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Deciding Fight of Trilogy Has Different Meanings for Matt Hughes, BJ Penn

DETROIT -- BJ Penn and Matt Hughes speak of each other respectfully, like two men who have done battle and felt the other man bend their will.

The first time they met was in January 2004. Penn was a young prodigy who reached the expectations many placed upon him by choking out the veteran Hughes to capture his first championship. In September 2006, Hughes got his revenge, becoming the first man to finish Penn when he earned a third-round TKO victory.

In the days before the third and decisive battle at UFC 123, both men admitted they regard the significance of the fight and the rivalry with different views.

While Hughes has recently said he views it as a chance to win all three fights in one swell blow, Penn disagreed.

"I don't know if it's exactly like Matt says," Penn said during a UFC 123 press conference. "After the fight on Saturday, when I walk away the winner, I'll still know that he beat me the second fight."

Though he himself is widely considered one of the best all-around fighters in history, Penn explained that his deep respect for Hughes adds more importance to winning the fight.




"This is a fight that motivates you, one you get up for," he said. "Matt Hughes has been one of my idols, coming up from 2001. Over the years, he's still an idol, so whenever he fights, I make sure to watch. After Saturday, no matter how it goes down, he'll still be one of my idols, But I need a victory and I'm coming to win on Saturday night."

For Hughes, the fight was important enough that after swearing he was going to take time off and return in 2011, he rearranged an already full schedule to fit in one last fight in a busy year.

Hughes, who turned 37 just last month, is seemingly in the midst of a career rebirth, with wins in three straight bouts, most recently defeating jiu-jitsu ace Ricardo Almeida with a surprising technical submission.

A victory over Penn would give him four straight and perhaps even vault him back into title contention, a place many thought he would never return after dropping three of four between Nov. 2006 and July 2008.

Facing a guy like Penn who is coming off two straight losses and moving up a weight class might seem a dangerous proposition, but Hughes thinks the potential reward outweighs the risks.

"The big thing with BJ is he beat me," he said. " I like BJ, I like watching him fight. But BJ beat me, and he beat me pretty quick and easy, so that's why I want to get this win."

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