Diaz gives Penn some added motivation

LAS VEGAS -- Perhaps the most revealing comments made about B.J. Penn during the buildup to his fight against Nick Diaz at UFC 137 came from Penn's own striking coach, Jason Parillo.

“B.J., in order for him to win a fight, has to be a mean son of a b----,” Parillo said during an interview on the UFC’s "Countdown" prefight hype show. “B.J.’s got to make a decision in his mind whether he wants to kick your a-- or not, and if he makes that decision, that’s going to happen.”

The most interesting thing about those words -- which have been playing on repeat at deafening volume on big screens before live events all week long -- was how at odds they seemed with the version of Penn on display in Las Vegas these last few days.

During nearly all his public appearances, we heard a lot about the respect Penn has for Diaz, his friend and occasional training partner. Penn himself used words like “relaxed” and “fun” to describe his mindset. All in all, he appeared about as completely un-mean as you could expect from a professional fighter headed into a high-profile bout.

All that changed during the UFC 137 weigh-in, when a shoving match unexpectedly broke out on stage between Penn and Diaz that required fight company personnel -- including UFC president Dana White -- to pull them apart.

Maybe it was nothing. Or maybe, if Penn was looking for a reason to get fired up to fight Diaz, he got one Friday.

It started during the staredown, when Penn invaded Diaz’s personal space and Diaz responded by pressing his forehead against the shorter man's face. They scuffled and were quickly separated, but reports said Diaz may have thrown an awkward punch during the exchange. The two fighters left via opposite sides of the stage, with Diaz going halfway down the steps before turning back to have a final, mean-mugging look.

If Penn fights better when he’s angry, as Parillo asserted, perhaps this unexpected melee was the best possible outcome for him.

As he returns to his hotel room to stew over it for the next 24-plus hours, I doubt all that mutual esteem and admiration between him and Diaz will be what’s running through his head. Instead, it’ll probably be the near-head-butt, the rumored punch and the evil glares tossed back and forth as they were pulled off in different directions.

It’s enough to make you wonder which B.J. Penn will show up to fight Saturday night. Will it be the mature Penn? The relaxed and fun one? Or will it be the B.J. Penn who causes fountains of blood to squirt out of his opponents’ heads in rhythm with the beatings of their hearts? You know, the one who licks the gore off his gloves once he’s finished?

If Parillo was right, Diaz may have just booked himself a fight with the latter.