Penn says his re­turn not a one-and-done deal

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - SPORTS - By Billy Hull bhull@starad­ver­tiser.com

B.J. Penn in­sists he was con­tent with his re­tire­ment from mixed mar­tial arts when he watched the main event of UFC 180.

An in­terim UFC heavy­weight ti­tle fight pit­ted 40-year-old Mark Hunt against 37-year old Fabri­cio Wer­dum.

A month shy of Penn’s 36th birth­day, his mind be­gan to shift back to the sport that made him fa­mous more than a decade ago.

And here we are once again.

Af­ter three fights fell through in 2016, the now 38-year-old for­mer two-divi­sion world cham­pion will step into the Oc­tagon for the 24th time in the main event of UFC Fight Night 103 on Sun­day in Phoenix.

Penn (16-10-2, 12-9-2 UFC) will con­tinue his ca­reer-long tra­di­tion of fight­ing only the best when he ends a 30-month lay­off against promis­ing feath­er­weight

con­tender Yair Ro­driguez (10-1), who is a per­fect 5-0 in the UFC.

“I think they were the ones who wanted to fight us,” Penn said of the matchup with Ro­driguez, ranked No. 10 at 145 pounds. “I don’t know, maybe they think I’m past my prime or what­ever, but it’s all good.”

They wouldn’t be the only ones to think Penn, who is 1-5-1 in his past seven fights, is well past the level he was at when he held the UFC light­weight ti­tle some seven

years ago.

His only win since los­ing the belt to Frankie Edgar in April 2010 is a knock­out of 37-year-old Matt Hughes in Novem­ber of that year.

His last three losses were all fights that went into the third round, and he ab­sorbed a to­tal of 453 strikes in those fights.

That hasn’t de­terred Penn from get­ting back into the cage. Only four fight­ers all­time have logged more fight min­utes in the UFC than Penn.

“I just love it, man. I miss the con­fronta­tion. I miss the strug­gle. I miss ev­ery­thing about it,” Penn said. “I re­ally didn’t think I would come back af­ter the last time. I saw Wer­dum and Hunt fight and one guy was 37 and one guy was 40.

“How could I not be in there?”

Penn hadn’t worked out in the gym since los­ing to Edgar again in July 2014, know­ing if he did, it would lead him back to the UFC.

Once he de­cided to start train­ing, he went to Al­bu­querque, N.M., to work with renowned trainer Greg Jack­son, who cor­nered Georges StPierre in 2009 when Penn lost and then filed a com­plaint against St-Pierre and Jack­son for the il­le­gal ap­pli­ca­tion of Vase­line dur­ing the bout.

The two patched up their dif­fer­ence and Jack­son vouched for Penn, telling the UFC his come­back at­tempt was le­git.

The UFC gave him an­other shot, sched­ul­ing fights against Den­nis Siver, Cole Miller and Ri­cardo La­mas, which all fell through.

Ro­driguez is more than a 4-to-1 fa­vorite in the fight, but Penn in­sists this isn’t a one-time deal.

He has vi­sions of get­ting back to the top of a divi­sion one more time.

“I’m get­ting older and I want to try to see what this year holds for me,” Penn said. “We’re com­ing on (tele­vi­sion) right af­ter the NFC (play­off) game and so this is kind of like a Su­per Bowl year for me.

“I want to go win our Su­per Bowl this year.”

STAR-AD­VER­TISER / 2012

B.J. Penn: Has record of 1-5-1 in his last seven fights

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