K-1 Hawaii Preview: Penn Versus Gracie

B.J. Penn

Jul 28, 2005

B.J. PENN (10-2-1): The American fighter is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Andre Pederneiras (Pics, Vids) and is a member of the Nova Uniao team. Has trained with Renato Verrisimo, John Lewis (Pics, Vids), Tony DeSouza (Pics, Vids) and the rest of Lewis/Pederneiras Vale Tudo Team in Las Vegas, Frank Shamrock (Pics, Vids), Javier Mendes and the fighters at American Kickboxing Academy.

Abbreviated History: Baby Jay or “B.J.” Penn had been training in boxing and was introduced to a tae kwon do instructor in 1996 who had taken some jiu-jitsu lessons. One day the instructor got BJ to wrestle with him and he tapped Penn out. This opened up the door to a new challenge and helped turn BJ into a jiu-jitsu devotee.

Penn was eventually pushed in the direction of Ralph Gracie (Pics, Vids). He trained with Ralph in California, getting his purple belt and continued to train in Brazil and Hawaii with Renato “Charuto” Verissimo. Andre “Dede” Pederneiras awarded BJ his black belt. The Hilo, Hawaii native then became the first American to compete at the black belt level in Brazil and defeated four opponents en route to winning the World Championships.

Below are some of Penn’s more significant contests:

Penn-Din Thomas (Pics, Vids): Penn kneed Thomas in the face early in the bout, dropping him to the mat. Penn rushed in to finish Din off with strikes but referee “Big” John McCarthy got there before B.J. could inflict too much more damage.

Penn-Caol Uno (Pics, Vids): The bout at UFC 34 was over so quickly, Caol couldn’t show any skills that day and it was the first time he had been knocked out in his fighting career. The rematch at UFC 41 was a completely different fight and ended in a disappointing draw.

Penn-Jens Pulver (Pics, Vids): B.J. got his title shot against Jens Pulver (Pics, Vids) at UFC 35. The Penn who faced Pulver was far more conservative and cautious in his approach than previous incarnations. The fighter who usually went ballistic when he heard the bell was nowhere to be found. Pulver controlled the pace of the bout and retained the belt.

Penn-Takanori Gomi (Pics, Vids): Penn and Gomi stood and traded early with Gomi getting the worst of it. B.J. was handling him standing and made Takanori bleed profusely. Once on the mat, Penn put on a submission and grounded-and-pounded Gomi until he tapped out in the third round from a rear-choke.

Penn-Matt Hughes (Pics, Vids): The move up in weight didn’t hurt BJ and he made capturing the UFC welterweight championship look easy. Losing the title by submission in the first round after five successful defenses not only shocked Hughes, it shocked many MMA pundits.

Penn-Duane Ludwig: Another quick win for “The Prodigy” in his K-1 debut. Ludwig isn’t known for his ground skills and Penn proved to be too much, choking out the Bas Rutten (Pics, Vids) protégé in less than two minutes.

Penn-Rodrigo Gracie: The Rumble on the Rock 6 main event was the first of what will likely be numerous Gracie family challenges. B.J. dominated but could not put Rodrigo away, taking the unanimous decision on his home turf.

Penn-Ryoto Machida (Pics, Vids): BJ gambled big … and failed. Moving up to heavyweight was risky and apparently he still feels he could do it again, chalking the loss up to minimal preparation time and inadequate (size-wise) training partners. Most of the seasoned, naturally built top heavyweights have trouble with this guy. Machida is the real deal at heavyweight.

Also worthy of note: Penn battled Joey Gilbert (win/TKO) and Matt Serra (win/decision).

Strengths And Weaknesses: Penn’s strength is his ground game. He’s the most highly decorated American jiu-jitsu player in combat sports. B.J. has shown solid hands as well but when the experience of the competition is better, he relies more on his jiu-jitsu.

A possible weakness in the past could be over thinking his game plan. He wanted to come out on fire against Jens Pulver (Pics, Vids) but the bout went the distance. He seemed to have lost his fire after that, going the distance with two of his next three opponents after having stopped all three prior to Pulver. Luckily for the fans, the fire came back with the stoppages of Gomi, Hughes and Ludwig.

How He Can Beat Gracie: Standing and using his quickness. Renzo is versatile and very accomplished but he only has one knockout and that was from a kick while on his back. If the bout is to be had easily for Penn, it will be early and on the feet. A weakness in the past may have been preparation. He admitted he didn’t train properly for Machida, but much of that had to do with the increase in weight and not necessarily the quality of the fighters in his camp.
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