Throughout his career, two-time UFC champ BJ Penn was largely a flat-footed counter striker, who could rely on his superior quickness and reflexes to avoid damage and answer his opponents' attacks with crisp and powerful punches, kicks and knees. When he came out of retirement to fight the speedy Frankie Edgar - who had already beaten Penn twice back in 2010 - last Sunday, Penn unveiled a strange new fight style that didn't make him any quicker but did make him more succeptible to take down attempts.
Penn stood tall and pranced around on the balls of his feet throughout the fight with Edgar, but still hardly ever was able to be first with offensive attempts, leaving him open to take down and strike shots while also elminating his ability to "sit down" on his punches and use his natural KO power. Penn's long-time boxing coach Jason Parillo got on the defensive yesterday, attempting to deflect any responsibility for Penn's strategy, or even the decision to have "The Prodigy" come out of retirement at all.
"I would never in a million years develop that new style," Parillo told MMA Fighting this week.
"Never in a million years."
Parillo said that Penn had been working with different coaches for the past couple years but that when he got the call, two weeks ago, to corner his friend, he still couldn't turn him down. At that point, Parillo said, it was too late to try and change Penn's strategy and new style.
"I got called a week before the fight to work his corner for the fight, so I, myself, hadn't spent time in camp at all with BJ," Parillo explained.
"I answered 'yes' automatically because he's my friend. So I didn't know. They explained to me kind of the gameplan the week of the fight, and I was actually rooming with his boxing coach the whole week, so I was listening to him, talking to him about what they were doing. At that point, it's not my position to make any adjustments, like, ‘no, no, no, let's do this, let's do that,' because it's too late for that. It's too late. He's been doing this s--- for two years. What, am I going to come in the week of the fight and change a whole gameplan? Change a whole style around? That's not going to happen, nor does B.J. want me to make that happen... BJ gets something set in his head and he likes it, and apparently it was working for him in the gym, so he wanted to go from there.
"I wanted him bending his knees. It's called sitting down on your punch in boxing, and that way you can use your legs to help with your head movement, help with your footwork, help with all this stuff. He just says he doesn't like that style anymore because it made him too tired. So at the end of the day, what can I do? He's my friend and I've got to support him. I always have and I always will."
Parillo went on to say that, in hindsight, he has realized something that it was not a smart choice for Penn to fight Edgar for a third time. Of course, that is something that was easy to see even with the slightest forethought.
"In hindsight, let me tell you this. I come from the game of boxing, okay? Any fighter, any great ex-champion that decides to retire and then wants to make a comeback, two years later they want to make a comeback, their management, their promoters, whoever it is... usually if you're a manager, your main job you do is to shake the rust off this kid. You don't put him in there with the number two guy in the world," Parillo said.
"It doesn't make any sense."
No, it did not. Yet, all of Penn's coaches and teammates apparently went along for the past near half decade as the fighter became more and more overmatched and sustained more and more needless damage.
In the end, however, Parillo seemed to suggest that no one could have deterred the all-time great once he set his mind to something. All he and other friends could have done is walk into battle with Penn when he decided to pick his sword back up, for better or for worse.
"That goes back to how a fighter is handled. It's always going to go back to that. You've still got to protect your guy, but BJ steers his own ship most of the time," Parillo claimed.
"It's hard...He likes that challenge. Who's the best? [Expletive] I want to fight that guy. ‘Who's the best? Oh, Cain Velasquez? I want to fight him.' He's 230 pounds, BJ. ‘I know! [Expletive] him! I'll kick his [Expletive] ass!' That's part of why everybody [Expletive] loves him, let's be honest."