Text

Physicist, Startup Founder, Blogger, Dad

Sunday, February 27, 2011

BJ Penn forever




Last night BJ Penn, whose natural weight class is 155 (or even 145 if he were any good at cutting weight), took the #2 ranked welterweight (John Fitch, whose natural weight is probably around 190-200) to a draw. In his career Penn has held the championship belt at 155 and 170, and faced world champions at 155, 170 and even 205 (LHW - Lyoto Machida). He was the first non-Brazilian to win a world championship in BJJ, after only a few years of training. Penn lacks a lot of things you might want from a top level fighter -- he's not that strong, his endurance is suspect, he's usually undersized, etc., etc. But in terms of raw fighting ability he is one of the all time greats. The most exceptional quality Penn has is gameness -- he'll fight anyone, anytime.





Here's the Gracie technique analysis. Flow with the go ;-)





Here is a better shot of BJ and Fitch. Does it look like they should be in the same weight class?


15 comments:

Max said...

Hmm I wasn never fan of BJ exactly for those reasons. He is gifted naturally and has a fighting spirit, but otherwise he is lazy and arrogant. My favorurite fighter is GSP - he works hard , intelligent and has great personality.

Roj said...

Comparing BJ Penn's natural weight class to Jon Fitch's natural weight is equivocation. An individual's own "natural weight" is well above their "natural weight class".

botti said...

oops, that should have read in the first round, not the final.

steve hsu said...

Because Penn is either not a good weight cutter, or refuses to cut weight, he ends up fighting much bigger opponents when measured by weight in the cage. To put it simply, BJ's natural weight and weight class are the same, whereas for a good weight cutter (e.g., any former wrestler) they might differ by 20 pounds or 10-20% of bodyweight.

Allowing weigh in 24 hrs before the fight has to do with business realities. It would be more fair to have the weigh in minutes before the fight. But then you'd have the problem of fighters missing weight, trying to fight dehydrated, etc. Some fighters take maximum advantage of the 24 hours, whereas BJ does not or cannot.

Roj said...

What about Lyoto Machida? He strolls in to 205lbs weighing under 190lbs. Randy Couture? He has shown more durability than Penn or Emelianenko are showing.

It's a side point, but why are Americans so good at cutting? UFC fighters in the same weight class as Pride fighters are obviously larger. We all credit wrestling for the UFC fighters cutting ability, but the Japanese seem to win more Olympic wresting medals than the US. Let's not forget Judo, which would also presumably benefit from cutting.

Is there a reason for the American cutting advantage? Is it boxing? Do you have to get weighed on the fight day for Judo? Supplements?

*I hate Penn because he reminds me of an arrogant little cabbage patch doll, and I have to listen to Rogan compose him odes, so I'll always be knit picky when he is complimented! I love Fedor though!

steve hsu said...

I agree with everything you wrote. But keep in mind that what Hughes thought was unimpressive was probably 100 lbs more than what BJ could put up!

Chris said...

You might like Sheridan's sequel, "A Fighter's Mind." If I remember correctly, you're from Iowa, and there's a section on Dan Gable in the book. It's worth the price of admission in and of itself.

Hah! Not a professional dieter. If only he did/could cut weight...

steve hsu said...

I'll check it out.

Gable competed for my hometown university.

http://infoproc.blogspot.com/2010/11/on-mat.html

Sidd Finch said...

"I don't consider weightlifting to be a good indicator of pure strength in grappling "

Weightlifting, the sport, is a great measure of "pure strength in grappling." Those lifts lie on the speed-strength power curve in the general vicinity of most athletic movements. The complicated thing is determining the best way to improve power for individuals. For 185lb bench Kevin Durant, it's simple: lift heavy. For 1000lb squat Shane Harman, it's simple: speed and power movements. BJ looks like he needs to really focus on limit strength (especially for 170), but in the meantime I'd bet that his lack of limit strength is more than compensated by big cleans and plyos.

"And it should be pointed out that some technique is needed in weightlifting, so I'm not sure it's a great proxy for natural strength."

Weightlifting is not weight lifting. There's some consensus that at least 95% of Olympic weightlifting technique is learned in the first year of even moderate training. I think it's implausible (horrible instruction aside) that elite athletes could significantly vary on basic, simple lifts like the bench because of lack of technique.

"but that probably had more to do with Penn's conditioning and his relative small size than his lack of strength."

I think you're oversimplifying here. First, his small size is correlated with his lack of strength. Second, compare the second Penn-GSP fight to the Michigan St.-Alabama bowl game. It started out pretty even and quickly turned to embarrassing domination in every aspect. I don't think Alabama had some kind of exceptional conditioning advantage and the player weights are similar. IMO MSU was able to use their schemes, cohesiveness, etc. for a awhile ... until the stronger, more athletic Alabama team adjusted and absolutely, almost embarrassingly, imposed their will.

