Monday, Jan. 26, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Main event: Georges St. Pierre vs. B.J. Penn, UFC welterweight title
When: Jan. 31
Where: MGM Grand Garden Arena
Tickets: Sold out
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Dana White’s job as head of the Ultimate Fighting Championship is to hype fights that millions of mixed martial arts fans worldwide want to watch.
Arguably, no one does a better job of promoting than the president of the sport’s premier organization. However, every once in a while, White finds himself on the other side of the Octagon — becoming just as big of a fan as say any of the 20- to 30-year-old males shelling out big bucks to sit so close sweat could hit them.
“At the end of the day I’m a fan, I love this stuff,” White said. “Even though we are the ones who put on all the bells and whistles. We know the music, the lights and all the stuff that is going to happen.
“But when it’s happening in the moment and Georges St. Pierre and B.J. Penn are walking out to the Octagon, me and Lorenzo (Fertitta, UFC co-owner) look at each other and high five each other and get goose bumps. There is nothing on earth like it, it’s the best.”
So naturally White decided to share the enthusiasm he has for next Saturday’s mega fight between UFC welterweight champ Pierre and lightweight titleholder Penn at UFC 94 at the MGM Grand, in a special way. Thus the launch of “UFC Primetime,” a nearly $2 million, three-part televised all-access preview special on Spike TV modeled after HBO’s successful boxing show “24-7.”
“I think we’ve gotten great feedback from it and I think it’s a great show,” said White, of the weekly program that airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT from Jan. 14-28.
“We waited for this fight because a fight like this you see three or four of these in your lifetime. Two good characters, a good first show. We’ll probably do three of these a year.”
St. Pierre (17-2), who defeated Penn (13-4-1) by split decision the first time they met in March 2006 at UFC 58, said the television series has pumped him up.
“Very well done. When I watch I’m very excited, it gives me goose bumps,” said St. Pierre.
But not everyone has enjoyed the heightened exposure. Penn says he is disappointed by how the show depicted his training methods, or lack thereof, and briefly threatened to quit taping. He said he has patched those problems up with White.
“I was a little shaken up with a few things on there, the editing and this and that,” Penn said. “But how can I hate Dana White? I’ve know him too long.”
St. Pierre said he never questioned Penn’s training and thought the portrayal that Penn was on vacation was just another mind game.
“A lot of people are talking about B.J. Penn and his training. But I don’t believe that he is not training hard,” St. Pierre said. “I believe he’s gonna be on the top of his game and I want him on the top of his game because I’m a proud champion.
“Those are the big fights that make great champions. I believe this whole thing that he took vacation is a setup or a fake. I know he’s training really hard and he’s going to come in 110 percent for me. And I will be 110 percent as well.”
Penn, who on the show threatened to kill St. Pierre, says that his trash talk comes as a payback for the disrespectful attitude St. Pierre’s camp has displayed.
“Him and his team constantly say they’re going to finish me. That they’re better than me in every aspect,” Penn said.
“They’re better than me in striking, wrestling and jiu-jitsu, and they’re better everywhere. To me that’s the disrespectful stuff. I might say some stuff on the side, but they’re disrespecting my skills. And that’s a big mistake.”
The one thing both fighters agree on is that their first showdown factors little in the rematch.
They each say the other has advanced in terms of physical techniques, training methods and even their mental approach in the nearly three years since they met, that it would be foolish to put any serious stock into how things previously played out inside Mandalay Bay.
“It was a very tough fight. The toughest fight of my career,” St. Pierre said. “I believe that I won that fight. But I’m not satisfied with the win because I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to.
“I’m a lot more well prepared than I was when I fought him the first time. My training regiment has changed dramatically.”
St. Pierre credits head trainer Firas Zahabi, strength and conditioning coach Jonathan Chaimberg, MMA fighters such as current light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, Nate Marquardt, Keith Jardine, Donald Cerrone, and David Loiseau, along with former Canadian Olympian boxer Howard Grant, Gracie jiu-jitsu black belts Bruno Fernandes and John Danaher for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Canadian Olympic wrestler Cleo Ncube and British muay thai champion Phil Nurse for preparing him for any possible position Penn could put him in.
“Before I was training hard, but not as smart as I am training now or with the quality of partners,” St. Pierre said. “I train with the best guy in every discipline.”
An unimpressed-sounding Penn said he also has prepared to leave everything he has inside the Octagon.
“I can’t really take anything from that first fight, I feel we are two totally different people,” Penn said. “I’m sure I’ve improved some techniques. Georges has improved some techniques. But I improved my will to prepare and I think that is more important than any techniques that George has learned over the past couple years.
“I’m gonna be just as prepared as he is this time and now it’s just a race.”
Andy Samuelson is a sports writer/editor for the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.