UFC champ BJ Penn hints of Aloha Stadium fight
By John Burnett
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
If BJ Penn had a motto, it might be "think local, act global."
As UFC lightweight champion in this age of instant information, nearly everything he says and does has global implications. He is, however, still very much the local boy who's most at home surfing at Honolii or hanging out with family and friends in Hilo.
"It's good to be home," Penn said Tuesday afternoon, three days after his fifth-round technical knockout of Diego Sanchez in Memphis, Tenn., his record third lightweight title defense.
A lot of fighters would celebrate a dominant performance such as Penn's by going hog wild on the river city's signature blues, brews and barbecue. Penn instead got home the fastest way he could, getting aboard a plane the next morning for Minneapolis and catching a Northwest flight directly to Honolulu before the hop home. He made it back in time for a quiet 31st birthday celebration.
"I ate some Chinese food and cake," he said.
Penn also was eager to spend some "daddy time," as well, with his 14-month-old daughter, Aeva Lili'u Uaiwa-Penn.
"She gives me a reason to come home," he said.
Relaxing in his Wainaku living room with his daughter, Penn bears little resemblance to the guy who licked the blood of Joe "Daddy" Stevenson and Sanchez from his gloves in a shark-like frenzy.
"(Boxing trainer) Jason Parillo said, 'Go out there. I want you to be the crazy blood licker. I want you to kill this guy,' " Penn explained.
Asked if the glove-licking had anything to do with the Hawaiian warrior tradition — legend has it that Kamehameha the Great ate rival Keoua's heart in the belief that he would inherit his fallen foe's mana, or power — Penn replied, "Maybe subconsciously it does."
"I gotta stop doing that," he acknowledged. "You get so crazy when you're in there, you just don't know what you're doing sometimes."
According to Fightmetric, Penn landed 150 strikes — which includes punches, kicks, elbows and knees — while Sanchez was on target just eight times. Penn successfully fended off all 27 of Sanchez's takedown attempts. While those figures may not be 100 percent precise, they're an accurate reflection of Penn's dominance of the fighter called "Nightmare."
"That's the best I ever felt walking into the octagon," Penn said.
Penn's team, which includes Parillo, head trainer Rudy Valentino, manager/brother Jay Dee Penn, plus strength and conditioning coaches Marv and Gary Marinovich, have presided over a quantum leap in Penn's cardiovascular and reflexive conditioning.
"You know, a lot of people don't believe in the training that Marv and Gary do," Penn said. "They just wanna go and do their three sets of 10 (repetitions) lifting weights or whatever it may be. Different people have different ideas. I think a lot of Marv's and Gary's methods aren't accepted by a lot of people, and that's what's so special about them, because no one else is using it."
Penn, the first American Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, is known for his grappling. In recent fights, however, he has also shown surprising creativity in his stand-up game. He won the lightweight belt by finishing off Sean Sherk with a flying left knee, and dispatched Sanchez with a rare, well-placed high kick.
"I saw he was getting out of the way of the right hand," Penn said of Sanchez. "... I didn't plan to throw the kick. I just threw it. And I owe that to a highly conditioned nervous system."
Penn, whose mixed martial arts record is 15-5-1, did not disclose his purse for the fight, but in his Aug. 8 victory over Kenny Florian in Philadelphia, he was paid $125,000 for stepping into the octagon, an equal amount for his victory, plus a percentage of the massive Pay-Per-View television take.
Penn said that his next fight may take place in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.
UFC President Dana White is also talking about Penn headlining a card at Aloha Stadium. The next fight, Penn said, will come with a hefty raise, $250,000 to "show," another $150,000 for a win, plus the TV money.
Possible opponents include lightweight contenders Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard and Nate Diaz, or a possible rematch with UFC welterweight king Georges St. Pierre.
St. Pierre has won twice over Penn, both times with controversy that left a bitter taste in Penn's mouth.
"I definitely want to fight (St. Pierre) again," Penn acknowledged. "... What kind of fight do they want to put on in Abu Dhabi? Do they want me to fight a Frankie Edgar or a Gray Maynard? Or do they want me to fight a 'super fight' against somebody in Aloha Stadium, and do they think they can sell 40,000 tickets by putting me in against a Gray Maynard, or do they want me up against a bigger name?
"I guess sooner or later it's gonna come down to me defending the belt, for sure. But it's about whatever the UFC's business model is for what they got coming up."
White, who has said Penn "coasted on his talent for 10 years," noted the Hilo fighter is now fulfilling his potential to be perhaps the best mixed martial artist ever.
"He always pulls me on the side and tells me how proud he is and those kinds of things," Penn said. "Me and him got a real good relationship going on right now."