It was supposed to be a marquee matchup of champion versus champion. But memories of the super-fight between B.J. Penn and Canadian Georges St. Pierre have quickly been overshadowed by a war of words, with a lawyer now leading the fray.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission released a letter from the Penn camp Wednesday that argues St. Pierre had an unfair advantage in Saturday’s UFC 94 main event – thanks to illegal application of Vaseline by his corner during the mixed martial arts bout in Las Vegas.
“This illegal situation made it impossible for Mr. Penn to defend himself and unfairly exposed Mr. Penn to GSP’s ‘ground and pound’ strategy which Mr. Penn extensively trained for and was fully prepared to perform against,” Penn’s lawyer, Raffi A. Nahabedian, wrote in a letter to the commission dated Tuesday.
“More importantly, by neutralizing Mr. Penn’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu abilities through the use of illegal and improper means, Mr. Penn was subjected to a life-threatening and career-ending environment: an environment that the Commission was formed to protect against.”
St. Pierre won when the bout was stopped after four rounds by referee Herb Dean, on the advice of the ring physician. The Penn camp concurred.
The judges scored the first four rounds 40-35, 40-34, 40-34 for St. Pierre, who dominated the fight.
The Penn letter is not a formal complaint, but asks for a “comprehensive investigation and review of the activities involving and relating to Georges St. Pierre prior to and during the bout.”
Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, said the St. Pierre camp will be given a chance to respond to the letter.
St. Pierre’s trainers have dismissed allegations of wrongdoing, saying any transfer of Vaseline was accidental when one of the cornermen rubbed the fighter’s back as part of an energy/breathing exercise between rounds.
“It was a mistake, it was an error,” St. Pierre trainer Firas Zahabi said Wednesday. “It was not done on purpose. There was a very, very little amount of Vaseline put on his shoulders and back – very tiny, minuscule amount. It was wiped off.
“GSP never needs to cheat to win a fight. It’s never happened before. GSP was ahead on the card when that happened. There would be no reason for us to cheat? Why would we risk while we’re winning to cheat? We were very confident coming into this fight … We would never do anything like that. The GSP camp, we don’t talk trash, we don’t cheat. We don’t do anything illegal. All we do is work very very hard.”
Prior to the Penn letter, Kizer said it seemed unlikely that the Vaseline incident would have any impact on the outcome of the fight.
Protesting a decision usually comes down to four areas in the regulations: miscounting the scorecards, a positive drug test, collusion of some sort such as paying off an official, and a referee misinterpreting the rules.
But Kizer said Penn was free to argue differently and his lawyer’s letter does just that.
“All Mr. Penn wanted to have on Jan. 31 is a fair and just bout and he continues to seek a fair and just encounter with Georges St. Pierre,” the letter concludes.
St. Pierre uses the services of holistic therapist Steven Friend, affectionately dubbed The Witch Doctor by UFC president Dana White, and trainer Greg Jackson said the rub was one of Friend’s techniques.
The fight pitted champion against champion. Penn holds the UFC title at 155 pounds while St. Pierre is champion at welterweight at 170 pounds. Both fighters kept their belts, since the fight was contested at 170
The Vaseline incident was enough to have Kizer make a rare visit into the cage between rounds to address the issue with the St. Pierre camp.
Kizer said one of the commission inspectors came to him after the first round to say that Phil Nurse, St. Pierre’s Muay Thai trainer, had put Vaseline on his fighter’s face – which is allowed – and then rubbed St. Pierre’s shoulders and upper arms, transferring Vaseline.
Kizer, sitting at the commission table cageside, entered the cage after the second round after he saw a cornerman put Vaseline on the Canadian’s face and then touch his back in a “weird breathing thing for Mr. St. Pierre.”
Kizer then asked the GSP corner to wipe down the fighter.
“It wasn’t like it was an excessive amount of Vaseline but it did appear that there was still some Vaseline on him.”
The fighter was wiped down and the commission ordered the same thing after the third round “just to play it safe.”
“After the fight I talked to Mr. Nurse and Mr. St. Pierre and explained to them my concern, and told Mr. Nurse that unfortunately I think the actions of Mr. St. Pierre’s cornermen may have tainted Mr. St. Pierre’s win and that’s unfortunate for Mr. St. Pierre,” Kizer said.
Fighters are checked by an official before they get in the cage. A cutman also smears a small amount of Vaseline on the face to help prevent cuts.
If a fighter is cut, the cutman enters the cage between rounds to work on it. If there is no cut, he stays outside and a cornermen reapplies Vaseline to the face, since it rubs off during the exchange of blows. Applying it anywhere else is illegal.
Penn’s letter says a member of the Hawaiian fighter’s team informed the commission before the bout of “the possibility of GSP being ‘greased up’ during the bout or engaging in activities that may cause him to be/become slippery during the bout.”
The letter also says the Penn corner complained during the bout that their fighter could not grab or hold St. Pierre because if “how slippery” he was.
“Notwithstanding those comments, it is clear that the Commission’s obligations to ensure and guard against such corruption and unfair advantage were severely compromised as people openly witnessed the improper application of an illegal substance over the neck, shoulders and back of GSP – the critical areas of Mr. Penn’s strategy to impose his Brazilian jiu-jitsu submission skills and techniques during the bout.”
Kizer said he found out later that Penn complained to the inspector in his corner after the first round that “Mr. St. Pierre was perhaps being a little more slippery that he should be.”
Other fighters have weighed in on the subject, with former champion Matt Hughes saying a greasy St. Pierre is nothing new to him.
“I’m not the only one who has said that GSP felt greasy during a fight,” Hughes, who lost his title to St. Pierre, said on his official website.
“I know (former champion) Matt Serra has mentioned it and, even in their first fight, I think B.J. said something. I’m not saying GSP did something wrong and I’m not saying that it would have changed any outcomes of any fights; but what I am saying is, for my last two fights against Georges, he felt greasy.”