When Strikeforce welterweight standout Tyron Woodley went out to Hawaii to help B.J. Penn train for his UFC on FOX 5 bout with Rory MacDonald, it didn't take him long to figure out why Penn's camps are the stuff of mixed martial arts legend.
"One thing that I immediately noticed is his camp is so in tune and so focused on one goal, and task, and that's winning on Dec. 8," Woodley said on a recent edition of The MMA Hour. "Those guys are so in tune with the diet, the nutrition, how many rounds he's sparring, how many minutes, they really have it down to a science. So I can appreciate that for the several times I've ran my own camp, to have that out of my mind and be able to focus on fighting, that's a great thing not to have on your plate."
The 10-1 St. Louis native was brought in to mimic MacDonald, the well-rounded welterweight from Montreal's Tri-Star gym, and Woodley did his best to deliver.
"It's a blessing and an honor that they would consider me for this camp," Woodley said. "Rory MacDonald's no joke, man. That's not a guy a lot of guys are calling out to fight I think B.J. Penn, if anyone's going to knock this young buck off, he's the guy to do it. So, they wanted someone who can strike who can wrestle who can grapple, that was a bigger guy who could compete with him. So I went in there and I gave him everything he could handle, I tried to give him a good look."
Of course, the best training camp situations are learning experiences for both the fighter preparing for battle and the one brought in to help. And as far as Woodley as concerned, his time spent was a lesson in what it will take if he's going to make the jump from contender to champion. The first thing Woodley noticed is that Penn's demeanor outside the Octagon set the tone.
"One thing I immediately noticed is B.J. is really laid back," Woodley said. "He's really polite, he calls everyone 'sir'. I was like ‘dude, I was watching you when I was in college and I hadn't even punched a bag yet.' He listens to everything, he's not going to take every technique and put it into a fight, but he listens. He's so humble, he's such a martial artist, that's the first thing I notice.
"You watch him knock people out, and submit them and licking the blood off his gloves, you might not get that at first. But I saw that he deserves the respect he's given, he's one of the top guys of the sport of all-time. I went into his office to see all the UFC straps, his medals and accolades, it got me pumped up and motivated to start training harder."
It wouldn't be a B.J. Penn fight without the inevitable questions about which Penn is going to show up on fight night: The one who is a no-brainer UFC Hall of Fame pick, or the one who occasionally looks disinterested? Woodley believes Penn is motivated and looking to make a statement.
"He seems to be in great shape, man," Woodley said. "Everyone asks ‘how is his conditioning, is he ready to lick blood off his gloves?' ... when they say he throws a hard right hand, I got hit with it a couple times. Anytime I've been training, I've been training with guys like Thiago Alves, Din Thomas, Yves Edwards, I've been with these guys so I'm a gamer. I go in there, I know what my role is, so if I go in there and he hits me hard, I keep rolling, so then when he goes in there, he gets an actual assessment of where he's going to stand in the cage. He's going to be ready to roll. He's going to be as aggressive as he's been in awhile."
The Penn training camp served as a welcome distraction for Woodley, who has only fought once since January. Like many Strikeforce fighters, he's been left to wait and see what his future holds. And he's not thrilled that as of now, he's not on the Jan. 12 card in Oklahoma City, which is expected to be Strikeforce's final event.
"As of now I'm not on the card," he said. "People are saying, ‘what are you worried about, you're going to the UFC, you need to be in the UFC anyway.' But for me it's like, I didn't start in any other promotion, I didn't start under any other banner. I started on the undercard, selling 200 tickets to make it to this card, through the Challengers, until finally I got an opportunity to make to fight for a title. For me its history, I want to be on the last Strikeforce card, I want to salute the fans with a great victory, and go to the UFC with a W and not off my last fight, so for me it was important. If it doesn't happen, then the focus is on the next stage of my career."