LAS VEGAS – B.J. Penn leaned over to Sean Sherk on Saturday seconds after their lightweight title fight at UFC 84 ended with a brutal knockout in the third round and told him they helped make one of the biggest fights in mixed martial arts history.
But the show paled into comparison to what could be next.
Penn called out welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre after one of the finest performances of his career in the total destruction of Sherk. Penn stopped Sherk at the end of the third with a left-right combination, a flying knee and then a brutal ground and pound.
As soon as he got the chance, Penn grabbed the microphone from UFC broadcaster Joe Rogan and asked the crowd whether it would like to see him fight St. Pierre.
This time, though, UFC president Dana White didn't pour cold water on it.
White has long discouraged Penn from jumping divisions and urged him to clean out the lightweights before thinking of a return to welterweight.
And while White wouldn't mind seeing Penn make one last defense against the winner of the planned Aug. 9 bout between Kenny Florian and Roger Huerta, he conceded at Saturday's postfight news conference it may be time for Penn-St. Pierre II.
"I think there's one more interesting fight for him (at lightweight), but it isn't something I wouldn't talk to him about," White said of a potential fight with St. Pierre.
St. Pierre and Penn are each in the top five of the Yahoo! Sports rankings and may be 1-2 when it comes to sheer physical gifts.
As good as Penn has been, though, he hasn't always gotten everything out of his enormous talent. He gassed – badly – in the loss to St. Pierre, as he did in a brutal loss to Matt Hughes.
The biggest concern about Penn in his bout with Sherk on Saturday was whether he could handle a fast-paced fight that went more than two rounds.
It turned out to be a fast-paced fight that went into the third round, but it was Penn who was in command from start to finish.
Sherk said he wanted to give the fans a show and eschewed wrestling in favor of a standup battle, but he was no match for Penn's fast and heavy hands.
"Maybe I won't have to hear that question about my cardio now," Penn said, laughing. "Every single interview, I was asked that question. I'm glad I won't hear it for a while."
White now faces a similar problem that Penn did. Until he signs the bout, White is going to be asked repeatedly about a Penn-St. Pierre match.
Sherk had vowed before the bout, his first in more than 10 months since serving a suspension for a positive test for an anabolic steroid after his win at UFC 73, to scuttle Penn's plans.
He insisted repeatedly that since he was stripped of the belt and didn't lose it, he should be regarded as the champion.
"It is difficult to see him with a belt I never lost," Sherk said before the bout.
But he lost in dominating fashion on Saturday. Sherk called Penn a three-dimensional fighter and said "he's just as good on the ground as he is on his feet."
Because of that, he made the decision to trade punches in a standup blow. He hoped to inflict enough damage early and be able to take Penn down late and punish him on the ground.
But Sherk was no match for Penn's fast hands. Penn consistently used his jab, rattling it in Sherk's face so much that he opened a gash underneath Sherk's left eye.
Occasionally, Penn mixed in a right hand, giving Sherk enough of a varied look to prevent him from getting comfortable.
The end came as the two were, as they did for most of the bout, trading in the center of the cage. Penn landed a solid left and an even better right, both of which hurt Sherk.
Sherk backpedaled toward the cage and Penn followed. But he leaped into the air and cracked Sherk with a left knee, sending the former champion crumbling into a heap in the corner.
Penn jumped on top and pounded away until the horn sounded to end the round. Referee Mario Yamasaki never made a definitive call, but it was clear Sherk was in no shape to
And it was just as clear that, a serious and in-shape B.J. Penn may just have to be considered the top fighter in the world.
Right now, that position is held by UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, but there are few fighters who possess Penn's unique combination of gifts.
Sherk has now lost to both Penn and St. Pierre, but he declined to call a winner. But he shared the view of anyone who loves MMA when he said he hoped to see the fight.
"Both of their striking is good, both of their ground is good," Sherk said. "Styles make matchups and it would depend upon who was on that day. But I know I'd look forward to seeing it."
And with that, he's not alone.
- Sean Sherk