Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thomas Gerbasi: BJ Penn - In His Own Words

"The Prodigy" is back on October 29th to face Nick Diaz in the co-main event of UFC 137 in Las Vegas...
For over a decade, few have captured the imagination of fight fans quite like the pride of Hilo, Hawaii, BJ Penn. One of only two fighters in UFC history to win titles in two weight classes, he has built a loyal fanbase due not only to his fighting skill and willingness to take on anyone in a fight, but also his no holds barred approach to life, where he will always say what’s on his mind and then worry about the consequences later. Subsequently, he’s the most quotable MMA fighter this side of Chael Sonnen, and here’s just a taste of some of the things Penn has revealed over the years as we get ready for another round of “The Prodigy” in the lead up to his UFC 137 bout against Nick Diaz on October 29th.

On fighting in different weight classes
“It’s been talked to death, me fighting at different weights and doing other things, but right now, I guess I’m just going to be the best I can be right now. Who knows how many fights I’ve got left in me, so right now I’m just gonna do my thing and be happy with who I am.”

On living up to expectations
“At first it was real tough, but now I just want to prove all those people right. If they’re gonna go out on a limb and say I can do all these things, then I’m happy they say that stuff and I want to go out and do it for them. If they went out and told their friends I’m the best, then I want to make sure they can go back and say ‘I told you so.’”

Fighter vs Athlete
“I gotta not like the person that’s standing on the other side of the ring and that’s why I consider myself in different aspects as not just an athlete, but a fighter. When people fight in the normal, everyday world, it’s not because of being an athlete, it’s because something pissed them off. When man raises his fists, he has run out of ideas, and that’s what ends up happening. Those are the natural instincts I have, and if I want someone to fight with me, I better piss them off. So he gets pissed off, and then he pisses me off, and then we can fight. I kinda look for that sometimes.”

On his fighting style
Maybe because I’m not on the mainland and not cross training with everybody all the time, my style is kinda different. It’s not like I’m going to a gym with 50 other mixed martial arts fighters who are all trading techniques and sharing stuff. I have a few people come down here and there and I work with people, but in a gym you kinda all become the same in certain ways because you’re training with each other every day. I’m out in Hawaii, and even better than that, I’m not even on the main island, where there are a bunch of other fighters, so I’m not mixing with anybody. So maybe when I do something it comes out looking a bit different.

On training
“I’m training a lot harder. Back in the day I used to pride myself on how little I could do and get away with it; now I try to pride myself on how much I do. I try to work real hard, train as much as I can, eat healthy food, and I want to see how far I can take it.”

The wakeup call
“I guess the wakeup call was December 13, 2006, when I turned 28. I said ‘what am I doing, why am I messing around? This is the biggest sport in the world, it’s gonna overtake everything, I’m at the forefront. Why am I playing games?’”

In a league of his own
“You want to be categorized in a league of your own, like Randy (Couture) is,” he said. “You don’t want to be in the mix with everybody else. When they talk about you, you want them to say something special, like a Joe Frazier or (Muhammad) Ali, those kinds of people. You want to be extraordinary. You want to shoot for greatness and I think every fighter should.”

On pressure
“When it comes to the pressure, I used to hate it and that’s what used to burn me out. I used to hate fighting for everybody else, answering to everybody else. I just wanted to do it for myself. Now, I think that’s another thing that changed in me. Now I love doing it for everybody. I love when the people come up to me around town and say something to me. I love it – come, come support me, come believe I can do all these things, and I will do all these things. I think that was the biggest thing that changed. I never used to be happy with the idea of all these people putting all this pressure on me, but now I know why they do it, and I love it.”

A new start
“Something just awoke inside of me where I said ‘what are you doing? You can beat every one of these people. You’ve been doing it half-assed all this time and it’s time to finally step up and let’s see it.’ If you can’t, you can’t, but at least you know you tried. Words can’t explain how pumped I am about fighting right now. It’s what I am, it’s who I am, and it’s what I want to be.”

Early days
“The Din Thomas fight and the Caol Uno fight, those were probably two of the best things for my career, to blow me up and to get me a bigger fanbase, but they were also the worst things for my career as far as getting me experience to get ready for that title fight. And I was scared going out there and being the main event. I think I was more afraid of everything else – I was afraid to have that lightweight title, I was afraid to be the main event – but don’t do something great if you can’t take the congratulations, and I wasn’t ready to get congratulated. I was just a kid.”

Money Player
“I never took it serious. But I started taking it serious right before the finals of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world championships. I was in the finals, and I remember me and Charuto (Verissimo) were going to eat lunch, and I just sat there and thought to myself ‘I’ll never be in this position ever again. Go out there and do whatever it takes. Whether your arm gets broken, you get choked unconscious, anything that happens, win this match, do it now, no matter what.’ And that’s why I think I’m good when the pressure’s on. I’m a clutch player when the pressure’s on and that’s when I perform at my best. That’s who I am.”

