Friday, April 6, 2007

TV show helps Penn put losses in past

By Billy Hull

BJ Penn was at a crossroads in his mixed martial arts career.

The former UFC welterweight champion took a two-year hiatus from the company that, during that time, had suddenly exploded onto the national scene due to the popularity of its reality show, "The Ultimate Fighter," on Spike TV.

While the UFC was increasing its fan base exponentially, Penn was on the outside, fighting for the Rumble on the Rock and K-1 promotions before making his UFC return in March of last year.

Penn marched to the ring wearing his own UFC belt that was "officially" held by the current champion, Matt Hughes, who Penn had tapped out in his last UFC fight before leaving the company. For the old school MMA fan, Penn's return was historic, but all the new-era fans that learned about the sport from watching the reality show didn't know much about who Penn is.

The Hilo native lost a split decision with rising star Georges St.-Pierre that night, and then was TKO'd by Hughes in their rematch in September. Suddenly, the man who at one time was considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world was at a crossroads. He never envisioned losing both of his return fights in the UFC.

"I had no idea what I was going to do," Penn said. "I definitely wasn't happy with those two losses and actually had no clue what was next."

During a trip to Florida after the second Hughes fight, he ran into UFC president Dana White, who congratulated Penn when he saw him.

"I was like, 'For what?" Penn said. "He was like, 'For doing the (reality) show.' I was like what? OK, I'll do the show."

Season five of the "Ultimate Fighter" reality show debuted last night on Spike TV (Oceanic Cable channel 76, digital 559) featuring Penn and Jens "Little Evil" Pulver as coaches of 16 lightweight (155-pound) fighters vying for a six-figure contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The 16 fighters are broken up into two teams of eight, coached by Penn and Pulver. Each episode features the teams going through a variety of training sessions while all living under the same roof. At the end of each episode, two fighters will fight in the Octagon, with the loser getting kicked off the show.

Eventually they will wind down until only two remain, and those two will compete June 23 at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for a UFC contract. That same event will also feature Penn (10-4-1) against Pulver (21-7-1) in a rematch of their fight four years ago in the UFC in which Pulver handed Penn his first professional loss by majority decision.

"I'm going to try and break his left arm," Penn said.

The bad blood from the two stems from their earlier fight and was magnified greatly during the taping of the show that took place during a six-week period this year in Las Vegas. Neither Penn nor Pulver could comment on the events of the show, but there is clearly no love lost between the two.

"He's got no respect for me and thinks I'm a joke," Pulver said. "He thought that the first time we fought and got his ass beat. He pisses me off. He makes me want to fight."

Andy Wang, a University of Hawaii graduate, is one of the 16 fighters competing on the show. Penn is the first local fighter to serve as a coach for the show. Past coaches include Randy Couture, Hughes, Chuck Liddell, Rich Franklin, Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock.

"Everyone got involved, and Dana said it was the best show he has seen yet," Penn said. "As the sport continues to grow in popularity, I expect to see a lot more Hawaiian fighters out there soon."

Former Icon Sport middleweight champion Frank Trigg, who is no stranger to being on television himself, has only watched previous "Ultimate Fighter" shows for the fights that take place at the end of each episode, but says he will be watching this year's season from start to finish.

"I know BJ and I talked to Jens and let me just say, this show is going to be crazy," Trigg said. "I'm actually going to watch the whole thing because it's going to be great to watch."

Penn will spend the majority of the next 10 weeks training for the fight at the BJ Penn mixed martial arts academy in Hilo. He has recently been filming training videos that can be seen at

Grove ready for PPV
Maui's Kendall "Da Spyder" Grove (9-3), who won season three of the "Ultimate Fighter" show by defeating Ed Herman in the final, will make his UFC pay-per-view debut tomorrow night against Alan Belcher in a middleweight fight in Houston.

Grove, who has only been training mixed martial arts for five years, defeated Chris Price by submission in his last fight. Belcher (9-2) is coming off of a knockout of Jorge Santiago in December. He lost by unanimous decision in his only PPV appearance against Rumble on the Rock veteran Yushin Okami.

"He has improved tremendously in the last two years," Penn said of Grove. "It's amazing."


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