Earlier this week the UFC with much fanfare announced that B.J. Penn, former Light- and Welterweight champion, would be returning to the cage to face Frankie Edgar, the man who beat him twice to take and keep his Lightweight belt, as a Featherweight. Some fans were shocked that the famously self-indulgent Penn was returning to the cage at all, especially at 145 pounds, a fighting weight that will involve serious discipline for Penn to make.
UFC President Dana White told fans watching his Google Hangout yesterday (transcribed by MMA Fighting) what he believes to be driving Penn:
“B.J. sends me a text that says, ‘Dana, I want to fight Ben Henderson.’ So I immediately pick up my phone and call him, and he doesn’t answer. This was two days ago.
“So then B.J. calls me 45 minutes later. He’s like, ‘Hey Dana, I didn’t answer your phone call because I don’t want you to talk me out of this. I know how you are. I know what you’re going to say, and you’re going to talk me out of it.’ I was like, you’re damn right I’m going to talk you out of it. He says, ‘The reason I want to fight Ben Henderson is because I believe if I beat Ben Henderson, you’ll give me a shot to fight Frankie Edgar.’ I’m like, ‘Frankie Edgar?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, I want this Frankie Edgar fight worse than anything. Those two losses are a rock in my shoe. He should’ve never beat me. That guy can’t beat me.’
“B.J. is one of these guys who, I think, is fighting some demons right now, in that, if he could go back and do it all over again, I think he’d do it differently,” White said.
B.J.’s return was such good news the UFC immediately cast both he and Edgar as coaches of season 19 of The Ultimate Fighter. Fox is so hungry for ratings-driving UFC content that the promotion is burning through its few headliners rapidly.
One fighter that fans and Fox brass would no doubt love to see return ASAP is the mercurial Nick Diaz. Diaz hasn’t fought since he and GSP posted the year’s best PPV numbers at UFC 143. White answered fan questions about Diaz and what he’s doing next on yesterday’s Google Hangout (again via MMA Fighting):
Nick’s obviously still on the roster. He’s still an active fighter here in the UFC, but as far as I know, he’s just not interested in fighting right now.
“When Nick finally fought Georges St-Pierre, Nick Diaz made some money. So Nick Diaz has some kickback money,” White said. “He can probably take as long as he wants to fight again. I would assume that’s why (he’s not fighting).
“You’re fighting to make a living, you’re fighting to pay your bills, you’re fighting to get things that you want out of life. And with the money that Nick Diaz made in his last fight, I’m sure he’s got everything he wants right now.”
A timely reminder that booking UFC fights involves managing the unpredictable and sometimes intractable psyches of some very unique characters.