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B.J. Penn will stay a welterweight, face Jon Fitch

Dana White interested in Penn at 170, says next challenge is already in place

Image

Duane Burleson / AP

B.J. Penn, left, takes a kick from Matt Hughes during the first round of a welterweight match at UFC 123 in Auburn Hills, Mich. Penn defeated Hughes in 21 seconds of the first round.

UFC 123

Matt Hughes, bottom, looks up at the referee after his bout was stopped 21 seconds into the first round during a welterweight mixed martial arts match against BJ Penn at UFC 123 on Saturday in Auburn Hills, Mich. Penn was declared the winner. Launch slideshow »

DETROIT — It took B.J. Penn 21 seconds to knock out Matt Hughes Saturday in the co-main event at UFC 123.

It appears it took Dana White about the same amount of time to find Penn’s next fight.

The UFC president informed media members that Penn’s next challenge would be welterweight contender Jon Fitch at an event expected to take place Feb. 27 in Sydney, Australia.

Apparently, not only is the matchup what White wants, it’s practically official.

“I already made the fight,” White said reluctantly. “Him and Fitch in Sydney.”

A fight against Fitch would be a big opportunity for Penn, who is still looking to prove he can be considered elite at 170 pounds. His record at that weight stands at 2-3, with both wins coming over Hughes.

It’s also a much different scenario than the one Penn would have faced had he lost the co-main event bout.

Although no one can really be sure how Penn would have handled his third loss in a row, White provided his theory on the matter.

“I think he would have retired,” White said. “Obviously, I can’t speak for him. But you’re B.J. Penn and you lose your third in a row? I think he would have retired.”

Fortunately for Penn and his fans, the result of Saturday’s fight potentially marks the beginning of a title run and not the end of a career.

While Penn has had troubles in the past as a welterweight, his performance against Hughes was certainly better than what he showed in back-to-back decision losses to lightweight Frankie Edgar — and White is interested in seeing where it leads.

“I think he looks good at 170,” White said. “When he walked into the octagon tonight he had that crazy look, he was talking to himself and he was hyped up. He looked like the old B.J. He didn’t look like that at 155.”

According to Penn, the change in his demeanor was more about the fact he was fighting Hughes a third time and less about his return to welterweight — where he hadn’t fought since January 2009.

As far as how he looked at the weight, even Penn admitted it’s hard to gauge progress on a 21-second knockout.

But, he added, he has always felt he possessed the tools to be effective at the higher weight.

“Welterweights are a little slower but they’re stronger, lightweights aren’t as strong but they’re faster,” Penn said. “They both bring different challenges. I don’t know where I fit in. I feel like I can fight both.”

Regardless of who he faces and what weight he competes at, Penn reiterated the fact that, at 31, he’s interested in simply fighting as much as he can.

That could have had much to do with the how quickly a fight with Fitch was made — although Penn says he’s done trying to run his own career.

Notorious for butting heads with White on what his next move would be, Penn surrendered that battle Saturday, telling the boss to plan the rest of the trip for him.

“You know what?” said Penn, when asked what weight he hoped his next fight would be at. “For the first time in my career, I’m going to let Dana make that call. Whatever Dana says, we’ll go with that.”

Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or brett.okamoto@lasvegassun.com. Follow him on Twitter at LVSunFighting

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