Fighting to stay on top


POSTED: Friday, December 11, 2009

In case Diego Sanchez was confused about who he's fighting tomorrow night, B.J. Penn gave the challenger a stern reminder yesterday.

“;You're not fighting Joe Stevenson, you're not fighting Kenny Florian — you're fighting B.J. Penn,”; the UFC lightweight champion told Sanchez at the prefight press conference in Memphis, Tenn. “;I'm not going to be hard to find. I'll see you in the middle (of the Octagon).”;

After choking out both Stevenson and Florian in recent fights, Penn (14-5-1) looks to add Sanchez to his lists of conquests, at 155 pounds in the main event of UFC 107 tomorrow night at the FedEx Forum.

“;The Prodigy”; is back fighting just four months after his fourth-round submission victory over Florian in August.

It's a quick turnaround for Penn, who generally fights twice a year. It's the first time since 2004 he'll fight three times in one calendar year.

“;I just came off a loss (to Georges St-Pierre) in January and I'm just trying to salvage the year for me,”; Penn said after Wednesday's open workouts. “;I want to finish this year off good.”;

Sanchez (23-2) is the next challenger in line for a title shot after back-to-back wins over Stevenson and Clay Guida.

Sanchez was the winner of the first “;Ultimate Fighter”; reality show, beating Florian in the finale. He has spent most of his career as a welterweight (170 pounds) before dropping down a weight class earlier this year.

Both of his fights have gone the distance at 155, and his win over Guida was a close split decision that could have gone either way.

Despite an inability to finish people at 155, Sanchez has never been submitted or knocked out and is a legitimate threat to Penn's title.

“;Dropping down to 170 brought a new discipline to my career,”; Sanchez said yesterday. “;I thought it was a faster road to the title, and obviously it was because here I am.”;





        Who: B.J. Penn (14-5-1) vs. Diego Sanchez (23-2)

        Where: FedEx Forum, Memphis, Tenn.

        When: Tomorrow, 5 p.m.

        TV: Pay per view For live coverage of today's weigh-ins at 11 a.m., visit http://hsblinks.com/1hp

He is known as being one of the most intense fighters, with a nonstop style that is always coming at his opponent, never backing away. At times, he has drawn criticism for his prefight antics, taking that intensity to a level that is absurd to some and comical to others.

“;That's his thing. ... When I see that kind of stuff, I don't think much about it,”; Penn said. “;If he wants to portray himself as the crazy one, I think he portrays himself as a weird one.

“;We'll find out which guy is more crazy when we get into the Octagon.”;

Penn's proudly worn the crazy label in his career as a blood-licking wildman who has jumped all the way up to light heavyweight for fights.

But for this fight, the trash-talking has been kept at a minimum and Penn has repeatedly complimented Sanchez on his abilities. It's a stark contrast from the Florian and St-Pierre fights, in which Penn had a lot to say about the character of his opponents.

“;I had a couple of personal disputes with Kenny Florian and it's always good to tell someone 'I told you so' at the end of any competition, I guess,”; Penn said. “;I'm not here to criticize (Sanchez). I'm out there for a challenge. I'm out there to defend my title. I'm out there to stay relevant with all these kids coming up that are so good and training jiu-jitsu, wrestling and kickboxing since they were 10 years old. I'm just trying to keep up with those guys.”;

; They all have a way to go to catch Penn, who has reestablished himself as the most dominant lightweight fighter with a submission win over Florian. He's 4-0 in the UFC since it brought back the 155-pound division in 2007 and hasn't lost at that weight since January 2002.

His forays into other weight divisions haven't gone well, including the one-sided loss he suffered to St-Pierre early this year.

However, he cautioned that if he beats Sanchez his future will be determined by the fans. If they say a fight at 170 pounds is more intriguing than another title defense against Gray Maynard, Guida or Frank Edgar, then he'll explore the possibility of moving up again.

“;I'm sure I'll fight outside of the lightweight class before my career is done,”; Penn said. “;I'm not looking for the welterweight belt; it's more of a personal thing with Georges St-Pierre.

“;I have an obligation to defend the lightweight title, but yeah, it's all up to the fans and what they want.”;

UFC in Hawaii?

UFC President Dana White said yesterday at the press conference that the UFC could come to Hawaii as early as next year.

“;Originally we had that tax issue in Hawaii,”; White said. “;But we got that figured out, it's gone now, and when we talk about going to all these new markets, believe me, Hawaii is one we really want to go to.

“;It would be our first stadium that we would do. It's soon. Maybe next year.”;

Penn headlined a K-1 event at Aloha Stadium in 2005 that drew approximately 12,000 fans.

Nelson trying to bounce back

Penn's training partner, Shane Nelson of Hilo, will fight on the undercard tomorrow in a lightweight bout against Matt Wiman (10-5).

The former X-1 champion is 2-1 in the UFC, but is coming off a unanimous decision loss to Aaron Riley in August.