From the opening minutes of the fifth season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” B.J. Penn appeared to be doing whatever he could to embarrass Jens Pulver.
Tonight, he just wants to beat him.
Penn will try to avenge the loss he suffered to Pulver in 2002 tonight at the Palms in the season finale of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s reality show.
The two coached the respective teams this season, and their mutual dislike of one another was a constant story line.
Penn’s antagonistic antics began early in the first episode when the time came to pick teams. Instead of making a selection, Penn instructed the contestants to raise their hands if they wanted to be on his team and were sure they wanted nothing to do with Pulver.
He stated several times throughout the season that he wanted to “retire” Pulver.
Now, Penn insists it is all about winning.
“I don’t want to embarrass or hurt anyone,” he said at Friday’s weigh-ins. “I just want to beat him.”
For his part, Pulver says the experience of being on the show was positive.
“It was the (most fun) thing I have ever done,” he said. “The people I got to work with were great, and look at the situation that it has put me in here. It’s been great.”
In 2002, each fighter had chances to put away his opponent, but the bout went the full five rounds. Pulver retained his lightweight title with a majority-decision victory in what was considered a huge upset.
Penn always has been known as one of the most naturally gifted fighters in all of mixed martial arts. His problem mainly has been his lack of focus on conditioning.
He claims to have corrected that issue.
“I trained very hard for this fight,” said Penn, who needed to increase his training to get down to 155 pounds after fighting at 170 and heavier for several years. “I feel the best I’ve ever felt in my life right now.”
Both fighters left the UFC for several years, and each has struggled to re-establish his previously lofty position in the organization. Penn lost to Georges St. Pierre and Matt Hughes in 2006, and Pulver lost to Joe Lauzon in his UFC return in September.
The UFC brought back the lightweight division last year after dropping the class for several years, and this season of the reality show was used to build the division around champion Sean Sherk.
Tonight’s season finale also will go a long way in determining a possible future challenger to Sherk, assuming he can keep the belt.
Manny Gamburyan will face Nathan Diaz for the season title and a lucrative guaranteed contract in the UFC.
Gamburyan was the shortest competitor on the show at just 5 feet 5 inches but has turned his lack of height into an advantage. He uses his low center of gravity to gain leverage and get his opponents to the mat and then utilizes his strength to stay on top and control the action.
The 6-foot Diaz is regarded as a gifted submission specialist. His submission prowess from any position could be an important factor as Gamburyan has showed the ability to get opponents onto their back.
Rising star Roger Huerta also will compete on the televised portion of the undercard, taking on Doug Evans.
The first bout is at 3:30 p.m., with the tape-delayed televised portion beginning at 9 p.m. on Spike TV. The network will run the season in its entirety throughout the day, leading up to the finale.