Penn's next move may be a shocker
Nothing seemed to work. Standing, Penn took stiff shots, leaving a spigot where his nose was supposed to be. On the ground, the centerpiece of his game plan for the highly anticipated rematch, Penn was overwhelmed. His vaunted guard busted open like it belonged to a rookie Brazilian jiu-jitsu player.
As they shared an ambulance afterwards, Penn (13-5-1) voiced to Valentino how slippery he thought St. Pierre felt. The trainer said he noticed it early in Round 2. After the 27-year-old French-Canadian, now 18-2, landed the first of many takedowns, Penn tried to employ the rubber guard. When he couldn't maintain any semblance of a high guard, Penn's corner became suspicious.
"After the first round, two commissioners on our side noticed Vaseline being applied to the neck and the back of Georges St. Pierre," Valentino said. "They went over, told the other commissioners and spoke to [referee] Herb Dean."
Nevada State Athletic Commission inspectors watched closely while veteran trainers Greg Jackson and Phil Nurse worked St. Pierre's corner.
"I didn't notice Mr. St. Pierre doing anything wrong," said NSAC executive director Keith Kizer, who sat with chief inspector Tony Lato, Jr., behind and to the left of the champion's corner. "But Mr.Jackson and Mr. Nurse appeared to at the very least be sloppy, reckless and should have done a better job. If it's anything more than that, I don't know.
"If you're working a corner," he continued, "I don't care if it's two guys starting their careers working a three rounder, or if it's one of the biggest fights ever in a five-round title fight, the corner needs to follow the rules completely. Whether it's recklessness or intentional doesn't matter in some regard in that it shouldn't happen, period."
Nurse, a 30-year veteran of martial arts and a well-respected Muay Thai trainer based out of New York, was tasked with two things: apply Vaseline to the brow, cheekbones, bridge of the nose and temples of the champion's chiseled face, and utilize a pressure-point holistic technique that apparently delivers an energy boost.
What the world saw was Nurse, the back of his left hand acting as a palate for a finger of Vaseline, massage grease into the champion's face, shoulders and back. NSAC inspectors, reacting to people at ringside who took the application as an attempt to give St. Pierre an unfair advantage, scolded Nurse between the first and second, and the second and third rounds.
"I was in the Octagon and they came in screaming: 'On his face! On his face!' I really didn't know what they were saying," Nurse said of NSAC inspectors. "I see it now. In the heat of the moment, I've got a minute to get in there, keep him calm, do my energy work on him, elevate his legs and then he listens to Greg. What they were screaming at me about, I didn't know. Had they said 'You're putting Vaseline on his back' it would have put two and two together."
Valentino said Jackson, a highly respected trainer of many champions, including St. Pierre and UFC light heavyweight titleholder Rashad Evans, came into their locker room afterwards to apologize for the mistake. On Monday, Jackson denied apologizing or even discussing any issues regarding Vaseline. He said he simply visited Penn to check on the fallen Hawaiian.
"It certainly wasn't intentional and the commission was all over us and wiped it off," Jackson said. "I don't think it was a fight-modifying thing. I just think it was Phil doing one thing and then realized he needed to do another thing. Completely unintentional."
"If we were going to cheat we wouldn't rub him with Vaseline in front of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and cameras all over," he quipped. "That wouldn't make any sense at all. Give me some credit. If I was going to cheat, I'd be a little smarter than that."
As the sting of defeat wanes and Penn searches for perspective, he'll try to determine whether Jackson is sincere or simply trying lay down some cover.
Late Sunday, Penn's representatives decided against filing the complaint, which has already been drawn up by the Hawaiian's family attorney, first thing Monday, a reaction perhaps to some initial communication between the camps. Distance from the fight will also yield breathing room to make a decision on the rest of his career. But considering how his fight transpired, and with the apparent controversy over tactics in St. Pierre's corner, Valentino believes Penn could have a change of heart.
"I'm not making excuses for B.J.'s fight," he said. "What happened, happened. St. Pierre was a better fighter. But B.J. couldn't get his ground game off because his legs were slipping off. His hands were slipping off. He couldn't get going. It wore him out. That could have been a factor in the fight.
"After what happened I think he might have something to prove again. He might jump up and go at it again. I don't know."
The only one who might, it seems, is Penn himself.
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