Pincher said...

Sidd Finch,

"Weightlifting, the sport, is a great measure of "pure strength in grappling."

Then the most powerful grapplers in MMA should also be among MMA's strongest weightlifters. That is clearly not the case. It's not just BJ Penn and his excellent BJJ, where he clearly overpowers or effectively neutralizes many of his opponents who both are excellent grapplers and train extensively with weights (e.g., Joe Daddy Stevenson, Sean Sherk, Diego Sanchez). Think of Fedor (sambo), Yoshida (judo), or Hughes (wrestling). There simply isn't a strong correlation between those who train extensively or excel at weightlifting and those who excel in the aspects of grappling which require strength.

I don't downplay the need for the kind of weight training that would help augment a grappler's power. It's fairly common nowadays to incorporate weight training into one's training regimen. What I dismiss is that 1) BJ Penn lacks power, 2) weightlifting would help solve the problem Penn has with fighters like GSP and Fitch, and 3) there is a strong correlation between those grapplers who excel, or train extensively, at weightlifting and those who excel in the power aspects of grappling.

"Weightlifting is not weight lifting. There's some consensus that at least 95% of Olympic weightlifting technique is learned in the first year of even moderate training. I think it's implausible (horrible instruction aside) that elite athletes could significantly vary on basic, simple lifts like the bench because of lack of technique."

What this doesn't take into account, however, is that the mixed martial artist, unlike the Olympic lifter, has to balance what he learns and picks up from weightlifting with his other various skills.

It's common, for example, for beginning weightlifters to complain about losing flexibility. For a fighter like BJ Penn, who has legendary flexibility and uses it to good effect in his fights, that would be a significant problem.

Another potential problem for Penn is his lack of endurance. If he packs on muscle to bulk up for fights against much larger opponents like Fitch and GSP, how will that affect his endurance, especially in five-round championship fights?

"First, his small size is correlated with his lack of strength."

Yes, but your assumption is that this correlation can be reduced by Penn if he simply started lifting weights and got stronger. That's not necessarily true and given what we know about Penn it's probably not even likely.

In Penn's case, at 155, he was not small. At 170, however, Penn consistently faces off against men who have at least a couple of inches on him and cut 15 to 20 pounds he doesn't have to cut.

If you continually fight bigger men who have most of the same athletic skills and techniques you have, you are bound to lose more often than not. Adding strength through weight training might help Penn in some ways and hinder him in others.

Shawn said...

Notice that neither Penn or Fedor are "cut." By the way, I may get taken to task for this, but seeing those two dudes demonstrate grappling looked a little, well, gay.

One of the reasons I decided that I would never get into MMA (besides being very ectomorphic) is because I did not want to damage my face (my greatest asset in pickup -- facially I look like a model) because it would hurt my "game skills" with women. Participating in MMA only makes sense if you can get into an organization like the UFC, succeed, andand have a chance to be wealthy, in which case game becomes increasingly irrelevant. But most champions are not multi-millionaires, so maybe I have to rethink my conclusion. I also did not want to damage my brain -- it's hard enough having an IQ around 107-115 or so.

steve hsu said...

MMA is an art form -- the solution to a very basic problem of ancient origin -- how best to disable another human being without use of weapons?

Sidd Finch said...

Pincher, sorry I've been busy and late to reply.

"Then the most powerful grapplers in MMA should also be among MMA's strongest weightlifters. That is clearly not the case."

I don't see how this is not the case. I've heard GSP has some impressive O-lifts. I've never heard a peep about other fighters' O-lifts. My point was that fighters like BJ who are weak on the big lifts are comparatively strong in the O-lifts. Whether or not they actually do them is beside the point. Try this out as an experiment: find 10 high school linebackers in your area and test their squat and powerclean. You will almost invariably find that the correlation with success for the former is 0.5ish and correlation for the latter is close to 1.

"What I dismiss is that 1) BJ Penn lacks power"

I very specifically said that BJ has power but needs to work on his limit strength. I stand by that. It looks to me like he's a naturally powerful guy whose fast and week. To improve that "he needs to really focus on limit strength."

"It's common, for example, for beginning weightlifters to complain about losing flexibility."

I've literally never heard of this, ever. Most beginning weightlifters need to work on mobility. Most people just don't have the shoulder mobility for a deep snatch or jerk or the hip/ankle mobility for an ATG squat.

"If he packs on muscle to bulk up for fights against much larger opponents like Fitch and GSP"

He needs to get stronger, which require more muscle, not turn into Jay Cutler.

"Yes, but your assumption is that this correlation can be reduced by Penn if he simply started lifting weights and got stronger."

BJ lifts weights. What I'm suggesting is that he focus on strength (1-5 reps) more than whatever his idiotic Hilo trainers have him doing.

"That's not necessarily true and given what we know about Penn it's probably not even likely."

