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Posted: Monday May 26, 2008 12:49PM; Updated: Monday May 26, 2008 3:56PM
Ben Fowlkes Ben Fowlkes >
INSIDE MMA

Still the same ol' Penn

Story Highlights
  • B.J. Penn successfully defended his title against Sean Sherk at UFC 84 on May 24
  • Penn's cardio has improved, but his ambitious attitude hasn't changed at all
  • After the win, Penn called out welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre
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B.J. Penn just couldn't help himself.

His TKO victory against Sean Sherk at UFC 84 was barely a few minutes old, but the Hawaiian seemed to have already moved on, calling out welterweight Georges St. Pierre.

Apparently, it wasn't enough to be the Ultimate Fighting Championship's lightweight-title holder.

It's the B.J. Penn we've come to know -- one whose cardio has improved, but ambition (which borders on self-destructive at times) hasn't changed a bit.

Don't get me wrong, I can understand why Penn wants a rematch with St. Pierre. Having gassed out in their first fight, Penn obviously still has a bad taste in his mouth and is out to prove that those days of unfulfilled potential are behind him.

But this isn't the way to do it. While G.S.P-Penn II would be a blockbuster fight by every standard that matters, it isn't necessary and it certainly isn't smart. Not yet, anyway.

While Penn is the current lightweight champ, he's only had to defend his title once. And while St. Pierre has won the welterweight belt twice, he has yet to defend it. Call me crazy, but shouldn't they focus on keeping the titles they've won? Shouldn't the goal be to first establish dominance in their respective weight classes and then look for some kind of champion-versus-champion superfight?

It's not as if Penn is going to suffer from a dearth of credible challengers in the lightweight division, which is among the most talent-rich weight classes in the sport. The winner of the impending Kenny Florian-Roger Huerta match will surely have earned a shot at the 155-pound title. And behind those two stands a long line of young, but capable, fighters eager to climb the ladder.

But Penn probably isn't thinking about any of those. His mind on his legacy, on carving his name into MMA lore as the pound-for-pound best, Penn is somehow convinced that a victory's worth appreciates with each pound he gives up to his opponents.

Sure, weight changes are part of a grand tradition in combat sports. Roy Jones Jr. will always be remembered for is his dominance across different weight classes, but he was practically forced to move up after cleaning out divisions. Bernard Hopkins defended his IBF middleweight title 20 times before moving up to light heavyweight.

After Penn's win on Saturday, UFC President Dana White stated that there was "one more interesting fight" for the champ: the likely bout against the Florian-Huerta winner, which would be a rock-solid moneymaker and would more than likely produce a thrilling enough result to outweigh the headache of having one fighter own two belts. Following the impending fight, White said he would reopen discussion of a G.S.P. matchup for Penn. By that point, though, the rapidly changing landscape of MMA could look very different.

While his enigmatic persona has served as one of his greatest appeals, Penn's confounding, though also admirable, drive has become a mark of futility. If he manages to pull off a St. Pierre defeat, we'll all regard his untamed ambition with awe and reverence. But if he falters to the welterweight champ, Penn will simply look like a man reaching beyond his limits.

 
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