Two of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world broke up a conference call Tuesday with a private conversation in preparation for UFC 112 on April 10 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The event will be the UFC’s first to be held outdoors and will take place in a stadium that is yet to be built. The fighters expressed no concerns about the facilities Tuesday, instead taking time to have fun with each other.
“Anderson Silva is awesome,” UFC Lightweight Champion BJ Penn yelled into his phone during a lull. Silva, who had been speaking Portuguese up to that point, then broke into English.
“Hey, what’s up brother?” the UFC Middleweight Champion answered.
The two began to converse over the conference call until the UFC’s Jennifer Wenk could get them back on track. The moment punctuated a laid-back, sometimes playful question-and-answer session. Penn also shared some laughter with lightweight challenger Frankie Edgar regarding particularly frivolous lines of questioning and Edgar asked Penn to mute his phone before he’d give his gameplan for the fight.
Both champions were asked more about the future than about their upcoming bouts where Edgar and middleweight challenger Demian Maia are heavy underdogs.
Here are the condensed thoughts of the headlining fighters for UFC 112:
“The Prodigy” has lost one fight at lightweight in his career and that was in 2002. After a run as a welterweight and time out of the UFC, Penn (15-5-1) is on a roll. He won the lightweight title with a dominant win over Joe Stevenson at UFC 80 and completely outclassed the three subsequent challengers.
On Edgar – “Frankie Edgar is not the guy to look past. Anybody that looks past Frankie Edgar will end up with another loss on their record. Edgar is fast. He’s a great wrestler. He has good, sharp boxing. He has great kicks. I imagine he will try to kick me a lot when we fight. He’s great at mixing up his takedowns with his boxing. You never know what’s going to happen.”
On watching Edgar become a contender – “I’ve always been impressed with him from the beginning. I watched video of his fight with Tyson Griffin. I know Mark Bocek really well, so I saw Frankie again there. I remember Frankie fighting Spencer Fisher and Sean Sherk, but throughout those times I never knew if there would be a showdown between me and Frankie so I didn’t really pay attention. I just thought there was another good guy in the division.”
On other lightweight contenders – “There’s Kenny Florian, there’s (Takanori) Gomi. There’s Gray Maynard. There’s a lot of guys. I don’t want to look past any of those guys or make believe they don’t exist.”
On moving back to welterweight – “If everything goes well on April 10, I definitely would consider moving up to 170. It’s not a 100-percent guarantee. There are still a lot of good contenders in the 155-pound division. I would think about it as testing the waters. Maybe do something like Anderson is doing (at 205). I’ve been the welterweight champion once and in a lot of ways I’d like to be the welterweight champion again. I think it’s cool. It’s what martial arts is about: the small man being able to defeat the bigger man. There is something deep inside of me that is a martial artist. Remember the days of Royce Gracie going out there and defeating everybody? It’s awesome.”
On the perception that he has cleaned out the division – “I don’t think I am in the same position as Anderson. He has been the champion at middleweight a lot longer than I have been at the lightweight division. I think you can never really clean out a weight class because there is always someone new coming up. I try to be true to myself and my own personal goals. If I feel I want to take a fight at 170 pounds, I have to stay true to myself and my motivation.”
On possible welterweight opponents – “I had my chance to go straight for the championship and things didn’t go my way. Of course, anyone would like a free shot at the title, but I need to test the waters. There are some top contenders in the welterweight division. There’s other people. There’s Matt Hughes.” (Penn split fights with Hughes)
On fighting outdoors – “I always train outdoors. With the humidity and everything in Hawaii, you can get sweaty, but I don’t know how it will be in Abu Dhabi. If it is humid like Hawaii, it might get a little slippery, but it could be dry like Las Vegas. Indoors with the AC, it doesn’t get very slippery. The air conditioning will cool you off.”
Edgar (11-1) is the latest of a thick pool of lightweight contenders to get his shot at Penn. None have fared well previously. He and Penn share a common opponent in Sean Sherk. Penn bloodied Sherk and won by TKO. Edgar outboxed Sherk enroute to a decision victory.
On Penn – “BJ is one of a kind. I’ve been trying to get my skills as sharp as possible. For me, it’s an honor (to fight him). It’s brought out the best in my training. It’s forced me to focus and come with my A-game. There’s no secret game plan to beat BJ Penn. I need to be the best I can be and that’s about it.”
On pressure – “It is a title fight it definitely has more implications. The pressure to win is always very strong.”
On Penn’s status as favorite – “It’s earned. He’s earned the position he is at. I’m not going into this fight to lose. I’m going in to try and win. Obviously it’s a tough test.”
“The Spider” is on a 10-fight win streak and owns the UFC record with nine consecutive wins. During that streak, he has seven knockouts and allowed only one fight to go to decision – and that was because Thales Leites refused to engage during UFC 97. Silva (25-4) was so dominant at the middleweight level that he moved up to light heavyweight. Same story: in two fights, two first-round knockouts. He spoke through a translator Tuesday.
On current goals – “My biggest motivation is to be the champion of the UFC. I feel right at home. Everyone who makes the UFC circus move makes me feel right and home and feel comfortable.”
On cleaning out his weight class – ”I am far from cleaning out the division. There may be guys even better than me coming into the division. Proof is Demian Maia. We will have a great fight.”
On moving to light heavyweight – “I am the middleweight champion and I have to train to defend that belt. I also enjoy fighting at 205 and I still think I will do some fights at 205 in the future.”
On moving up to heavyweight – “Heavyweight is something I have in mind and in my plans. I have been adapting my training to take on new challenges.”
On studying film – “A big part of my life is watching fights. I watch all of my opponents fights, my friends fights. I feel I have to keep studying my opponents and basically all the guys in MMA.”
On his friend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira – “Rodrigo is a great guy, a great fighter. Everybody in the camp looks up to him. Unfortunately, he had that loss to Cain Velasquez (at UFC 110). But Nog is at a point in his career where people don’t tune in or go to his fights to watch him win or lose, they go to watch him fight.”
(Maia celebrates his win over Jim Miller.)
Maia stepped in for Vitor Belfort, who was injured. A two-time jiu-jitsu world champion, Maia (12-1) is known for his grappling and has even said he likes to win without punching. He had previously trained with the Nogueira brothers, but had to change his training for this fight.
On the Nogueira brothers – “Rodrigo and Rogerio are pretty nice guys. Rodrigo has the biggest heart. He is the nicest guy in the game. I know they can’t train with me because I am fighting their teammate, but I have other guys to train with.”
On strategy – “I think this fight I paid a little more attention to wrestling. That’s what I need to do in this fight. I have to take Anderson down.”
On championship pressure – “I’ve practiced for this situation before. In 2005 I was in the world cup of jiu-jitsu. I was going to fight the best fighter in the world for jiu-jitsu. I came and was very concentrated and I became the world champion.”
On recovering from his loss to Nate Marquardt at UFC 102 – “It happens in everyone’s career. It happens to everybody in the UFC before. I have the greatest chance of my life (at UFC 112) and I will do everything I can to win that fight.”