What we know about BJ is that he's a generational talent with no work ethic. Getting strong takes a long time. Getting "cardio" take a couple months. I'm pretty confident that BJ is better at the latter than the former.

Pincher said...

Sidd Finch,

"Try this out as an experiment: find 10 high school linebackers in your area and test their squat and powerclean. You will almost invariably find that the correlation with success for the former is 0.5ish and correlation for the latter is close to 1."

Perhaps. But that might be because high school football in the U.S. has incorporated weight lifting into its training regimen for decades, thus sharpening a correlation that shouldn't be confused with causation simply because the best football players tend to be pushed into year-round weight training once their potential has been identified.

The various grappling disciplines (sambo, judo, BJJ, wrestling, catch wrestling, etc.), on the other hand, come from many different cultures and nations -- some of which don't have the weight lifting facilities or traditions which would help push their best young athletes into the same kind of rigorous weight training that is found in the states or associated with football.

Think of a young Sakuraba, who was still just training on machines late in his career, and yet could arm-bar a much larger grappler like Marcus Silveira and even broke Renzo Gracie's arm with a kimura -- techniques which required incredible grappling power against that level of opponent. But if you had put Sakuraba in a weight training facility, he would have been lost.

I agree there is probably a slight positive correlation between strength (as measured by weightlifting) and power techniques in grappling. I just don't think it's as strong a correlation as you suggest. Certainly, it wouldn't be close to .5, let alone a perfect positive correlation of 1. There are many strong dudes in MMA who religiously lift weights and are still so-so grapplers when in positions that require strength to pull off. There are also many relatively weak fighters who are tremendous grapplers in positions that require natural strength. Penn is one; Sakuraba is another; Yoshida was a third; Big Nog is a fourth. There are countless others.

The more interesting question is whether this combination of strong grappler/weak lifter will become more of a throwback to olden days as the popularity of MMA increases and training with weights becomes routine for great mixed martial artists everywhere in the world. We now see training in MMA becoming more uniform. To cite just one example, British mixed martial artists are getting much better at grappling even though they have no native grappling tradition. So it's possible the correlation between strong grapplers and strong weight lifters will increase. I just don't see it right now.

"I've literally never heard of [beginning weight lifters who complain about losing flexibility], ever."

I don't know why you haven't heard of it unless you don't talk to many beginning weight lifters who have need to worry about it. It's a common complaint.

If you train correctly, it shouldn't be a problem, but it's still a common complaint. And given your opinion of Penn's trainers, it's not one you should dismiss.

Sidd Finch said...

"thus sharpening a correlation that shouldn't be confused with causation simply because the best football players tend to be pushed into year-round weight training once their potential has been identified."

Why wouldn't that apply to the squat also? My point isn't to get into specific lifts or how much athletes train them, but to point out that power is more important for most athletes than limit strength or speed.

"I agree there is probably a slight positive correlation between strength (as measured by weightlifting) and power techniques in grappling."

I've been careful to distinguish weightlifting (clean, jerk, snatch, and the power movements) from weight lifting or lifting weights. Weightlifting movements are power movements! Rampage's famous powerbomb of Arona was almost exactly a power clean. The familiar sight of a fighter trying to jerk the elbow for an armbar or kamura is most similar to a hang clean or Pendlay row.

"let alone a perfect positive correlation of 1"

This really isn't hyperbole for high school linebackers. That's why I used them :)

"There are also many relatively weak fighters who are tremendous grapplers in positions that require natural strength. Penn is one; Sakuraba is another; Yoshida was a third; Big Nog is a fourth. There are countless others."

You're missing my point. Powerlifters aren't great athletes. They're really good at moving heavy weights slowly. These fighters aren't great powerlifters. They're good at moving light weights quickly. Power movements (of which powerlifts ironically aren't included) are just fundamentally different than limit strength movements. Take the bench press. At 1RM it's an expression of limit strength. At 20 reps it's mostly representative of metabolic conditioning. But neither tells you exactly how high you can throw that bar. That would be a power movement and one I'm pretty sure these fighters would far outperform others with the same bench press.

"So it's possible the correlation between strong grapplers and strong weight lifters will increase. I just don't see it right now."

If you substitute "strong weight lifters" for "strong people" I agree that this is an interesting question. IMO opinion it's pretty simple: as MMA pays more money you'll see more genetic freaks. I think you're already seeing it: GSP, Bones Jones, Silva, Lesnar. Sakuraba is my favorite MMA fighter of all time but I think his most similar fighter is someone like Evan Tanner. IOW, someone with the heart and skill to be the best, but just not gifted enough among today's bigger, stronger, faster fighters.

"I don't know why you haven't heard of it unless you don't talk to many beginning weight lifters who have need to worry about it. It's a common complaint."

This is just soreness. There's no mechanism outside of injury for beginner weight training to reduce soft tissue extensibility.

Blog Archive

Labels