MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The ducks come out twice a day at the historic Peabody Hotel. And Thursday, they had a little muscle with them in the form of UFC lightweight champion B.J. (The Prodigy) Penn and Diego (Nightmare) Sanchez.
The two mixed martial arts stars became honorary duckmasters for the day, emerging from a hotel elevator with duckmaster Jason Sensat behind five ducks for the short red-carpet waddle to the glistening fountain in the middle of the lobby.
The tradition started in 1933 when Frank Schutt, then hotel general manager, and a friend returned from a weekend hunting trip to Arkansas. Fuelled by Jack Daniel's, they decided to put some of their live duck decoys - which were then legal - in the fountain. The ducks were a hit and, in 1940, a bellman who was a former circus animal trainer became the hotel's first duckmaster.
It'll be back to reality for Penn (14-5-1) and Sanchez (23-2) on Saturday night, when the two elite 155-pounders will be ducking punches in a cage in the main event of UFC 107 at the FedExForum.
The two men each described the short elevator trip with their opponent - and the ducks - as "quiet."
"We're professionals," said Penn. "That's not the first time that both of us had to stand by our opponent that we're going to be fighting in a couple of days, so it wasn't too bad. But the ducks were cute. It was nice."
Sanchez seemed happier with his duckmaster walking stick.
"I didn't know they were going to give me this cool cane," he said. "I'm still so excited. It's probably the best pre-Christmas present I've got."
Thursday's news conference at the hotel, one level above the lobby, was decidedly low-key - and sparsely attended considering it was open to the public.
There was little niggle between Penn and Sanchez, although the Hawaiian champion did admonish Sanchez for a few comments in the pre-fight "Countdown" TV show.
"Diego had some words, he said I was going to run, begging me to meet him in the middle. I just want you to know Diego, you're not fighting Joe Stevenson, you're not fighting Kenny Florian. You're fighting B.J. Penn, I'm not going to be hard to find and I'll see you in the middle (of the cage)."
Sanchez simply said it was his dream to fight for the title.
"I've waited my whole life to get my opportunity at that beautiful belt right there," he said, pointing out the shiny belt sitting in front of Penn. "Who better than (to fight) B.J. Penn, one of the greatest guys in this sport, a straight-up legend.
"All I can say is I'm prepared, I'm ready. Let's do this right."
Heavyweights Frank Mir and Cheick Kongo missed the Ms. Manners briefing, evidently.
Mir, an accomplished black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, had previously ridiculed Kongo's submission game. On Thursday, he seemed to take a shot at the Frenchman's language skills.
"Not too much talking up here, I don't think it's fair to exchange words with Cheick Kongo," he said. "Obviously language barriers and what not make it a little difficult for him. I think on Saturday, during the fight, that will be a much more equal playing ground for us both."
A disinterested Kongo said little during the news conference but displayed a good grasp of English answering a question about Mir.
"Right now I don't care. He was a former UFC champion, heavyweight. That's good. He did a great job, I respect that. But as a person, no. . . . I can't let anyone judge me or treat me like a piece of shit. And he did."
NOTES: The 30-year-old Penn is a 3-1 favourite among some bookies. He has not lost as a lightweight since January 2002, when he was beaten by Jens Pulver. ... Halifax welterweight T.J. Grant meets Kevin (The Fire) Burns on the undercard.