UFC 84: ILL WILL
Penn fights Sherk in Vegas for UFC lightweight title
BJ Penn's first lightweight title defense is about more than just keeping his belt.
It's about fighting for the purity of a sport he loves.
Penn will face former champion Sean Sherk for the UFC lightweight title in the main event of "UFC 84: Ill Will" tomorrow night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
The fight, which will be five 5-minute rounds, is one of the most anticipated fights of the year, and is being billed as a grudge match between the two best lightweights on the planet.
"Probably the two best lightweights ever in the sport," UFC president Dana White said during last week's media conference call. "It's always exciting when you get to see the best face the best."
Sherk (35-2-1) has never been beat at 155 pounds. His two losses have come at 170 pounds against Matt Hughes and Georges St.-Pierre, who are also the last two guys to beat Penn.
Sherk looked much worse than Penn did against the two welterweight legends, but in a sport where all that matters is your next fight, Penn doesn't take anything out of Sherk's two defeats.
"Experience has told me to take nothing from that," Penn said. "Just beat the guy's ass. That's my game plan."
The war of words between the two started immediately after Penn defeated Joe Stevenson in January to become the second man ever to win UFC world titles in two different weight classes.
Sherk had been the titleholder until he was suspended a year by the California State Athletic Commission for testing positive for steroids following a win over Hermes Franca last July.
He denied doing steroids and had his suspension reduced to six months, setting up a fight between him and the winner of the Penn/Stevenson title bout.
Sherk did the play-by-play on the PPV broadcast that night. After Penn won by submission in the second round, he called out Sherk in his post-fight interview in the ring, saying, "Sean Sherk, you're dead," which didn't sit well with the Minnesota native.
"I've never had an issue with BJ before that," Sherk said. "Having people take jabs at you at the same time is not an easy process to go through."
The talk has continued ever since, as Penn has taken a very hard stand against anybody involved with performance-enhancing drugs.
"For me, a guy who has never used performance-enhancing drugs before, waking up day in and day out and your body is in pain, it just gets to you after a while," Penn said. "I really feel like I'm a purist and fighting is all I live for. I'm more a fighter than an athlete."
A victory for Penn would cement his status as the UFC's best 155-pound fighter, but in most world rankings, he's not even in the top three.
Most rankings look at fighters like Takanori Gomi, Gilbert Melendez and Shinya Aoki, who all fight in Japan, as the best crop of fighters in the lightweight division.
"I think it's a whole different thing," Penn said. "In Japan, they are fighting in a ring and can do all different things. For me, the UFC would have to be tougher guys."
Sherk might be the toughest of them all. In 38 professional fights, he's only been stopped once.
That doesn't sway Penn's strategy heading into the fight. Unlike most fighters, who he believes are one-dimensional, Penn is comfortable at all facets of the game and says he can beat Sherk in many different ways.
"I'm going to walk straight up and start unloading combinations," Penn said. "If he shoots, I'm going to stuff him down on the ground and get on top of him. If he's on top of me, I'm just going to have to go for the basic arm bars, triangles and omoplatas. Try to slap him in his ear and break his eardrum."
The PPV broadcast begins at 4 p.m., with the main event scheduled to begin shortly after 6 p.m.