Sometimes B.J. Penn says things that make me a little uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable in the bad way, more like uncomfortable in the way that I think what he just said was pretty awesome even if I still think maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to say it. His recent interview with Ariel Helwani at MMA Rated offered just such an occasion.
Ariel (who always manages to get the best out of fighters in his interviews) asked Penn about an infamous moment following his victory over Joe Stevenson:
Ariel Helwani: Let me ask you about your UFC 80 fight against Joe Stevenson. After defeating him you licked the blood of your gloves. What’s the symbolism behind licking the blood off the gloves because I find it fascinating?
BJ Penn: [laughs] I don’t know man. You know sometimes like you cross over and it’s just hard to come back. You cross over and then you’re on that side where you could kill somebody and it’s just hard to get back to the other side, so I was stuck over on that side when that happened.
Ariel Helwani: Afterwards we’re you like, ‘what the hell did I just do?’ Or do you mind licking another man’s blood?
BJ Penn: No, I think as a fighter you’re always just two different people. So when that side of me comes out I just accept it because I got my one side who’s just humble, cruisin’, hanging out, help out my friends, or this and that. Then I got my other side where I snap and I’m just on the other side and it takes a while for me to come back.
See? Uncomfortable, but also pretty cool. If you describe yourself that way to a high school guidance counselor, they’re calling the cops and making notes in the margins of your permanent record. If you’re a pro fighter and you say it in an internet radio interview, it just makes people more excited to watch you in action. Also, something to think about if you’re considering approaching Penn right after a fight. He may not have crossed back over yet, so watch yourself.
That wasn’t the only interesting moment from the interview. Of course, there was the obligatory discussion of Sean Sherk and steroids and more of Penn’s incendiary rhetoric on that front. But Penn also discussed his reputation as a gifted but lazy fighter in years past:
Ariel Helwani: It seems like, right now, the BJ Penn I’m talking to is BJ Penn version 2.0. You’re a totally different fighter than just a couple years ago. What exactly happened? Even in your interviews, your demeanor has completely changed.
BJ Penn: I lost to Matt Hughes (in September 2006) and (was) hanging out and still partying in the bar four or five days a week. (On) my 28th birthday I’m just lying down in bed and I just I wake up and (think) ‘what am I doing, man? Why am I doing this greatest sport in the world? You’re still blowing up. You’re still at the forefront, you still got a chance.’ I just realized why (I) fight. I figured it out. Before it was just like, ‘oh don’t put pressure on me.’ And then I started to enjoy it. I want people behind me. I want people saying he’s the best. I just started understanding what this thing’s all about. It’s about fighting, man. That’s all it’s about.