In what has amounted to an extremely compelling fight card, UFC 123 has really stirred up a lot of attention leading into the fights this coming weekend. As four proud former champions prepare to get it on, fight fans are salivating over what is in store Saturday night.
Last Veteran’s Day, all four of the co-main and main event fighters took some time to join various journalists on the UFC 123 conference call. Hurtsbad.com was honored to be in attendance.
Many great questions were asked of the main event competitors Rampage Jackson and Lyoto Machida as well as the co-main event athletes B.J. Penn and Matt Hughes. The back and forth between Penn and Hughes in particular was very eye opening as to the respect and appreciation they truly have for one another.
Hurtsbad is proud to share some of the insight and answers they provided to MMA media throughout the conference call. While the questions were not posed by the staff of Hurtsbad, the answers are considered public and compelling enough to share.
The first question was to Penn regarding his move up to welterweight following two consecutive losses to current lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. Penn was clear to say his sights are still trained on his former LW title but is looking to bounce back against a strong opponent in Hughes.
“I was kind of bummed out on my way home after the fight. I didn't really get banged up or bruised up too much so I just jumped back in the gym on Monday and started training and thinking about getting the lightweight belt back.
Dana tried to put a fight together with a few guys and I guess that fell through. Then Dana offered me the fight with Matt. He said Matt has some obligations but he will set those aside to put together another great fight with you.
I was really excited, this is a great opportunity for me to get back on track against a great opponent. “
When asked if he planned on competing long term at welterweight where he has also been crowned champion in the past Penn had this to say.
“I think if I feel good and everything goes well, maybe I’ll fight a few more fights here. You know whatever, 155, 170, a lot of people are doing it, I'm not the only guy. I don't think that's out of the question.”
After his impressive victory over Ricardo Almeida Hughes had hinted that after two fights in one year he may be looking at some much deserved time off and was asked if this fight in particular was what pulled him back for his third bout of 2010.
“B.J. is exactly right, I did have a lot of obligations on the line, but one more paycheck this year will really make my wife happy. I was able to hold off on all the obligations. B.J. and I are I think a lot alike in that we are split one and one and we finally get to have the third match, the rubber match.”
Hughes added, “We have both wanted it and we finally get to get it. So we are both happy with that, we are both competitive guys.”
Hughes was asked if he puts much stock in the first two fights in which they split one and one. Being that they were quite some time ago, does Hughes take anything away from their first two meetings. The former WW champ answered quite humbly.
“B.J. beat me so easy the first time, and the second match was really a tough match for both of us. He was whooping me early in the fight and I ended up finishing late in the fight. So there is a lot to be said with this last match.”
Hughes has really turned a corner since his loss to Thiago Alves. Winning three consecutive fights in impressive fashion he was asked what has changed for him.
“In the past I’ve been fighting and taking a long time off and then fighting again. This year has been good for me because I have really stayed on track the whole time. I never really got out of shape. It’s been really good for my body just to stay in shape.”
Hughes went on to say, “I don't spar every week if I don't have a fight coming up, or do heavy training. I’m 37 years old, I’m one of the older guys out there so I have to slow it down with the training a little bit. I have to train more smart than train hard.”
Hughes explained how taking pressure off his shoulders has helped him enjoy his time in the cage lately.
“I’ve felt real good, and I’m going out there and having a good time. I'm having a lot of fun. I’ve tried cut all the pressure away. I’m not going out there trying not to lose, I’m actually going out there and trying to win and have a good time.”
As for Penn, a man who dominated the LW division for so long, this move to WW is a completely different direction for him. When asked if he has made any significant changes to his training styles since his losses to Edgar he had this to say:
“I haven't done anything drastic. I’ve just been training. I brought in some good sparring partners for this fight to push me. I feel good, I haven't been fatigued, I feel like it was just yesterday that I was fighting as a welterweight. But nothing drastic, just preparing for the legend, preparing for Matt.”
When asked if a fight with Matt Hughes posed any added motivation he sounded happy to have the opportunity to round out the trilogy.
