TORONTO - UFC lightweight champion B.J. (The Prodigy) Penn says his technique will prevail over welterweight title-holder Georges St. Pierre's athleticism in their UFC 94 showdown Jan. 31 in Las Vegas.
St. Pierre (17-2) won a split decision the first time the two met, as welterweights at UFC 58 in March 2006. This time, GSP's 170-pound mixed martial arts title will be on the line.
"I think I'm going to come out with a better game plan than he will and I truly believe I'm a better athlete," St. Pierre told some 500 fans at a question-and-answer session Tuesday at a packed downtown cinema. "And overall skill, I think I'm better as well.
"But there is only one way to find out and that's why we're going to fight each other."
Penn (14-4) acknowledged St. Pierre's skills, saying the Canadian had shown all his tools in his most recent win over Jon Fitch - "After watching the Fitch fight, Georges is good at everything. It's safe to say that."
"But I feel honestly, when you're such a good athlete and you're so athletic, no matter how hard you try, you can only be so technical. Because you're such an athletic specimen," Penn explained further. "And I feel that's where I come in.
"I'm not that athletic specimen. I'm strong and fast but I'm not that athletic specimen. It's more natural to me to be technical because I cannot get out of a position ... where in the other case Georges can get out with that athleticism. So with that, that's the great contrast, that's the great matchup we have here today. The athletic machine versus the mind that's going to sit here and think 'How can I get around this guy, he's so great at all these things?"'
St. Pierre, 27, says he already has a strategy for Penn.
The 29-year-old Hawaiian fighter, a former welterweight champion who currently holds the 155-pound lightweight title, says he rarely enters bouts with a game plan other than to identify fighter tendencies.
"My strategy is I'm just going to get my hand raised and I'm going to punch the guy as hard as I can and try to stand him on his head as hard as I can. That's about as far as my strategy goes."
The event was part of the Penn-GSP publicity tour, which started Saturday with a news conference in Las Vegas and heads next to Penn's native Hawaii for a similar function Friday.
"These two guys are in their prime ... I think the winner, that walks out of this fight with his hand raised, is going to be a superstar," said UFC president Dana White. "And is in the running to be pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world."
Rather than visit St. Pierre's native Montreal, where MMA is sanctioned, the UFC opted to stop in Toronto where the sport is not legalized. With 10 TV cameras capturing the event, it was a high-profile way of showing the interest in the sport in Ontario.
"Canada is a huge market for us," said White.
The Toronto stop proved to be a UFC love-in, with fans showing the love on for Penn, St. Pierre and White. One - 32-year-old Bojan Elezovic, a former champion kickboxer in Serbia - painted a giant portrait of St. Pierre so he could give it to the fighter. A seven-year-old boy asked if he could train with St. Pierre. Another fan asked how he could get a job at the UFC (send your resume to info(at)ufc.com, he was told).
For the most part, the Canadian fans gave Penn - wearing a green T-shirt emblazoned with his website bjpenn.com - an easy ride, although one did shout "Who's the guy in the green" when he sat down.
The two fighters were respectful. But St. Pierre did seem a tad irritated when one fan reminded him that after beating Penn, he spent the night in hospital while Penn spent the rest of the evening in a bar.
St. Pierre, looking elegant in an open-neck shirt with a suit, said the hospital stay was due to the fact that he got a finger in the eye which could have become infected. "The next day, I was in the bar," he added.
Penn denied poking the Canadian in the eye, saying the knuckle of his glove accidentally landed in St. Pierre's eye during a punch.
UFC officials said some 10,000 tickets had already been sold for UFC 94.
White danced around the issue when asked who he was betting on.
"I'm betting on it's going to be an awesome fight," he said.
In other news:
-White repeated that he will focus his attentions on opening the rest of Canada to mixed martial arts once he gets the sport sanctioned in New York and Massachusetts. Then "we're coming guns ablazing to Toronto and we're going to get it down here." He said he expects to hold a second fight in Montreal in March or April 2009.
-The UFC boss said preliminary figures suggest that UFC 91, headlined by Brock Lesnar-Randy Couture, approached the UFC-record of 1.2 million pay-per-views he had predicted. "The early numbers are looking really good."
-White had nothing but praise for Couture in the loss to Lesnar, noting how the 45-year-old got up twice after being taken down by the massive Lesnar. "He got caught by a big guy who hits hard. Anybody can get caught on any given day. I don't think Couture looked his age. I though Couture looked awesome." White did say he was surprised Couture did not enter the cage heavier than 220 pounds. "In my opinion, he's still the second-best heavyweight in the world," he added.
-White said he is thinking of inviting Gina Carano to fight in the WEC. Carrano had been fighting in the now defunct EliteXC. "Gina Carano is a star, I think she's talented. I think she's got all the tools, so what I'm willing to do is bring Gina into the WEC. We could do fights whenever there's a challenger for Gina. That's how I'll test the waters and see how it goes." In the past, White has dismissed talk of having women fight in his organization, saying there wasn't enough talent out there.
-White said he is looking at assembling a Canadian team for a future season of "The Ultimate Fighter: reality TV show.
-White said it's unlikely the UFC will stage a show in Hawaii until the state sorts out its tax situation. "It's either never going to happen or it will be a long time before it happens."
-Penn said after tackling St. Pierre, he wants another shot at former champion Matt Hughes. "Did anyone ever kick your ass before and you got pissed off about it?" he said when asked why. The two have split a pair of fights, with Penn winning by submission at UFC 46 and Hughes scoring a TKO at UFC 63. St. Pierre, when asked who he wanted to fight next, said he was not looking past Penn.
-St. Pierre said friend and fellow Canadian Denis Kang will make his UFC debut in December or January.
-White said he had his lawyer call heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko's representatives as recently as Monday to see about getting him into the UFC. The UFC president also said in all his attempts to secure the services of the Russian, he has never actually managed to meet him.
-In perhaps a first for a fighter, St. Pierre quoted Michelangelo - on the topic of setting goals high