Nick Diaz is one of those fighters who thrives on bad blood and rivalries, but he has nothing but respect for former UFC lightweight and welterweight champion B.J. Penn.
Diaz has even called Penn one of his heroes.
Penn and Diaz will meet in the octagon in the main event of UFC 137 on Saturday at 9 p.m. EDT on pay-per-view at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
“The thing is I feel the same towards Nick,” Penn said. “I love watching him fight. Of the newer guys that have came up in this era, he’s the guy that if I hear Nick Diaz has a fight, I’ll make time to go home and watch Nick Diaz fight. Not to pick him apart, I just enjoy watching him fight. It’s awesome that he has a lot of respect for me and at the same time I have tons of respect for the guy myself.
“Facing Nick Diaz, he’s definitely one of the best guys in the sport, a Strikeforce champ, he hasn’t lost in a few years and I believe it’s going to be a fight to remember. The fans are going to win on this one.”
Penn and Diaz both have agressive fighting styles and are always looking to finish fights in emphatic fashion. Their fighting styles, plus their willingness to speak their minds on any subject has made Penn and Diaz two of the most popular fighters in MMA.
“You guys are all going to win whether you are a Nick Diaz fan or a B.J. Penn fan,” Penn said. “Everybody is going to come out on top. This is one of those fights where two fighters get into the ring and they fight each other. We’re very nice and respectful, but as soon as we get in the ring a fight is a fight. There might be some things said from both sides, but at the end of the day it ain’t personal.”
Penn, a proud Hawaiian, has been training out of the RVCA Gym in Costa Mesa to get ready for Diaz.
“Over the last five years I’ve spent a lot of time out her (Orange County) and I really enjoy it,” Penn said. “I honestly enjoy it out here, Newport, Costa Mesa. You got all these great areas out here and I really enjoy myself. I would definitely call it my second home. I would rather be here than anywhere else.”
The UFC has been hit by a rash of injuries to its main event fighters in 2011. For example, UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre was supposed to fight Carlos Condit in the main of UFC 137 until St. Pierre injured his knee and was forced to pull out of the fight.
Former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin was another top-tier fighter hit by the injury bug. Franklin was supposed to fight Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 133 in August, but he was forced to pull out after tearing his labrum during grappling practice.
“Nearly every main event this year has changed,” Franklin said. “I would almost go as far to say every single one, but I’m not quite sure about that. But almost 100 percent of the main events for pay-per-views this year have changed because of injuries. On top of that many injuries on the undercards as well. It’s just been a crazy year.”
Franklin has turned his attention to his clothing brand American Fighter and the bio-pic “American Fighter,” which is still in the early stages of development. The film tells the story of Franklin’s life as a former high school teacher turned professional fighter. That was also the premise of the recent MMA film “Warrior.”
“I did not see the movie ’Warrior,’ but I had plenty of friends call me and say, ’Hey man, is this movie based off your life? You should be getting some royalties for that,”’ Franklin said. “When we jumped into this to talk about my life for the movie, a lot of people didn’t know that I used to be a high school teacher. … (’Warrior’) is a bit more melodramtic and not quite so realistic. It does somewhat pattern my life, so it is interesting.”
Franklin is aiming to return to the octagon in May. He said he could return at 185 or 205 pounds, whichever weight class has the best possible matchup.
“It’s an optimistic but feasible return time,” Franklin said. …
Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren has never been one to bite his tongue. The former U.S. Olympic wrestler is extremely confident heading into his title defense against Xtreme Couture’s Jay Hieron at Bellator 56 on Saturday at 9 p.m. on MTV2 in Kansas City.
“I think this is going to be very one-sided,” Askren told MMA Weekly Radio. “I think No. 1, for starters, I think he’s got cardio that’s not too great. I think we saw that in the Rick Hawn fight and even in the Brent Weedman fight. We saw Weedman win the third round. He definitely gets tired as the fight goes on and we’re in a five-round fight. Secondly, he’s got decent wrestling, but if I want to take him down, I’m going to take him down, and I want to take him down, so I will. That’s just a fact. Then No. 3, I don’t think he’s very good off his back and that makes for a really bad match-up for him.” …
Bellator 56 also features the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament semifinals. Ron Sparks takes on Eric Prindle and Thiago Santos faces Neil Grove in the tournament bouts. …
Viacom, Inc., has purchased a majority stake in Bellator Fighting Championships and will eventually move the televised cards to Spike TV, according to a report by USA Today. Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney is expected to continue working in his current capacity. The move comes as no surprise since the UFC announced a seven-year partnership with Fox Networks and its departure from Spike TV.