I'll say this about B.J. Penn: he's as tenacious outside the cage as he is inside.
Watching his ongoing campaign to have UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre punished for "greasing" during their UFC 94 super-fight, I can't help but wish for Penn to give up the fight. Just this one.
Make no mistake, Penn is the best lightweight fighter in the world right now. But the Penn who is the UFC's 155-pound champ isn't the Penn people are seeing right now. They're seeing a whiner and an excuse-maker. They're seeing a guy who can't admit when he's been beaten. And if he keeps at it, that may be the Penn they remember most when his illustrious career is over, which would be the real shame.
Did St. Pierre's corner rub Vaseline on their fighter's back in between rounds at UFC 94? Yes, and the video evidence shows as much. But the amount of Vaseline left on cornerman Phil Nurse's hands by the time they moved from G.S.P.'s face to his body was miniscule. The chances it affected the outcome of the fight are slim to none, and the act certainly didn't represent a conspiracy to cheat.
Why? Because Greg Jackson, who was the second man in G.S.P.'s corner that night, is one of the smartest trainers in MMA. That's not to say that a smart trainer wouldn't cheat, but he wouldn't cheat in full view of the scores of UFC cameras and athletic commission observers, who, let's not forget, wiped St. Pierre down with a towel when they saw the Vaseline on his back.
If Jackson wanted to find a way to get Vaseline on his fighter's body, he'd probably be smart enough to realize that all he has to do is instruct his man to clinch with his opponent. As notable trainers, such as Pat Miletich, have pointed out recently, plenty of Vaseline rubs off one fighters face and onto another's body during the natural course of a close-range fight. It's become a part of the game at this point, but it's obvious to anyone who watched the Penn-St. Pierre bout that a little petroleum jelly wasn't the difference-maker that night.
Penn lost because he fought a bigger, stronger fighter who was in much better shape. They could have contested that bout in parkas and sweatpants and it wouldn't have ended any differently. Penn simply wasn't prepared well enough. Beginning with the second round he wilted under the pressure from G.S.P. By the start of third, Penn looked absolutely exhausted, and the ubiquitous questions surrounding his cardio were answered, yet again, as St. Pierre took him down with ease.
Penn went on vacation three weeks before the fight, and it showed. He didn't have the gas tank to go five rounds with anybody, let alone a world-class athlete like G.S.P.
Instead of being man enough to admit his mistakes and return to his training camp with a renewed sense of motivation for his next fight, Penn would rather waste his time with lawyers and hearings. He prefers pouring over footage from in between rounds rather than looking at the actual fight and trying to figure out where he went wrong.
This isn't to say the hearings and inquiries are entirely bad for the sport. The rules about Vaseline use between rounds may need to be addressed to remove any appearance of impropriety in the future, and to assure that all fights are as fair as possible.
But that isn't why Penn is doing this, no matter what he says to the contrary. This isn't a crusade to clean up the sport -- it's a personal vendetta. Penn can't beat St. Pierre in the cage, so he's decided to try to beat him in court. He's hoping that he can attach an asterisk to G.S.P.'s victory by calling him a cheater. It won't work. The more he insists on dragging this out, the more Penn damages his own reputation. The respect fans had for him as a fearless fighter is being overshadowed by their embarrassment at these transparent attempts to scratch a loss off his record. And it's all so unnecessary.
Fight fans can understand and forgive a loss, especially when it comes after a move up in weight to face one of the sport's best. The mere attempt is noble. Refusing to accept defeat isn't. It's childish. It's not the conduct of a champion, which is what Penn still is. If only someone would remind him of that, maybe he'll start acting like it again.
NEXT STEPS:Sans resolution, saga may bring change