Bout is about more than the belt


POSTED: Friday, January 30, 2009

LAS VEGAS » The UFC welterweight title signifies the best 170-pound mixed martial artist in the world.

But for both B.J. Penn (13-4-1) of Hilo and Georges St-Pierre (17-2) of Montreal, the belt isn't the ultimate prize when the two collide tomorrow night in the main event of UFC 94 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Penn used to have it. St-Pierre holds it now. But the title itself has almost become secondary to both fighters.

“;I don't think about the title,”; St-Pierre said at Wednesday's press conference. “;It's immaterial to me.

“;I want to beat B.J. Penn. I want to beat the name B.J. Penn.”;

Penn has a chance to become the first man in history to hold UFC titles in multiple weight classes at the same time, but that isn't the accolade he wants to gain the most.

“;Holding the two belts would be very important and historic, but you could win the welterweight title from a less important opponent and it wouldn't mean as much,”; Penn said. “;The most important thing is fighting Georges St-Pierre.”;

The buildup for the fight has featured harsh words from the Penn camp, with the lightweight champion going as far as to call St-Pierre “;a quitter”; and even bringing up St-Pierre's history of meeting with a sports psychologist.

But when asked if there really is any bad blood between the two going into the fight, both shied away from any further shots.

“;A fight is a fight,”; Penn said. “;Stuff happens. Stuff gets said. After the fight, I'll shake his hand.”;

St-Pierre agreed: “;I have respect for B.J. Penn. It's part of the game. But I will shake his hand after Saturday night no matter what.”;

The jump in weight hasn't been a problem for Penn, who says he expects to weigh in close to the 170-pound mark today. Both fighters worked out for the media yesterday, and after light sessions with trainers Rudy Valentino and Adam Disabato, Penn says he's comfortable with where he's at.

“;I feel very good at this weight,”; Penn said. “;I'm in a good mental state and I'm just ready to do this.”;

Local sportsbooks have “;The Prodigy”; as the underdog entering the fight. Penn has been a convincing favorite in each of his last three fights, but one of the best performances of his career came when he was the biggest underdog.

That was five years ago, when Penn submitted Matt Hughes to win the welterweight title for the first time. He'll have to overcome similar odds to do it again, which is just fine for him.

“;I fight the best under pressure,”; Penn said. “;I fight the best when I'm supposed to lose.”;

The beauty of tomorrow night's main event is that no matter what predicaments each fighter finds himself in, it's unclear who will have the edge. Both guys think they can outstrike the other, both guys think they can control each other on the ground, and both are certain they are ready to go 25 minutes if needed.

Whatever game plan St-Pierre has, Penn isn't concerned. For B.J., it's all about doing what he does best.

“;I just prepare to do what I'm good at,”; Penn said. “;Then I take those techniques and shove it down his throat.”;