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Why B.J. Penn nixed retirement for UFC on FOX 5

Rory MacDonald matchup enlivens former champion

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Sam Morris

B.J. Penn hits Nick Diaz with a left during their bout at UFC 137 on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Diaz won by unanimous decision, and Penn announced his retirement after the fight.

B.J. Penn spent the majority of his time during his short-lived retirement “sitting on the couch.”

During some of these lethargic Hawaiian days, Penn would catch up on interviews and coverage of the UFC world he left behind. The recurring topic of listing the best fighters of all time on those segments bugged Penn.

“No one says my name when they talk about the greatest fighters anymore,” Penn said on a conference call last week. “I don’t like that. It really bothers me. I know it’s my fault. I know I’m the reason people don’t talk about me when they talk about GSP or Anderson Silva. My name was always in the mix, and it’s not in the mix anymore.”

Penn fired off a text message to UFC President Dana White with those feelings. That started a chain of events that led Penn back to where he felt he belonged: the octagon.

The 33-year-old Penn (16-8-2 MMA, 12-7-2 UFC) returns for the main card of Saturday’s UFC on FOX 5 in Seattle against one of the most promising young talents in the sport, 23-year-old Rory MacDonald (13-1 MMA, 4-1 UFC).

“The one thing you always know about B.J. Penn is you’re not going to go in there and just run over B.J.,” White said. “B.J. is going to go in there and fight until the end.”

Penn, who just three years ago was considered perhaps the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, promises he hasn’t lost that mentality. But it may have been lacking from the time he lost to Nick Diaz at UFC 137 and retired to when he first started preparing for MacDonald.

Penn’s spark to fully revert to his old ways came from discovering another interview, this one with MacDonald.

“He was saying he saw me and I looked fat and a bunch of different things, that he’ll probably end up killing me in the ring,” Penn said. “That really lit a fire under my butt.”

Penn said he started his training camp at 40 percent body fat and trimmed it down to 10 percent.

Even now, MacDonald is indifferent toward his opponent. He doesn’t care how he looks or even what he’s done in past fights.

“For all I know, B.J. could have completely changed his training,” MacDonald said. “Maybe he’s a Muay Thai fighter now. Who knows? I don’t care.”

MacDonald and Penn share at least one thing in common: a mean streak. MacDonald has come off as testy as an insulted Penn in the lead-up to the bout.

In a fan question-and-answer session at UFC 154, someone jokingly asked MacDonald whether he would use his size advantage to hold Penn down “just like St. Pierre did.”

“Have you ever seen me hold someone down?” MacDonald snapped.

That, in a flash, is why so much is expected out of the showdown between Penn and MacDonald. They’re both motivated and poised to hold nothing back. This won’t be a safe fight.

Welcome back, Penn.

“Fighting is still not a sport to me,” Penn said. “I don’t know if I should be saying that on a conference call. Fighting is still a fight to me. I’m not a great athlete that can play any sport. I can’t play much different sports, but one thing I could always do: I could always fight back.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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