UFC President Dana White said the winner between B.J. Penn and Jon Fitch would be the No. 1 contender for a title shot in the welterweight division.
The two men that seemed least concerned about it, oddly enough, are Penn and Fitch.
Both have been involved in the fight game long enough to know that the main event at UFC 127 in Sydney on Sunday (5 p.m. tomorrow Hawaii time) isn’t about future title shots.
For both men, it’s a chance to earn a credible victory against a top-level opponent.
UFC 127: PENN VS. FITCH
» Who: B.J. Penn (16-7-1) vs. Jon Fitch (26-3, 1 NC)
» When: 5 p.m. tomorrow Hawaii time
» Where: Acer Arena, Sydney
» TV: Pay-per-view Dig. 701/1701
"I’m not thinking about titles," Penn said during last week’s media conference call. "I’m just happy to fight an opponent of Jon Fitch’s level and Jon Fitch’s stature."
Fitch, who has never won a UFC championship, may be more pleased with the announcement than he’s letting on, but Penn’s stance seems genuine.
The former lightweight and welterweight champion decided after the second Frankie Edgar fight that he just wants to fight, which he will do for the third time in seven months.
To prepare for Fitch, Penn enlisted the help of arguably his greatest rival in mixed martial arts.
Former welterweight champion Matt Hughes, whom Penn knocked out in 21 seconds in November, visited Oahu and helped Penn train for Fitch, who has certain similarities with the former welterweight champion.
"I know (Hughes) isn’t exactly like Fitch as far as height and boxing and kick-boxing goes, but on this — on the one area where Fitch definitely pushes all his opponents, his grinding them out and pushing them on the fence and taking them down — Matt really pushed me in those areas," Penn said.
Penn’s fight with Hughes was his first at 170 pounds since losing to current champion Georges St-Pierre in January 2009.
Penn’s 5-foot-9 frame and early success at 155 pounds made lightweight seem like his best division, but not having to cut even a little weight, he says, is a huge plus.
"It’s not a tough cut for me," Penn said. "I’d probably cut about 3 or 4 pounds on the day of the weigh-in. But, you’ve got to cut down food and you’ve got to cut your water down and I don’t know if that’s a healthy thing.
"I come from a whole different mind-set. I believe you get as healthy as you can and you go out and you fight the best way possible."
Fitch is no sleeper, and, at 13-1 in the UFC, has more wins inside the Octagon than Penn, who is 12-6 in UFC fights. Fitch’s only loss is to St-Pierre in 2008.
Since then, he’s reeled off five consecutive wins, all by unanimous decision. Penn’s lost four of his last five fights that went to a decision.