Penn can make a world of difference for UFC
By GREG BEACHAM
Although B.J. Penn has fought everywhere from England to Japan while spreading the message of mixed martial arts, the UFC lightweight champion still is a bit amazed he's 14 time zones away from his Hawai'i home, fighting in a temporary venue and worrying about sandstorms.
Yet Penn says he's having a great time in Abu Dhabi, where he'll fight Frank Edgar Saturday in UFC 112, which ranks among the most unlikely ventures in the league's ambitious plans for worldwide expansion.
After nearly two weeks in the Middle East, Penn says he has been pleasantly surprised by the modernity and friendliness of the United Arab Emirates' capital city.
"I think it's today that I realized this isn't a vacation," Penn told The Associated Press yesterday in a phone interview. "The people are nice. Everybody speaks English, and they're putting us up in a great place. It isn't too hard to get around, so it's easy to just concentrate on what I have to do."
Penn is finishing his training in a makeshift workout room in the garage of a buddy's home, but he expects to perform well on a card Headline 1d by middleweight champion Anderson Silva's sixth title defense against Demian Maia. Also on the card is Maui-born Kendall Grove, who will face Mark Munoz in a bout scheduled for 185 pounds.
Although Penn is a well-known homebody who still lives and trains in his native Hilo, he jumped when UFC president Dana White offered him the chance to fight on the opposite side of the planet, sharing the UFC's belief that the sport's worldwide acceptance and prominence is just a matter of time.
"I'm definitely excited to be a part of the UFC spreading out globally around the world," said Penn, who has fought in the U.S. for the past five years except for a trip to England in 2008. "I think it's something we can look back at later in our lives and know we created a great era for the sport. It's great to be on the front of that, to be making a difference out there."