“Coming off two losses I probably would have accepted anyone Dana offered me. In offering Matt, he offered me a gift. I always hoped me and Matt would do it again.”
Speaking of coming off two losses, Penn was asked what he thought went wrong in his fights with Edgar. While he joked at first he showed the true heart of the type of champion he was by offering praise for the man who defeated him as opposed to making excuses and deflecting the question.
“I think what went wrong was that I didn't win those fights. I really don't have much to say about that. All I can really say is step back and say that Edgar did a great job and he is the champion right now. I want to get back to the top of the lightweight division and I want to be the champion again.”
He added, “As far as changing my camp, I started to train harder. I started running again, doing road work, and trying to push my different energy systems and do a lot of things. But that's not the only reason why the fight went the way it did.”
“You have to improve at everything with your boxing, and your take downs, and your wrestling. It is what it is.”
As for Hughes, he does find inspiration in the third fight with B.J., for him he sees a lot at stake when he and Penn hook them up to finally settle the score.
“There would be some added motivation here. The way I see it is if I lose this fight with B.J. it’s like losing three fights. But if I win this fight, it’s like winning three fights. It’s the final of the trilogy so there is a lot on the line. Three fights are on the line for this fifteen minutes that B.J. and I are going to do battle.”
Hughes sees this as a real test for him at this point in his career. He really sounds excited about this fight for both he and Penn.
“B.J. has fought nothing but the best. I mean look at his last fight with G.S.P. He has always done well no matter what weight class he is at, so this is a great fight for me. I think it’s a great fight for B.J. too. I am not Frankie Edgar, I don't move around like Frankie Edgar. So I’m sure B.J. is really liking this fight style wise because I’m a lot different than his last opponent.”
Matt did have to put some personal obligations aside to take this fight but explained the motivation he finds in the match up itself was far too compelling to pass up.
“I definitely was going to take a break. I’ve spent the whole year fighting. I was away from my family so I wanted to spend some family time and this fall is hunting time so I was wanting to hunt as well.”
“But when Dana comes with the name B.J. I kind of felt like I had to take the fight. He and I are one and one and we have to see who can win this last match. It’s a big fight for me and I can postpone everything else and worry about B.J.”
Penn is one of the most polarizing figures in the sport. There is no middle ground with “The Prodigy”; most either love him or hate him. But as good as he truly is, bandwagon fans are just part of the deal.
It’s always easy to root for a winner, but having lost two in a row Penn was asked if he felt like his fans were sticking with him. Not one to put too much stock in the issue he explained appreciation for the fans but also explained he doesn’t lose too much sleep over it.
“My fans have definitely been trying to keep me up and keep me going. It’s definitely about the fans, they support this sport. But I don't sit there worrying about if I lose am I going to lose all my fans. Whatever true fans you got, they will stick by you. That's nothing to worry about.”
In closing Penn talked about the motivation he and his peers find in the competition. This card features four world class proud former UFC champions. To hear Penn tell it, after reaching the heights they have that nothing else compares.
“I think once you have been where me, Lyoto, Rampage, and Matt have been a lot of other stuff it just seems boring. This is the only thing that keeps me feeling like I have something to live for. As soon as Dana sent me that text and said ‘do you want to take a fight with Matt Hughes?’ I got chicken skin all over my body and I was like I’ve got a reason to live for a couple more months. I think fighters are just used to that adrenaline.”
Well Mr. Penn, you weren't the only one who got chicken skin when they heard about this match up. There is an army of long time MMA fans that are fully aware of the first two fights between you and Matt.
The fight provides them all one more glimpse into what happens when true MMA legends collide. When two of the most revered champions this sport has ever seen mix it up, no matter what the outcome is everyone is a winner.
On behalf of the staff at Hurtsbad, thank you to both B.J. Penn and Matt Hughes for allowing us some insight into the upcoming tilt at UFC 123. Also thank you to the UFC for both bringing this conference call together and allowing Hurtsbad a seat at the table with four amazing former champions.
Now lets hook ‘em up and get it on!
This article was originally featured at Hurtsbad.com.