B.J. Penn and Georges St. Pierre are doing their best to convince themselves this isn’t the fight of their careers.
Amidst projections of the UFC’s biggest pay-per-view draw in history, a media blitz including a $1.7 million television special, and the usual outpouring of partisan support, it’s a fight just to focus on the fight.
At a press conference for media and public at the Hollywood Theater inside the MGM Grand casino, Penn and GSP revealed their strategies for dealing with the intense pressure of this Saturday’s UFC 94.
“My motivation is not to fight for the title,” St. Pierre told the crowd. “My motivation is to fight B.J. Penn. I’m very glad to be able to fight him, because those great fights make great champions.”
Penn concurred from the opposite side of the podium.
“Two belts would be very important and historic,” he began. “But you could win a welterweight title from a less important opponent and it wouldn’t mean as much, so the most important thing is fighting Georges St. Pierre.”
From a fan's perspective, it’s a chance for St. Pierre to prove his split decision win over Penn at UFC 58 was no fluke, and, according to UFC president Dana White, to open up "other options" like taking on Anderson Silva. Penn, on the other hand, gets a chance at revenge and a shot at history.
The UFC has stirred the pot well. Its Spike TV special, “Primetime,” did an excellent job of making the fight important for both men. During the course of the show, Penn has called St. Pierre “a quitter,” while St. Pierre has painted the lightweight champion as a spoiled rich kid. Angry with his portrayal, Penn kicked UFC camera crews out of his gym, creating more drama.
A week and a half removed from the flare-up, there wasn’t much heat between them as they sat across from each other. As Penn pointed out, a fight is a fight, and he’d respect the welterweight champion when all was said and done.
“Stuff gets out and stuff gets said,” said Penn. “After the fight, I’ll shake his hand.”
Though not directly, St. Pierre defended Penn’s reaction to the show.
“You have to understand, when they do the Primetime and those things, the camera guys, it’s their job to promote the fight, so they ask you questions and they only play a part of it… to make us look bad,” St. Pierre said. “And they did it with me. It’s to promote the fight. I do have a lot of respect for B.J. Penn. A lot has been said, and it’s part of the game. But after… I will shake his hand, no matter what.”
But Penn still felt obliged to explain his training methods, particularly the show’s depiction of a break he took in the middle of training camp.
“(It’s) part of my routine, training,” said Penn. “I’ve been doing it for the last 10 years, take a little break before the last three weeks in. It was good. I needed it.”
For his part, St. Pierre spoke of an intense three-month training camp, different because of the sheer volume of fighters traveling to assist him. The French Canadian fielded between one and three new fighters a week.
“I’ve never been so pumped up in my life for a fight,” he said. “I’ve never wanted to win so bad.”
The two couldn't agree on who would have more support come Saturday night. Penn thought Hawaii's economy would diminish his numbers, while St. Pierre downplayed the Canada vs. Hawaii angle. It didn't matter who was from where – a fight is a fight.
In that vein, Penn was a little more blasé about his motivations for defeating St. Pierre.
“Legacy, all that different stuff… I just want to kick his ass,” said Penn.
I'M SO EXCITED!