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UFC 94:

Take Five: Penn fights to be first with second

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Steve Marcus

UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, left, of Montreal, and B.J. Penn of Hilo, Hawaii, show off their title belts at a news conference Wednesday. St. Pierre and Penn headline Saturday’s UFC 94 card at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Penn holds the UFC lightweight title but is moving up in weight to take on St. Pierre for the welterweight title.

UFC 94

Alex and Andy Samuelson gear up for the big rematch in UFC 94.

Fight Facts

  • Main event: Georges St. Pierre (17-2 mixed martial arts) vs. B.J. Penn (13-4-1)
  • At stake: UFC welterweight championship
  • Time/site: Today at the MGM Grand Garden Arena; doors open, 4:15 p.m.; first bout, 4:45 p.m.
  • Tickets: Sold out
  • Pay-per-view: $54.95, 7 p.m.
  • Closed circuit: Mandalay Bay Events Center, $50
  • Featured bouts: Lyoto Machida (13-0) vs. Thiago Silva (13-0), light heavyweights; Stephan Bonnar (14-4) vs. Jon Jones (7-0), light heavyweights; Karo Parisyan (26-5) vs. Dong Hyun Kim (11-0-1), welterweights; Nate Diaz (10-2) vs. Clay Guida (24-6), lightweights
  • Undercard: Jon Fitch (21-3-1) vs. Akihiro Gono (28-13-7), welterweights; Manny Gamburyan (10-4) vs. Thiago Tavares (17-3), lightweights; Chris Wilson (13-4-1) vs. John Howard (10-4), welterweights; Jake O’Brien (10-2) vs. Christian Wellisch (9-3), light heavyweights; Matt Arroyo (3-2) vs. Dan Cramer (debut), welterweights

Sun Special Coverage

1. Going for two

Continuing a recent trend in hand-to-hand combat sports (think Kelly Pavlik, Manny Pacquiao, et al, in boxing), B.J. Penn steps up to welterweight (170 pounds) from lightweight (155 pounds) to challenge for Georges St. Pierre’s Ultimate Fighting Championship title belt. Penn, a former welterweight champ himself, is trying to become the first fighter to hold two UFC title belts at the same time. “Whoever wins or loses, it’s not going to be, oh, B.J. bit off more than he can chew,” UFC President Dana White said. “B.J. held the title at 170 pounds. I don’t think there’s any question B.J. Penn can fight at 170.”

2. Worldwide appeal

White pointed to the disparate backgrounds of the two headliners — St. Pierre comes from Montreal and Penn fights out of his native Hawaii — as proof of the UFC’s growing international appeal. St. Pierre commands a sizable fan base in the United States as well as in his homeland, and Penn acquitted himself well in a victory for the lightweight title against Joe Stevenson last January in the United Kingdom. “Fans will get behind fighters from other countries,” White said. It all fits in with his master plan, White said, to eventually make the UFC more popular than the NFL or soccer.

3. Don’t look back

Penn, 30, lost a three-round split decision to St. Pierre in 2006 in their lone previous meeting but insists he has put it behind him. “Whether I won or lost, it doesn’t matter,” Penn said. “The fight is done. I wasn’t living my life as a champion. I wasn’t training as a champion at that time.” This time around, Penn has been “banging hard” — exhausting himself in his training sessions, pushing himself to the limit if not beyond. Penn focused on his takedowns, his takedown defense and fighting off his back so he’ll be prepared if St. Pierre tries to take the fight to the ground — which Penn suspects he will. Even so, Penn said, “I don’t have a specific technique I’m going to beat him with. I’m just going to beat him with my mind and with my heart.”

4. By Georges

St. Pierre, 27, is coming off a stoppage of Matt Serra and a victory by unanimous decision against Jon Fitch in his two fights, both for the UFC title, in 2008. A consensus choice among the elite fighters, pound-for-pound, in the sport for his well-rounded set of skills, St. Pierre figures to rely on his vaunted wrestling acumen and his endurance against Penn. “A lot of people talk about stamina, and stamina has something to do with it,” St. Pierre said. “But at some point it’s about who’s controlling the fight.” St. Pierre said he’s driven not by the championship belt, but by a desire to stop Penn. “I’ve never wanted to win so bad,” he said.

5. Betting lines

The price on St. Pierre has been bet up slightly to minus 190 (risk $1.90 to net $1), with Penn a plus 150 underdog. Lyoto Machida and Karo Parisyan are the heaviest favorites on the main card, each listed at minus 300 to defeat Thiago Silva and Dong Hyun Kim, plus 220 underdogs. Stephan Bonnar is a minus 170 favorite to hand Jon Jones (plus 130) his first loss. In the most competitively priced bout on the main card, Nate Diaz is a slim minus 130 choice against Clay Guida (even money) in a lightweight bout that shapes up as a potential scorcher. Odds are subject to change.

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