On his cardio
“I think people will always bring up my cardio. Everybody wants an idea of ‘how can we beat him?’ And they’re not thinking, ‘oh, I‘m gonna submit him’ or ‘I’m gonna knock him out.’ They’re looking for anything they can, so they bring up the cardio issue. These guys got to remember that I fought Sean Sherk and he’s supposed to be a cardio machine. I fought Kenny Florian and he doesn’t get tired. I fought Caol Uno and he doesn’t get tired. I fought so many people over the years, but they just pick that one thing. Nobody wants anybody to be perfect and they want to look for something to talk about. I’m in great shape, but even after this fight, I’m sure the next guy who fights me, that will be his way to beat me too.”

On the mental game
“You see these great guys come out and then they try something for one or two minutes, they find out their technique’s not working and then they give up. The mental side is everything. The techniques have to be flawless, but the mind has to be tough. It has to be more flawless and you can never give up. I would even sit here and say that I’m in the entertainment business and the fight game business, but I’m also in the making you quit business. That’s what it’s all about.”

Lightweight champion of the world
“Just talking to you right now, thinking about how it was a 21-year old kid’s dream to be the lightweight champion of the world, that just got me pumped up. I just remembered how I used to sit and think about how I wanted to be the lightweight champ. But then sometimes you get there and you take it for granted.”

All about the fight
“When I first got into the game of fighting, it was all about the fight. Then came promoting the fight and trying to get the fight bigger, but I’m back to the mindset that it’s just about fighting again.”

On success
“Over time you realize that you can’t judge success by championships. One day you’re at the top of the world and the next day you’re at the bottom, and you’ve got to keep pushing through and keep moving forward no matter happens. And I’m kinda in that mindset. I’ve got a lot of wins and I’ve got a few losses, and I realize that anything can happen when you step in the ring and give it your all against someone else who’s giving their all. So I’m in the mindset that I’m just trying to go out and do my best and let the cards fall where they may, and we’ll see what happens at the end of the night. It definitely took a long time to get that point though. Before I was always about ‘I gotta win, I gotta win, I gotta win,’ and a lot of times when you have that attitude, you end up doing less than your best. Now all I gotta do is go out there and do my best and everything will happen the way it should.”

On legacy
“Before I used to sit there and think about all these things all the time, but now I’m just trying to stay around. It’s amazing and it’s the kinda thing where I don’t want to talk too soon. I’d rather talk about all this when I’m fat, I’m hanging out, and not fighting anymore, and then I’ll tell everybody how great I was.”

Legacy vs. Burnout

“I’m constantly stuck between the two. I’ve seen a lot of Rampage’s interviews lately, and that’s exactly where he is. I guess people do get burned out over time. When you first start this whole journey of being a mixed martial artist, you’re here to beat everybody up, and I guess after a while it does turn into a job. Some people get burned out, some people don’t, and it’s a strange thing. I come out here and destroy Matt Hughes on the 20th and maybe you’ll hear the same things coming out of my mouth again – that I’m going back for my legacy and all that stuff.”

Life after retirement?
“I’ve asked myself that question a thousand times, and I look at everything else there is in the world to do, besides retirement, and I looked at all my other options, and I like this one a lot more.”

On leaving the Octagon immediately after the third Hughes bout

“I’ve been trying to do a fight like the (first) Uno fight for the last nine years and it just never came out that way. So when this fight (with Hughes) ended up ending very quick with a knockout, I was pumped up, I started screaming in the ring for a little bit and I was like ‘here it is, here’s my chance. I’m gonna get out there and I’m gonna do it – Elvis is gonna leave the building.’”

On the loyalty of his fans
“I think they buy the Pay-Per-View when I fight and I think they’re constantly looking for that same kid that got them excited about the sport, who came out and said all these things, and maybe it didn’t go his way every time, but he tried as hard as he could to back up what he said. They see they guy who knocked out Din Thomas and knocked out Caol Uno and that’s their guy, that’s their favorite fighter, and maybe they see some of him in their lives or maybe he’s someone that inspires them. I’ve just been so blessed with these fans that always have my back. When I’ve lost and I’ve come back, I think they know my story so well and they relate to it in their lives. Nobody’s on top always. We’re up one day, we’re down one day, and that’s just the nature of life. And when they see me, they can really relate. People like to follow that storyline and sometimes they like to see people fall but climb back up again.”

On his relationships with past opponents
“I could see it surprising a lot of people, but honestly, I consider myself a people person. (Laughs) One minute I could be pissing you off, the next minute you could be hugging me, and that’s me and part of why people love me or hate me. I’m just blessed to get to run into these people later on and really get to apologize for some of the things that I’ve done. And I’m lucky that these people have welcomed me with open arms.”

On being “The Target”
“If I’m not in that position, I’ll be bummed out. If someone says ‘you know what, I don’t care about fighting BJ Penn,’ that would hurt my feelings.”

On BJ Penn
“There’s just something about BJ Penn that gets people amped up. You don’t know what’s gonna happen, but something’s gonna happen though. He might disappoint you, he might make you happy, he might make you cry, he might make you jump out of your chair, but he’ll do something to you.”

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