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BJ Penn Hopes Victory Over Matt Hughes Tonight Will Be First Step Back Into Title Contention

In the span of two fights, BJ “The Prodigy” Penn went from being the consensus number one lightweight fighter in the world to having the future of his career called in to question by some. The Hawaiian fighter posted two losses in a row (the first in which he lost his belt) in two fairly uninspired performances against current champion Frankie Edgar. Tonight Penn will look to return to form and put one in the win column against former rival Matt Hughes, and “The Prodigy” said during the UFC 123 conference call that finding motivation to get back on the horse after two consecutive defeats proved easier than in the past.

“I was kind of bummed out [after the loss to Edgar]. When I got home after the fight, there were a couple of days where I didn’t train,” Penn said. “I just hung out, and there was nothing to do. I don’t want to sit in the bar and drink. I didn’t get banged or bruised up too much, so I just got back to training and thought about getting the lightweight title back.”

Though “The Prodigy” is currently set to fight in the 170-pound division, the Hilo, Hawaii native said during a recent interview on ESPN’s SportsCenter that his future will find him back in title contention at lightweight.

“I know I’ll get my chance again,” Penn said. “I plan on going out and beating Matt Hughes, and honestly, deep down in my heart, I know I’ll be lightweight champion again.”

In addition to reclaiming his 155-pound championship belt, Penn has the distant goal to also reclaim the welterweight title, which he took from Matt Hughes back at UFC 46.

“I think it’s premature to be talking about a title fight. I definitely think Matt has worked his way back up the ranks,” Penn said, adding, “My goal is to be the welterweight champ again, and I wouldn’t mind being the lightweight champ again, but I’m taking it one step at a time. [I’m comfortable at either] 155 or 170. If I do well against Matt and feel good at welterweight, there’s no doubt I’d like to fight the best welterweights out there.”

Having a history of running hot and cold in his career (as many fighters do), Penn explained that having the opportunity to close the door on an exciting trilogy of fights with an opponent of Matt Hughes’ caliber was more than enough to get him fired up this time around.

“After two losses I would have fought anybody, but it was kind of a gift from Dana to get to fight Matt,” he said. “I think when you’ve been where [Matt and I] have been, a lot of other things seem boring. This is what gives me a reason to live. When I got that text [from Dana], I got chicken skin all over my body. I’ve got a reason to live for a few more months.”

Penn often holds training camps with a core group of coaches and training partners (some members of his family) in his hometown of Hilo, Hawaii. Many have speculated that “The Prodigy” would benefit from exposing himself to different training methods with different coaches and training partners. Showing that the same thought has crossed his mind, Penn (who has kept many of the details concerning his training camp under wraps) has replaced his normal cornermen for this fight, choosing to have Troy Mandaloniz and Justin McCully take the place of longtime staples Jason Perillo and Rudy Valentino.

Speaking with’s Ariel Helwani recently, Penn revealed the reason for the switch.

“We’re just trying to get a different look. Just going with some different ideas,” Penn explained. “We all still train together. I’ve actually trained with both [Valentino and Perillo] while preparing for the fight. But up here, as far as the corner goes, we’ve got different ideas, we’ve got a different game plan. Our last two fights didn’t go the way we wanted and we’re all in agreement that we want to put something together and get a victory.”

Penn and Hughes will fight in the co-main event of UFC 123, which goes down tonight at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. As always, will provide live coverage of the event.