B.J. Penn is a friend of mine. I gave him his very first Brazilian jiu-jitsu lessons, and for a year we trained together two to three days a week. Whenever B.J. Penn tells the story of how he got started in the martial arts, he’s always kind enough to mention me, which is great. The only problem is he doesn’t tell the story right. His version is close, but it’s not perfect. So, I’m here to set the record straight. After moving to Hilo, Hawaii, so my girlfriend could attend college, we found a house to rent and moved in. Knowing that nobody was doing Brazilian ji-jitsu there, I visited all the local gyms and put up a sign before even unpacking my gi: “Training Partners Wanted. Looking for Wrestlers or Judo Players to Train With.” Here’s where my story differs from B.J.’s. The next day I received my first call at our new home. Even though I knew almost no one in Hilo, I recognized the voice. It was B.J.’s father, Jay Dee Penn, my new landlord. He said, “My boys are interested in your grappling class and all this jiu-jitsu stuff. When does it start?” I laughed and told him the details, and he responded that his boys would come over and meet me for a workout. I think they missed our first planned workout, which would explain why B.J. recalls me bugging his dad to get them to come. B.J. eventually showed up with his brother Reagan. Even though they didn’t know how to defend themselves, they were interested, strong, willing and tough, so they became my new and steadfast training partners. I told the Penns that while I only knew a little Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I had been a martial artist and teacher for most of my adult life. First, I would teach them what I knew, and then we would work on mastering the techniques. Because I could tap them out with ease, they thought I was really good, but I remember telling them, “Wait until you roll with some blue belts. They’re like gods!” After a few workouts, B.J.’s friends started showing up to train. Once, B.J.’s older brother Jay Dee came by, and I couldn’t tap him out. Despite his ever-present smile, he was one strong guy. One of B.J.’s friends, Cabbage, started training with us and eventually became a professional fighter. Cabbage was a nice kid who had really long hair, a big belly, and sweated twice as much as most people. When you rolled with Cabbage, you were going to get wet. The truth is I never had to bug B.J. to work out because the guy never missed a training session. He could go as long and as hard as I could and then some. Also, he was as fast a learner as I had ever encountered. One day, about four or five months into our training, I made the mistake of telling the boys that we were going to do some light stand-up sparring. I told B.J., “So let’s just, you know, sort of slap-box a little.” I was an above-average fighter with decent hand speed, and I wasn’t a stranger to sparring. Before I could throw a decent backfist, he slapped me about five times in the face. I was surprised, to say the least, and I think I chased him around for another 30 seconds or so, giving him the opportunity to slap me a few more times. That was the last time I sparred with B.J. After testing for my 5th-degree black belt with Master Ernie Reyes, Sr., my training dropped off a bit because I was suffering from a lot of hip pain (which, a couple of years later, had to be replaced). However, B.J. and his friends kept on training, and I would show up when I could. When Mr. Reyes celebrated his birthday, I told B.J.’s father that his son should accompany me, and while there I would introduce him to Ralph Gracie. Well, Ralph, David Camerillo, Renato “Charuto” Verissimo, and B.J. were about to make history. B.J. moved to California, and every time I saw him in the coming years he would be better, trickier and tougher. You can teach an entire lifetime and never have a B.J. Penn come out of your school. I feel lucky to know him and his brothers and parents, because they’re as kind and gracious as anyone you could meet. When I lived in Hilo, B.J.’s father built an addition on my house, free of charge, so some of my black belts could stay with me during the summer. He gave me a beautiful building rent free for an entire year. And worthy of note, even B.J.’s mother, Lorraine Shin, was a tough grappler. My wife and Lorraine once participated in one of our Brazilian-jiu-jitsu classes, and Lorraine gave my wife a solid Penn-family thrashing. That was the last time my wife put on a gi. About seven months into training, I recall B.J.’s father came to me and said, “You know, B.J.’s going to be a great champion someday.” I smiled and thought about how many times I had heard that—both from parents in general, and about B.J. himself. I tried to encourage B.J. to train in judo, as I knew Mike Swain and thought that going to the Olympics was a much better goal than entering a sport that didn’t pay. Little did I know that mixed martial arts was going to explode. At the Penn house, the front door is always open (literally). Kids come and go, the refrigerator opens and closes like the door to a 7-Eleven, and the basement is almost always loaded with mats, uniforms and some of the best fighters in the world. I miss the Penn family like I miss Hawaii—deeply. That little ad I posted is part of the reason Hilo is now a Mecca for fighters and Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners. While I would like to take credit for B.J.’s amazing skills, I can’t. The credit belongs entirely to B.J. Penn and his family. As for my skills, last year I earned my purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I think I’m on the 25-year black belt plan. For sure, I’m no B.J. Penn. B.J. may not remember exactly how he started training, but every MMA fan in the world knows what he’s done since. As for my time with B.J. Penn and his family—what a gift! This summer I’m heading back to take some more lessons under B.J. and his amazing stable of teachers and fighters. (A good number of his most experienced students started with us more than 10 years ago.) Good things have happened for B.J. Penn, but I have a feeling the best times are yet to come.
