go over there before the regs are done."
The sport is currently overseen by the State Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and Regulated Industries Compliance Office, which handles licensing and issues permits required to hold events.
That allows promotions such as Icon Sport, EliteXC and K-1 to put on shows in Hawaii.
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When BJ Penn returned to the UFC after a 26-month hiatus, he was expected to pick up right where he left off.
He didn't have the need to train all day, nor did he care much about his nutrition. Things had always been easy for him, and he had no reason to think change was needed.
But then he lost a decision to Canadian Georges St.-Pierre in which his conditioning was called into question. Penn followed that up by facing Matt Hughes in a rematch of their 2004 fight, in which Penn choked out the welterweight king.
The second time around, Penn had the upper hand for the first two rounds, but again, looked completely gassed as he was dominated in round three. The fight was eventually stopped with Penn caught in a crucifix and his head being pounded by right hands that he couldn't block.
He clearly wasn't the same man who at one time was labeled the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
"You can get a little rock star with the girls, the money, and the fame," UFC president Dana White said. "His career got a little derailed there for a little while."
Following the loss to Hughes, Penn returned to Hilo, unsure of what was to come. His status as one of the best fighters in the world had taken a major hit, and the idea of falling into obscurity at a point when the sport was blowing up worldwide was tough to think about.
His belief in himself never wavered, but he knew he had to make changes.
"My 28th birthday is what changed me," Penn recalled. "I woke up and thought, "What am I doing with my life? Why am I wasting time?' "
Since then, his outlook on fighting, his career and life in general is completely different.
A lifestyle of partying and staying out late has become subdued. He began to watch his diet and lay off the alcohol. He opened his own academy in Hilo and refocused himself.
The transformation continued with a stint as a coach on Spike TV's "Ultimate Fighter" reality show against Jens Pulver. To this day, Pulver is the only man to beat Penn at his natural weight of 155 pounds.
A chance to avenge one of his only defeats brought back to form the fighter he was in his first stint in the UFC, when he went 6-1-1. Penn toyed with Pulver for a round and a half before submitting him with a rear-naked choke.
This is how it was supposed to be.
"I'm definitely a different person," he said. "I want this more. The sport is bigger and there's more at stake."
The motivation to fight isn't money or fame. He has plenty of both. It's about realizing the talent that makes him one of the sport's most exciting fighters.
"I want to see how good I can get," Penn said. "I want to see how good I can perform."
It starts with Joe Stevenson tomorrow in England as he vies for the UFC world lightweight title.
Since it's being held in Europe, the event begins at 10 a.m. Hawaii time, with the main event scheduled to go off just after noon.
Stevenson has won his last four fights in the UFC, and two of his last three victories have come by submission. His strength is his ground game, which suits Penn just fine.
"The ground is my whole life," he said. "You're talking about a lifestyle. All I did was eat, sleep and breathe Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Joe's a great guy and he's got great submissions, but I feel like I can do all these things flawlessly, and that's what I bring to the table."
It'll be Penn's first fight with the UFC outside of the United States. His last foray overseas came in 2005, when he lost to undefeated Lyoto Machida by decision in Japan.