Penn vs. Sanchez -- ready to humble
Less than a week ahead of their title bout at UFC 107, lightweight champ B.J. Penn and challenger Diego Sanchez engaged in one of the least confrontational conference calls you'll ever hear involving two people a few days away from bashing each other in the face.
The call included five "Merry Christmases," (including two from the fighters), and countless "thank yous," and copious compliments for each other's skills.
But it contained precious little trash-talk.
Actually, it had none.
As intense as the action figures to be in octagon Saturday night, these two refuse to spar verbally.
When a reporter asked Sanchez to assess Penn's performance in choking out Kenny Florian at UFC 101, Sanchez offered direct and effusive praise.
"He went in there and he dominated and he kicked ass," said Sanchez, a San-Diego based lightweight making his first title challenge
But when talk turned to Penn's lopsided loss to Georges St.-Pierre at UFC 94 last February, the Nightmare offered an assessment both bland and diplomatic.
"The GSP fight, you know, it is what it is," Sanchez said. "He went in there and he won the fight. I don't know what your're trying -- what you want me to say."
I don't know. How about brutal honesty, a-la GSP?
Yes, I understand sportsmanship, and how its presence helps distinguish the UFC from gutter brawling.
But heading into a title fight I'd like to see at least a little animosity between champ and challenger, or at least get the sense that they disagree strongly on who deserves the belt more. And if they don't dislike each other, they could at least pretend...at least until the fight's over.
That's not disrespect or poor sportsmanship; that's hyping a fight.
And as quickly as the UFC has grown over the last five years, it could use a little boost right now.
Granted, this fight sells itself for MMA purists and junkies.
Anyone who has followed Sanchez' ascent from Ultimate Fighter reality show winner to legitimate contender for the lightweight crown has to be eager to see how his relentless aggressiveness will play against one the world's top jiu jitsu practitioners in Penn.
And Penn, after years of getting by on his grappling, natural talent and insane flexibilty is finally committed to conditioning, enlisting strength trainer and world class stage dad Marv Marinovich for his last two fights. An equal amount of anticipation surrounds just how great Penn can be now that he's in shape full time.
But mainstream sports fans still need a little incentive to stay plugged in to the UFC, since the organization's three most magnetic and marketable champions won't return to the octagon for a while.
While elbow surgery might keep Anderson Silva out of action until April, St. Pierre is tentatively scheduled to fight next in March, sidelined since the summer with a groin injury. Meanwhile, the combination of mononucleosis and an intestinal infection have Lesnar so sick UFC president Dana White says the heavyweight champ might never return.
Factor in Internet sensation Kimbo Slice's UFC debut...snore...and the UFC heads to the end of 2009 in need of some momentum.
A marquee matchup between Penn and Sanchez should provide it in the octagon Saturday night -- just don't expect any bad blood between them before they get there.