Penn dreams of claiming two titles
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Despite having lost two fights in a row and his UFC 155-pound title, B.J. Penn has not lost his focus. He remains determined to regain the lightweight belt he lost to Frankie Edgar -- and hasn't relinquished his dream of reacquiring the welterweight title as well.
Reality, however, has begun to set in. Penn (15-7-1) is no longer a youngster in this sport and knows that if he is to have any chance of accomplishing his stated agenda, a win Saturday over Matt Hughes is essential.
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"Being champion in two weight classes has always been a huge goal of mine," Penn told ESPN.com after Wednesday's UFC 123 news conference in Detroit. "I tried a few years ago, but it didn't work out my way.
"The titles will always be important to me, but I'm 31 years old; I just want to fight. I've done this through my 20s. I want to do this a few more years."
A win over Hughes would prove fitting. Penn defeated Hughes in January 2004 to win the UFC welterweight title.
Hughes would exact revenge two years later, and he has shown signs of his former self in recent fights. He enters this bout against Penn on a three-fight win streak.
There is not much talk of making a run at another title shot coming from the 37-year-old Hughes, but if the opportunity presents itself, he will grab it.
At the top of Hughes' wish list is a steady diet of fights. Hughes wants to stay active and have some fun.
"I'm at a point now where it's whatever [UFC] offers," said Hughes, who is 45-7-0. "I'm kind of concentrating on just having a good time. If Dana [White] comes to me or the UFC comes to me and says, 'We want you to just make a run at a title,' then that's fine with me.
"I'm just ready to go out and have a good time and compete. I still love to compete."
What motivates Hughes is winning the rubber match with Penn. This is his title fight.
"B.J. and I are 1-1, and we've got to see who can win this last match," Hughes said. "It's a big fight for me."
It's a big fight for Penn too, but for a slightly different reason. This is a welterweight bout, and Penn must win and do so impressively to have any chance of being considered a title contender in the division.
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Penn has no room for error and he knows it. Just getting a win won't be good enough: Penn has to make a statement in this fight. And that is exactly what he intends to do.
He wants to open White's eyes and give the UFC president reason to consider him for a 170-pound title shot.
Penn is as motivated today as at any time in his illustrious career. Saturday could define the rest of Penn's mixed martial arts career.
"If I come out and perform well on Saturday night, as I believe I will, and we run through Matt Hughes and Dana [White] is pumped up about some things and he gives me a call and says, 'B.J., I want you to fight this guy, and it could have title implications,' I will do it," Penn said.
"But let's not get it wrong, before I retire, I want to be lightweight champion again also."
As for dropping two in row to Edgar, the former lightweight champion has put it behind him. If another bout with Edgar comes available, Penn will make slight adjustments. Nothing major.
"I don't think there was anything specific I took from that experience," Penn said. "I just went right back in the gym and worked on some things. I know I don't want to ever feel the way I felt after those losses again."
Franklin McNeil covers MMA and boxing for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.
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