UFC Welterweight Champ Sheds Light On Contract Speculations
By Loretta Hunt
It’s becoming a familiar situation in the fight world. MMA promotions want to turn a profit, but fighters don’t fight for free. Hawaiian powerhouse BJ Penn’s name has been the latest added to a growing list of fighters joining the ever-delicate dance called "contract negotiations." Penn grasped the UFC welterweight title at January 31st’s UFC 46, but was spotted at a recent K-1 event in Japan with talks of fighting there as early as May 22nd. In an exclusive interview with FCF, Penn comments on his current contractual standings with both the UFC and K-1, verbal agreements made, a 15-day first refusal period, and a story that up till now has remained mostly untold.
FCF: BJ, thank you for keeping in touch with FCF over the last two weeks and agreeing to speak with us at this time. You recently traveled to Japan and made public your wish to fight in the K-1 promotion there. First off, are you still under contract with the UFC at this point in time?
BJP: My contract ended in maybe June or September 2003, the term ended at least, and that was the last fight on my contract with Matt Hughes. So, when you win the title, it turns into another three-fight [deal], but the money’s not negotiated yet, so we don’t know where we are. We’re trying to maybe talk to the UFC and sign some kind of agreement, so we don’t give up the title, ’cause if we give up the title, I’m pretty sure that — I don’t know for sure exactly — but I’m pretty sure that our contract is done after that and we don’t have those extra three fights. I don’t know 100% if that’s how it works, but I think it might like work like that.
FCF: How did the K-1 proposal come about? Did K-1 contact you?
BJP: We know a guy and I guess he’s got friends in K-1 and this and that, and K-1 was very, very interested. I think Japan’s more interested in the lightweights and the smaller fighters. They wanna do something with the smaller fighters. We talk to the UFC and they always talk about the heavyweights, the heavyweights, so it would be good for me to make some money and go to Japan and fight the lightweights, and keep my career in the UFC, whatever fights I can do, whatever fights I can get, whatever fights they can offer me. I’m not trying to run away from them.
FCF: To clarify, right now you are in a negotiations process with the UFC. Do you have a contact with them or not?
BJP: Well, my contract is done actually. That’s just a sketchy subject. I don’t know if I can really come on here and say right now.
FCF: Would it be safe to say that any current contract or partially completed contract with the UFC is in flux?
BJP: Yes, it’s in flux. There are some terms that have not been solidified on either side. That’s exactly what’s going on.
FCF: If your contract had been 100% solidified with the UFC, would you be negotiating with K-1 now as well?
BJP: If my contract had been more solid with the UFC, I can’t even negotiate with K-1 if it’s like that. But, still, I would have tried to talk with the UFC and see if they could let me fight over there and make some money. It’s kind of a weird thing where who knows if the UFC would want me to fight in K-1, even if they knew I was making a considerable amount more money than I’d make with them. Who knows how that would have worked out anyway if I would have gone to them first.
FCF: But, since your contract with the UFC is not completely settled, you legally have the right at this point to field other offers. Is that correct?
BJP: Definitely. I’m not tied down. My term is over. I’m tied down into having the title, but me and Dana White had a verbal agreement that we were gonna get rid of [Penn would renounce] the welterweight title and fight for the lightweight title when there was a solid champion. We had another verbal agreement that we could fight anywhere we wanted to. Rumble On The Rock was one. We mentioned King Of The Cage and a couple of other shows, and maybe they were just thinking small time and this K-1 deal just happened to pop up. Maybe it’s just the idea of fighting in another big show.
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