Talks About Being a Smaller Fighter in a Combat Sport Ruled by Giants
At first glance, most people — most martial artists, even — will zero in on the smaller person in any fight and deem him or her to be at a distinct disadvantage. It's a natural tendency to draw this conclusion based on obvious attributes such as height, weight and reach. However, that tendency does not always lead to accurate conclusions.
Fighting Style<p>Johnson attributes much of his success to his background in pankration and wrestling, a foundation he laid before he embarked on a career in <a href="https://blackbeltmag.com/arts/mixedmartialarts/" target="_blank">MMA</a>. Both styles emphasize the strategic use of leverage, which makes them ideal for smaller fighters."</p><p>I try to find my opponent's weakness and exploit that," Johnson said. "Being well-versed and competing in several types of martial arts in my amateur career allows me to find that weakness, take [my opponents] there and then put them in that realm where they can't survive — and beat them there!"</p><p>This strategy, inspired by the teachings of pankration and wrestling, has proved a viable solution for Johnson time after time. In fact, it's his proficiency in both systems that's enabled him to excel in MMA. Consider the following:</p><p>Any observer of the fight sport will tell you that plenty of practitioners are proficient in one discipline, which they often augment by cross-training in techniques extracted from other styles that are believed to help them round out their skill set. These fighters tend to lean on their adopted techniques for setups and fakes designed to engage their opponents. Unfortunately, when fatigue sets in, they frequently fall back on their primary skill set in an effort to gain the upper hand — or, in some cases, just to survive.</p><p>This isn't the case for Johnson. He represents a new breed of combat athlete who's gained extensive experience in a variety of fighting disciplines. Being well-versed at executing a mass of moves, fighters like him need not rely on their primary martial art, which winds up making them more adaptable and unpredictable in a match.</p><p>Johnson's record of 30-3-1 offers tangible proof of his ability to exploit his opponents' weaknesses. Those 30 wins consist of 12 submissions and five knockouts via punches, head kicks and knee strikes, a testament to his proficiency in all the ranges of combat.</p>
BODY JAB TO HOOK PUNCH TO HEAD KICK
TAKEDOWN TO ARMBAR
Technique Alteration<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3OTQ5NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjgxMjcyOH0.4UkgOc1GZ7yTg669vPYYZyapzuJhaTJmn137mIW17z4/image.jpg?width=980" id="b07bf" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5dd1006607f5c8bb7c069aa8adb2b1a7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Alteration With the right coaching, almost any basic martial arts move can be altered to make it work better for a shorter fighter, Johnson said. He brought his point to life as he walked through setups for his combinations and takedowns designed to fell taller opponents during his Black Belt photo shoot. He started his explanation with the simplest punch of all.</p><p>"When a jab is thrown from someone at a lower angle, you can fit it between [the opponent's] arms and into this wide-open gap to the body," Johnson said. "[The opening] just isn't there with guys the same height as you."</p><p>He went on to say that this observation can allow you to elicit reactions from your opponent as he defends himself. That, in turn, can open other areas for you to target.</p><p>The same logic, Johnson noted, applies to takedowns. Here's how: Against a taller opponent, the conventional double- and single-leg takedown normally do the job. A shorter fighter's size, however, enables him to shoot in at a lower level, which makes the techniques harder to defend against and the shooter harder to grab. Furthermore, the shorter person's often-superior speed permits him to transition to a follow-up grappling technique before the pair even hits the ground.</p><p>"By grabbing the right spot on the wrist during a single-leg or starting to climb up their body as they fall during a double-leg, you can put yourself in the right position," Johnson said. An expert at such tweaks, he noted that advanced concepts like this have allowed him to dominate in the cage despite disadvantages in height and reach.</p>
