Hype is on for Penn vs. St.-Pierre


POSTED: Friday, November 21, 2008

The Ultimate Fighting Championship has two pay-per-views and two free fights on Spike TV before BJ Penn and George St.-Pierre clash at UFC 94 on Jan. 31 for the welterweight title in Las Vegas.

Yet, more than two months out, the UFC brass is in Hawaii already beginning the hype for what president Dana White thinks could surpass last weekend's Brock Lesnar/Randy Couture fight as the most-watched bout in MMA history.

“;Obviously, I just came off the promotion of what I called the biggest fight in UFC history, but I think this fight could beat it,”; White said. “;We've never done this (promoting) for a fight before.”;

After officially announcing the fight last Saturday in Las Vegas, White, Penn and St.-Pierre headed to Canada earlier this week to promote the event before arriving in Hawaii on Wednesday for today's rally at Blaisdell Concert Hall at 5 p.m.

The event is free to the public and includes a 1-hour concert, a press conference and a chance to see some of each fighter's best bouts.

Ever since St.-Pierre defeated Penn in his UFC return by split decision 32 months ago, there has been talk of a rematch.

Now, with Penn winning the UFC lightweight title and demolishing his last three opponents, and St.-Pierre clearly the best 170-pound fighter in the world, the stage has been set for the first fight ever between two champions in different weight classes.

“;It's not too often that you get two guys at their best in their prime that are willing to fight each other,”; Penn said. “;You see it all the time in boxing. How long did (Sugar Ray) Leonard and (Marvin) Hagler wait until they fought?

“;Finally you got two people willing to face each other in their prime and that's what makes a good fight.”;

Only St.-Pierre 's belt is on the line, since the fight will be at 170 pounds. Penn has a chance to become the first fighter to hold titles in multiple weight classes at the same time, while St.-Pierre has the opportunity to begin establishing his legacy in the sport.

“;What makes it so huge is I'm a world champion right now, so I'm not fighting to be world champion, I'm fighting for my legacy and fighting for my name to be remembered in this sport and to become a legend,”; St.-Pierre said. “;BJ Penn may be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world right now, so this fight will make me step up to another level.”;

The fight completes Penn's rise back to the top after consecutive losses to St.-Pierre and Matt Hughes forced him to start from scratch in the lightweight division. Dominating wins over nemesis Jens Pulver and Joe Stevenson, and a three-round destruction of former champion Sean Sherk, got Penn back to the elite level he was at when he left the UFC following his title win over Hughes.

“;(St.-Pierre) was more prepared than me and I underestimated him and he beat me,”; Penn said of the first fight. “;But now, he's older and a two-time world champion and I'm going to be 30 soon and I'm a two-time world champion. Let's just do it. This is why a fighter fights. For a fight like this.”;

The fight is expected to be a huge draw for the simple fact that Hawaii is the UFC's biggest market in the United States and Canada is its biggest supporter of any foreign country.

“;When we do live fights, Hawaii is the equivalent of everybody who has a ... television watches the fights in Hawaii,”; White said. “;The numbers we pull out of here are like 'American Idol' numbers in the United States.

“;As far as Canada goes, 33 percent of our ticket sales come from Canada whether George St.-Pierre fights or not.”;