Penn's all pumped up for fight with Florian


POSTED: Thursday, August 06, 2009

It was a sight never seen before.

B.J. Penn, the UFC lightweight champion, barely able to stand as he used the cage to keep himself propped up in his corner. Surrounded by his team and with a ringside doctor checking on his health, Penn couldn't watch as referee Herb Dean turned toward the middle of the ring and waved his arms to end his bout with Georges St-Pierre in January.

Just like that, the biggest fight in Penn's career ended with him taking his worst beating in 19 professional bouts, in front of a sold-out MGM Grand Garden Arena crowd with more than a million people having ordered it on pay-per-view.

“;It's got to be the previous fight,”; said Penn (13-5-1, 9-4-1 UFC) about his motivation for Saturday night's lightweight title defense against Kenny Florian (13-3, 9-2) in the main event of UFC 101: Declaration at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. “;It's got to be getting my butt kicked and wanting to come back and get to form and all.”;

Fortunately for Penn, he gets that chance at his natural weight of 155 pounds as he defends his belt for the first time in more than 14 months against Florian.

Florian, who has won six consecutive fights, hasn't lost since receiving his first title shot — a unanimous-decision loss to Sean Sherk in 2006.





The following events will be broadcast live online at Star-Bulletin.com's Fighting Words blog:




» Pre-fight press conference, 7 a.m.




» Weigh-ins, 10 a.m.




» Postfight press conference, approximately 7:20 p.m.


“;He's improved in all areas, and he's much more determined and in better shape,”; Penn said. “;I definitely see a different fighter.”;

Likewise, Penn is a completely different man at lightweight than at 170 pounds, which is where he fought St-Pierre.

Since the UFC brought back the lightweight division two years ago, Penn has had three fights in the division, and won all three by stoppage. He hasn't dropped a round in wins against Jens Pulver, Joe Stevenson and Sherk, and has clearly defined himself as the No. 1 fighter in the world in that weight class.

Unfortunately, the Penn freshest in the mind of fans is the one who got manhandled earlier this year — that is not the one he expects to be Saturday night.

“;I just want to get back in the ring and perform well,”; Penn said. “;I want to perform well and do what I do best.”;

Penn has found himself caught up in a war of words before his last couple of fights, and again is surrounded in controversy heading into his second title defense.

This time, it revolves around a text message that Florian allegedly sent to a member of Penn's camp prior to the St-Pierre fight, saying that St-Pierre greases his body. Florian denied the accusation, saying he was talking about another fighter, but the incident has once again put Penn in the middle of another distraction heading into a fight.

“;I don't know how I get caught up in this stuff. It's unbelievable,”; Penn said. “;I can't sit here and dwell on (it). I've got to dwell on the fact that Kenny Florian, this is his title shot and quite possibly his last and I got to get out there and keep the belt.”;

Penn has avoided any hometown distractions by holding his entire training camp for the fight in California. He brought in head trainer Mark Marinovich, who has worked with many professional athletes, including Troy Polamalu, and rolled with well-known MMA fighters including Nick and Nate Diaz, KJ Noons, Yves Edwards, Hermes Franca and Antoni Hardonk.

Even Fedor Emelianenko and Vitor Belfort stopped by the camp, although they didn't participate.

“;(Marinovich) is an awesome trainer, you know; he's the best I've ever seen,”; Penn said. “;He works your balance and your explosion and your speed and your power and it's just — he's an awesome trainer.”;

Penn had his open workout yesterday in Philadelphia for the public and was greeted by Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino, an avid UFC fan, who stopped by to wish Penn luck.

UFC 101 is the first event featuring all three local fighters currently under contract on the same card, as Maui's Kendall Grove and Hilo's Shane Nelson also have fights Saturday night.

“;I'm stoked about it,”; said Grove, who will fight Ricardo Almeida in a middleweight bout. “;Team Hawaii will all be there and we just feed off each other's energy.

“;I've been able to train with B.J. the whole time and we've worked hard getting each other ready,”; added Nelson, who squares off with Aaron Riley in a preliminary fight. “;We're all in the best shape and we're all stoked to represent Hawaii on the same show.”;

The pay-per-view broadcast begins at 4 p.m. Hawaii time. The co-feature bout is a fight between middleweight champion Anderson Silva and former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin in a non-title fight at 205 pounds.