New Challenges<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3OTUwMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMjkwNjY3OH0.cdhkoclQKHqpeRWm3QDkeET7-uJIvVkkSXUkqPzxTaY/image.jpg?width=980" id="b7dc2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1c786eb156d34f93628ff1422aeaa94b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>New Challenges Johnson's decision to join <a href="https://www.onefc.com/" target="_blank">ONE Championship</a> in late 2018 means that his previous success as a flyweight in other fight franchises may be in jeopardy. </p><p>That's because the Singapore-based promotion touts a strict "no weight cutting" policy that will force the American to take on heavier opponents in his normal 135-pound weight class.</p><p>The new challenge is nothing he can't handle, Johnson said confidently, because he's well-versed in using his size to his advantage. On top of that, he has years of experience on the North American MMA circuit to back up his skill set.</p><p>Nevertheless, Johnson admitted that a fight is a fight and therefore unpredictable, and that his opponents from the Far East will not be easily conquered. In fact, because ONE is based in a part of the world where fighters tend to be smaller than in the West, he likely will have his work cut out for him.</p><p>"I'm fighting guys who are a lot taller," Johnson said regarding his ONE Championship opponents. "In my last fight, I fought [Tatsumitsu Wada], who is 5 feet 9 inches tall, and when he took my back, he was able to get a triangle on my body so easily." That feat, he added, is rarely accomplished on a person who is equal in stature.</p><p>Johnson's solution? When preparing to take on a taller opponent, he likes to abandon the "fighting tall" mentality that's so common in his sport. It revolves around the urge to strike the taller person's face while squaring off. That tactic is simply not an option in such situations, Johnson said.</p><p>Instead, you need to focus on your strengths as a smaller fighter, he said. Get low and use your leverage for offense and defense. Take advantage of the gaps that exist in the taller person's stance. When you strike, do so with intent. Get in, execute and get out. Don't get caught in between, taking your time — because sooner or later that mistake will catch up with you</p>
Future Fights<p>Whenever you're the first person to gain fame for achieving something, it means you have to pave your own road to success. When Johnson entered the martial arts in 2007, he found no prominent examples of smaller fighters who consistently saw success in the cage. Consequently, there was no one he could turn to for inspiration.</p><p>"When I jumped into martial arts, there was no avenue for me to go," Johnson explained. "[I was] sitting there as a kid, watching these guys who were all heavyweights in boxing and MMA. With me weighing a buck twenty-five, I never thought those were the professional athletes I wanted to be like."</p><p>The fight sport is different now. As Johnson enters his 13th year as a professional mixed martial artist, he serves as an exemplary lightweight role model — precisely the kind of person he failed to find early in his career.</p><p>As scores of smaller martial artists scramble to follow in his footsteps, Johnson has inadvertently secured the future of his weight division on the global stage. For an athlete as disciplined as Johnson, the notion carries no added burden.</p><p>"I'm at a point in my career where I'm just focused on the grind of putting on great performances," he said. "That way, when I'm done with this sport, that's it. I'm good. I can be done with it and with no regrets."</p>
SIDE CONTROL TO MOUNT TO ARMBAR
2019 MMA Fighter of the Year<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3OTU2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTU2MjM3Mn0.LrW3wCdX6bc_Ago2X34P1EG87EwZP6pUhXwJbpZ-Iec/image.jpg?width=980" id="ffa02" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="21aff8779f96ba47af9b40ef6aaedcb3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>When he hit the MMA circuit in 2007, Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson was a human tsunami. An immediate force to be reckoned with, he dominated the bantamweight and featherweight divisions of the sport thanks to his lightning-fast fists and his arsenal of grappling techniques. Like a true martial artist, he hasn't let his success go to his head.</p><p>"I am very happy with where I'm at in my career," Johnson stated. "The martial arts have given me and my family a wonderful life. If I were to stop fighting today, I'd be satisfied with the way everything has turned out."