With UFC 84 just days away and talk of B.J. Penn's bout against Sean Sherk getting more heated by the minute, I thought I'd add to the mix. I tracked down "The Prodigy" as he readies to enter to the Octagon, and, though hardly difficult, I managed to squeeze out a few more words from him.
Gross: Besides the fact that you feel better as a lightweight and you're starting to get comfortable there, what do you think are the positives for you heading into your fight against Sherk?
Penn: It's gotta be the experience. I've put in over a year of solid, serious training, and not going out and getting out of shape. There are so many positives to this thing. It just keeps coming into my head to do whatever it takes come Saturday night -- do whatever it takes and make sure not to give up that belt.
Gross: Do you feel more confident at this stage of your career than any time before?
Penn: I definitely feel more confident. Besides the confidence and everything, I just know there's more at stake right now. More confidence, more at stake -- the whole thing. I feel very prepared.
Gross: A wrestler with excellent cardio -- would a fighter with that kind of style give you trouble?
Penn: That might give the old B.J. Penn trouble. Not really the wrestling part, it just depends on what kind of shape I came in and how serious I took the fight. I don't really feel that that style gives me trouble, and if Sean Sherk is going around saying that my style gives his style trouble, it's just because he's scared and he's trying to make himself feel comfortable about the fight. But it's not going to be fun.
Gross: How did Rudy Valentino treat you during training camp?
Penn: "Rudy V." was just telling me not to over-train. He knows how hard I was pushing and how hard I was doing everything -- every aspect of the whole game. We were sparring six rounds over six weeks out. Rudy V. was on top of me saying "don't over-train, you've got this already."
Gross: So you wanted to train more and he had to pull you back?
Penn: He just keep letting me know, kept talking in my ear that Sean Sherk isn't the best person I've ever fought. There's no reason to treat it like I'm fighting Fedor [Emelianenko] or something. It was like "OK, you can do this already. Let's go and kick his ass."
Gross: What do you see in Sean Sherk as a fighter?
Penn: I see a good fighter, but I also see an insecure fighter, a man who has to do whatever he has to do to feel comfortable in the octagon. I don't see a man who would be on absolutely nothing. I don't see a man who would walk into the ring on food alone to stand up on the other side of me in the octagon. I don't see that. I don't see him saying, "OK, this is enough. All I need is this food right here and working out. This is enough to beat B.J." I don't see that in him.
Gross: You've made it a point to talk about his steroid past. What's your motive?
Penn: I really do straight up think it's [bull]. I think it's just a coward thing to do. Steroids, growth hormone, or the blood doping, the EPO or whatever it is these guys do, I think it's just straight up [bull]. It's fear and it's not a real fighter. They're an athlete or whatever they want to call themselves, but they can talk amongst each other and say everyone else is doing it, [so] it's alright if I do it. Well, there are people out there that aren't doing it, like me.
Gross: What do you think then about the UFC giving Sherk a shot at your title after he tested positive?
Penn: Mixed martial arts, UFC, or what have you, I don't think it has anything to do with rankings. It doesn't have to do with "this guy beat this guy so he deserves a title shot." It might be like that every once in a while, but this is entertainment and the two biggest names -- the best story. It's about making money and selling pay-per-views and selling tickets. I agree with that. It makes sense. Eventually, if someone keeps winning and going down the line, I'm sure he'll get a title shot. But it's definitely more of a "win the crowd, win your freedom" [mentality]. We see fighters fight their whole career and never get a title shot. It doesn't matter if they rack up 10 wins if people think they're boring. We all know how it works. We all saw Ken Shamrock come in and get a title shot with Tito Ortiz. This is no surprise to me. And it makes for a good story: a former champ busted for steroids fighting the new champ.
Gross: I remember, the last time I was in Hawaii, we talked about a native Hawaiian fighting technique that Rudy V. showed you, and you used against Jens Pulver. Do you have anything special planned for this fight?
Penn: Honestly, I don't have any special techniques for Sean Sherk. I heard right now he's doing all these things and trying to make his game plan. I'm just coming straight forward, exactly what you see. I'm going to try and punch him as hard as I can, as fast as I can, and just keep going after him. The special technique I'm going to use is going to be all mental. I'm going to go out there, overwhelm him and I'm not going to stop until this thing is done.
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.