Is B.J. Penn misunderstood?
PHILADELPHIA – B.J. Penn’s not a bad guy, though he plays one on TV.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s fabulously talented lightweight titleholder is also its biggest enigma. Some see him as a spoiled rich kid who speaks before he thinks and pouts if he doesn’t get his way, but Penn insists that’s a description of him spoken by a person who doesn’t know him.
He wasn’t happy with the way he was portrayed on the UFC “Primetime” series on Spike TV that was broadcast prior to his January welterweight title fight at UFC 94 in Las Vegas against Georges St. Pierre.
He’s also begun to voice his displeasure with several mixed martial arts websites and blogs that he believes haven’t been fair to him over the years.
J.D. Penn, B.J.’s brother and manager, said the show wouldn’t work unless there was a good guy and a bad guy.
“You had St. Pierre, so they took B.J. and made him look like the bad guy,” he said. “It was like in boxing what they did with (Oscar) De La Hoya and (Floyd) Mayweather Jr. They needed that. B.J. is more vocal, he’s around town, he talks to kids, he does a lot of stuff.
“They made it look like he wasn’t training and isn’t dedicated to the sport. And they didn’t show the good things that B.J. does. They didn’t show him going to schools, talking to kids, signing autographs and doing whatever he can to promote the sport. They just grabbed onto the fact he wasn’t training, in their perception, as hard as he should be. And they decided to focus on that and not show all the other things good he does. That was a way to get the good guy against the bad guy thing they needed.”
The spoiled rich kid theme is one that arose again after Penn filed a complaint with the Nevada Athletic Commission following his one-sided loss to St. Pierre, alleging that St. Pierre was greasing.
Penn’s mother testified on his behalf, though the commission took no action. Penn was ridiculed by many fans as a spoiled rich kid who needs his mother to fight his battles for him, but Penn doesn’t get it.
“Where does that come from?” Penn asked incredulously. “I’ve heard that a lot, but I don’t understand it. Do people talk about Kenny Florian coming from a wealthy family and all this? I don’t think they do. People say these things about me when they don’t even know me.”
Penn, who will defend his title against Florian on Saturday at the Wachovia Center in the main event of UFC 101, says what he believes despite the consequences. He understands that his willingness to answer any question is going to rankle many, but he’s long since passed the stage of worrying about it.
“You can’t make everyone happy no matter what,” Penn said. “All I can do is live my life and try to be successful and please myself. I have my own morals I live by. Bill Cosby once said, ‘I don’t know the key to success but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.’ I agree with that. I live my life my way. I try to do the right thing, but I know there are going to be people who aren’t happy with what I do or say no matter what, so I’m not going to worry about it.”
Penn is one of the few fighters who is blunt and doesn’t dodge a direct question. In a sport where many of his peers give politically correct answers and stray far away from controversial topics, Penn freely dives in with no hesitation.
Penn said he believes St. Pierre uses steroids, though he concedes he has no proof. St. Pierre is arguably the sport’s most popular fighter and Penn knows that making such allegations isn’t going to win him any friends.
Penn, though, isn’t the type to be shy about offering his opinion though it may be unpopular.
“It’s just my opinion that he uses steroids,” Penn said. “That’s it. My opinion. I do believe it. I can’t hand you any proof, but that’s my opinion.”
In an earlier conversation on the topic, Penn said, “In my opinion, he doesn’t play by the rules when it comes to steroids and growth hormones and that stuff. Look at him. He’s the worst. He looks like that every day. That’s cheating. There is a reason why there are rules against using steroids. The rest of us, we get fat, then we train and get skinny and the cycle goes over and over again. He looks the same way all the time. Come on.”
St. Pierre’s manager, Shari Spencer, scoffed at the suggestion and said she would not dignify it with a response, though she denied St. Pierre is a steroid user.
Greg Jackson, one of St. Pierre’s trainers, laughed at the thought.
“Georges is a phenomenal athlete and he’s such an honorable guy, if he felt he cheated, even inadvertently, it would drive him crazy and he wouldn’t be able to sleep,” Jackson said.
Raffi Nahabedian, a Las Vegas attorney who has represented Penn since 2005 on several issues, including the greasing controversy, called Penn “one of the more remarkable men I’ve met in my life.”
Penn has had prefight issues with several fighters, including Sean Sherk about steroids and Florian about whether or not he tipped Penn off to the fact that St. Pierre is a greaser.
Nahabedian said Penn knew that by pushing the greasing allegations and forcing the commission to hold a hearing, he’d open himself to scorn and ridicule, but he was undeterred.
“We had conversations about public perception,” Nahabedian said. “And as we’ve expressed publicly, B.J. has such a strong conviction about his values that he was willing to sacrifice those fans who don’t appreciate his cause. It’s not that he doesn’t want those fans. In his mind, though, he’s saying, ‘What kind of fans are these who would rally behind me if they don’t believe the sport should be completely clean and devoid of any unfair advantage?’ He’s amazing because he believes so strongly and is willing to go forward with something when he believes it’s the right thing to do even if he knows there are going to be consequences.”
Penn knows there are going to be consequences if he doesn’t perform against Florian, who has won six in a row since losing a previous title shot to Sherk in 2006.
Penn hired strength and conditioning guru Marv Marinovich and believes he’s in far better condition than he’s ever been.
And coming off a loss, he sounded like former President Clinton after he lost control of Congress during the midterm elections in 1994.
“I’m the lightweight champion of the world and I’m definitely still relevant,” Penn said. “I’m very hungry and I’m ready and willing to fight anyone. All this talk and all this other stuff, none of that matters now. This is a fight. We’re going to walk into the cage and they’re going to close the door and then, that’s all that is going to matter. And I’m ready for a fight.