Fan-favorite Penn too much for Gracie

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hilo's BJ Penn proved that he is one of the best mixed martial arts fighters in the world early yesterday morning, and the K-1 organization of Japan wants to take advantage of it.

Penn defeated Brazilian jiu-jitsu master Renzo Gracie by unanimous decision in one of the main event "Super Fights" of the K-1 World Grand Prix.

A crowd of around 12,000 stayed past midnight to watch the first mixed martial arts event ever at Aloha Stadium.

"I'm a little biased because I am close to the Penn family now, but if we were to do it all over again, we'd like BJ to be in the main event," said K-1 promoter Mak Takano. "It turned out to be a fantastic event, and the way the crowd reacted to BJ — that's the reaction we all expected from the Hawai'i fight fans."

The Penn-Gracie bout was the last of 13 fights, and it did not finish until around 12:45 a.m.

"Honestly, we fought so late I was kind of tired," Penn said. "But the atmosphere was unreal. I woke up when I walked out (of the locker room) and saw everybody out there."

Penn improved to 10-2-1, and solidified his reputation as the best "pound-for-pound" fighter in the world. The Penn-Gracie bout was at 185 pounds, but Penn has fought previous opponents at weight classes ranging from 155 to 215.

"When it comes down to that stuff, it's a matter of opinion of whose style you like more," said Penn, 26. "This was just one more tough fight for me."

But Gracie is one of the most famous family names in the sport, and Renzo is a fifth-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu. Last year, Penn defeated Rodrigo Gracie — Renzo's cousin — by decision.

"It's a good thing that it is two Gracies, but it was just two more tough guys for me to fight," Penn said.

Gracie controlled the first round of the fight, but Penn dominated the final two rounds.

"I knew he won the first round," Penn said. "I was thinking I had to change things around."

Penn landed several punches to Gracie's face in the second round. Late in the third round, Penn worked his way on top of Gracie and was about to unleash a flurry of punches, but the bell rang to end the fight.

"If I had 30 more seconds, he would have been in very bad shape," Penn said.

Gracie's face had several cuts and bruises after the bout.

"I needed more time to train and prepare for this fight," said Gracie, who dropped to 10-6-1. "If I have a little more time to train, I see that I can beat him."

However, Gracie said he agreed with the decision.

"He definitely won this battle, but not the war," said Gracie, 38. "I'm coming after him again."

In another Super Fight, former sumo grand champion Akebono got knocked out in the first round by Korean giant Hong-Man Choi.

"I expected to do a little more," Akebono said. "I feel very bad for the fans who came out to support me."

Choi, who is 7 feet 2 and 353 pounds, pummeled Akebono with punches from the opening bell. He dropped the 6-8, 470-pound Akebono to the canvas midway through the round, and then again late in the round.

After the second knockdown, the referee stopped the fight, 2:52 into the first round.

"It's difficult to find a sparring partner to match what Choi can do," Akebono said. "He's so tall and has such a long reach."

Akebono, who was raised as Chad Rowan in Waimanalo, dropped to 1-7, including two losses to Choi.

"I'm still young in K-1, so I'm going to continue to train," said Akebono, 36. "That's my job now, so I'm going to stick with it."

After his victory, Choi pointed to former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson and challenged him to a fight. Tyson was seated at ringside and is trying to negotiate a contract with K-1.

Canada's Gary Goodridge knocked out all three of his opponents to win the eight-man heavyweight tournament.

"Other people helped make it easier for me," Goodridge said. "The way the other fights went, guys were getting beat up before they fought me."

Goodridge beat Japan's Yusuke Fujimoto in the final by technical knockout in the third round.

The two Hawai'i fighters in the tournament — Hilo's Wesley "Cabbage" Correira and Kailua's Scott Junk — were eliminated in the quarterfinals.

Correira lost to Goodridge by technical knockout in the first round; Junk lost to Fujimoto by a knockout punch in the third round.

K-1 officials were hoping to set a North American attendance record of more than 15,000. Despite coming up short, K-1 may take another shot at it next year.

"I'd like to make this an annual thing," Takano said. "I think it's clear that Hawai'i is a great place to hold a big fight event."

Click the image to open in full size. Hilo's BJ Penn, right, topped Renzo Gracie by unanimous decision. "If I had 30 more seconds, he would have been in very bad shape," Penn said.

Click the image to open in full size.
Akebono "expected to do a little more" in his first-round defeat to South Korea's Hong-Man Choi.