Mutual admiration surrounds Penn-Hughes trilogy

Time heals all wounds.

Despite being only days from the third bout in their UFC trilogy, mutual admiration surrounds Saturday’s rubber match between Matt Hughes and B.J. Penn.

"Hughes has always been one of my idols coming up from 2001," said Penn, who is returning to the welterweight division after successive setbacks against Frankie Edgar at 155 pounds. "Whenever [Hughes] fights, I always make sure to watch."

The 37-year-old Hughes, who is nearing the end of an illustrious MMA career, had his own kind words about his Hawaiian opponent.

"I like Penn, but he beat me pretty quick and pretty easy," Hughes said, referring to their first meeting at UFC 46 in 2004. But he evened the score with a third-round stoppage of Penn two years later at UFC 63.

Over the course of his career, Penn has emphasized the importance of testing himself against elite opponents, so he immediately embraced an opportunity to settle the friendly rivalry at UFC 123.

"This is a fight that motivates you to get up for," said Penn, who has fallen from stardom over the past year after dropping his lightweight championship.

Penn understands that in terms of his career, a third consecutive defeat is not an option, but says "I’m not putting some kind of strange pressure on myself."

"I know I don’t like talking to Dana [White, UFC’s president] after losing two fights in a row," he added.

Meanwhile, headliner Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is hoping for a second run as UFC light heavyweight champion if he can dispatch the elusive Brazilian Lyoto Machida.

Unlike Penn and Hughes, however, Rampage was not overly complimentary of his UFC 123 adversary, who he describes as "boring."

"Quite honestly, I always respected Machida," Jackson said. "But I feel like too many fighters are coming out with crazy game plans and just fighting for points. I’d hate to see the sport become like boxing."

After losing his light heavyweight crown to Forrest Griffin in a contentious 2008 decision, and seeing Machida win a highly disputed decision against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in their first bout at UFC 104, Jackson is rightfully weary of letting the fight go the distance.

"I love MMA, but I don’t think MMA has the best judges," he said. "Judges come from different areas and don’t really understand all aspects of MMA."

White shared Jackson’s concern and encouraged the fighters to go for broke on Saturday night.

"I always tell fighters not to leave it in the hands of the judges," he said. "Aside from voicing my opinion, there’s not a lot I can do."