</p><p>That said, Johnson has no plans of bowing out of the ring anytime soon. In fact, he's gearing up for his next big fight, which will have taken place in Japan before this issue of Black Belt hits newsstands.</p><p>"I'm training for the World Grand Prix — ONE: CENTURY in October,2019" Johnson said. "It's a big event! This is the 100th time [it] has been held, and I'm very excited to be part of it. I grew up watching Japanese MMA, and now I get a chance to win one. It's awesome!"</p><p>From the moment Johnson first came to grips with an opponent in the cage, it was apparent that he was a rising star. Now, with a string of victories under his belt and numerous awards and honors bestowed on him, he's been dubbed one of the greatest mixed martial artists in the world. In a sport abundant with talent, Johnson has achieved rock-star status with legions of fans glued to his every move.</p><p>Why are they so devoted? A glimpse into Mighty Mouse's makeup comes from one of his most-talked-about fights in which he squared off against Miguel Torres. After breaking his fibula when he checked a leg kick in the second round, Johnson continued to wage war. He ignored the pain and concentrated on his grappling skills to survive. In the end, he won a unanimous decision.</p><p>"The key to winning, and sometimes the key to surviving in order to win, is having the ability to stay focused and take care of the task at hand," Johnson said. "That is how I approach my fights and my personal life. I know what I really want out of life, and I stay focused on that task — whether it's winning a fight or taking care of my family. My wife Destiny and my three children are the most important things in my life."</p><p>Because of his past accomplishments, his bright future and his pervasive martial mindset, Black Belt is pleased to make Demetrious Johnson its 2019 MMA Fighter of the Year. </p><p><em>— Terry L. Wilson<br>Photography By Patrick Sternkopf<br>Event photos Courtesy of ONE FC<br></em></p>
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Intuition is always right in at least two important ways. It is always in response to something. It always has your best interest at heart. — Gavin de Becker
When intuition grabs our attention to warn us of danger in our surroundings, it often feels like an alarm going off in our body. When danger is present, the sensation we feel, in the words of some people, is like an electric current that starts in the gut and radiates outward. Others have described the feeling as a chill running up the spine or a generalized lack of comfort.
The commonality is a definite sense of unease, a nagging feeling that won't go away. There also might be a flash of insight or a sensation that comes to us, one that we never sought out.
Bellator 242 will officially be the promotions return to the spotlight on July 24th since canceling its remaining events due to COVID earlier this year. The main event for the card will feature Ricky Bandejas vs. Sergio Pettis.
As promoters and fans alike begin to settle in to the new normal, Bellator MMA has announced it will resume fights beginning with Bellator 242 July 24th. With UFC, One Championship, Invicta FC, and many other small promotions having already returned fans have been anxiously awaiting Bellators next move.
Bellator 242 Fight Card<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://blackbeltmag.com/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ1OTcyNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjMzMzMxOX0.dwMAW6ofX38VmK6CzGPHFb1p9XRRlhKJ-nWneTWSbqg/image.jpg?width=980" id="0c999" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bc7599480d6967eb7d4ae4d1bdc38850" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Scott Coker President of Bellator MMA" />
Bellator President Scott Coker
ONE Championship is set to return on July 31 in Bangkok, and now the full card has been finalized with four ONE Super Series bouts and two mixed martial arts affairs.
Previously announced was the top of the ticket with two title tilts and an epic trilogy bout of two high-profile signees making their organizational debut.
In the main event, Rodtang Jitmuangnon puts his ONE Flyweight World Championship on the line against Petchdam Petchyindee Academy. This will also be a trilogy bout for the headliners with the series even at 1-1.
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- ONE Championship Returns July 31st. - Black Belt Magazine ›