The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday officially kicked off its media onslaught for the mega-fight between welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and lightweight titleholder B.J. Penn. The bout takes place Jan. 31 -- Super Bowl weekend -- at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
That the promotion decided to kick-off the media blitz on one of its most prominent cards of the year -- UFC 91 headlined by Randy Couture vs. BrockLesnar -- is telling in and of itself how much build-up will be put into St. Pierre vs. Penn 2. UFC President Dana White, St. Pierre, and Penn are in Toronto on Tuesday for the second leg in the current push and then on to Waikiki in Hawaii on Friday.
"These two fought already. They fought to a close split decision. (St. Pierre's) not the fighter he was, (Penn's) not the fighter he was when they fought. They're both in a better place. They're both in their prime," White stated to a room full of reporters at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday.
"B.J. is going to move up and try to take Georges' 170-pound title."
A title challenge always grabs the attention of fans, but a mega-fight it doesn't necessarily make. St. Pierre's belt on the line isn't what is giving this fight its status and all three men on dais on Saturday know it.
"Everybody out there says that Georges St. Pierre is the best in the world," said Penn. "Forget the first fight. I want to find out, I want to find out if he is the best in the world."
St. Pierre had much the same take as Penn, saying, "If you ask somebody who is the best pound-for-pound in the world, a lot of people say it is B.J. Penn. So for me, it is a great challenge as well.
"When you are a champion in a weight class, you have to fix your goal even higher. I don't want to fight to be champion anymore because I am already champion. I want to fight to become a legend in the sport. That is what this fight will give me."
Even in this day of strict weight classes, fighters make a habit of bouncing back and forth to fight in different divisions, but never before has the UFC allowed one of its champions to challenge for a title in another weight class while retaining his current belt. That White is willing to allow it to happen is testimony to the import he puts on this fight.
"Once you win the title and you accomplish so many things in the fight business, then it becomes about legendary status, making your mark, going down as one of the greatest fighters of all time. I think now is the time," stated White.
"This is the kind of stuff that will make one of these guys a legend."