When a mixed martial arts (MMA) fan and follower mentions strong jiu-jitsu skills, the name "Gracie" should always pop in their head as a solid foundation of where it all started. When Rorion Gracie teamed with business partners to start Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the main objective was to showcase Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) as the strongest combat discipline out there.
And with a little help from Royce Gracie, the plan worked.
Years later, the sport would continue to boast jiu-jitsu fighters. However, wrestling and kickboxing would make their way into the sport as well. In 2001, a jiu-jitsu fighter would light the MMA world on fire.
B.J. Penn would enter the Octagon for his mixed martial arts debut, a little known trivia of being one of a rare few who has ever started their professional career inside the UFC cage. Penn would enter guns blazing to a 5-1-1 record with four of five wins coming by way of knockout (KO) or technical knockout (TKO).
Who would have known this young phenomenon was actually a jiu-jitsu fighter straight from the teaching lineage of a Gracie?
When Penn took up BJJ in 1997 with well-respected Ralph Gracie, little knew the talent and potential the young Hawaiian had when he earned his purple belt. He then took his jiu-jitsu to Nova Uniao where he studied under Andre Pederneiras, a black belt under Carlson Gracie.
In 2000, just three years from the beginning, Penn would earn his black belt from Pederneiras and weeks later would win the black belt division of the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship, becoming the first non-Brazilian to do so.
Most black belts take more then 10 years to earn, especially those awarded by the most respected teachers in the sport. It took Penn just three short years becoming one of the fastest to be awarded a black belt. A lineage of Ralph Gracie-Andre Pederneiras is definitely a legitimate chain to be part of.
Just in case anyone forgot the mastery of Penn’s grappling, lets begin a journey into the career of "The Prodigy" starting with a huge win at Rumble on the Rock in October of 2003.
One of the largest misconceptions of jiu-jitsu is that it is just purely ground based, but it is quite the contrary. Jiu-jitsu is a form of grappling and the most successful grapplers have the ability to take down their opponent. Even in jiu-jitsu competitions, points are awarded for taking your opponent down and passing their guard. This is what makes fighters like Jake Shields and Jon Fitch such accomplished grapplers; their ability to put the fight on the mat and work offensively for position.
B.J. Penn is one of the best at this as well.
After his 5-1-1 run in the UFC, Penn would venture outside of the promotion and find himself in a highly anticipated bout with Takanori Gomi, who was regarded at the time as one of the best fighters in the world including possibly the best fighter in the world at 155-pounds with a 14-1 record.
Penn’s grappling would be superior all night long to the freestyle wrestling, heavy-handed boxer Gomi. It would all end in the third round, removing all doubts anyone might have had when questioning if Penn was the real deal.
Before we start, let me first give a thank you to Zombie Prophet for the .gifs. Check out his site (Ironforgesiron.com) -- he has .gifs and videos of fights up faster than anyone else on the 'net.
After separating from a clinch, Gomi looks to engage with a jab. Penn ducks under the jab and shoots for a quick double leg but manages to grab a single. After exploding into the shot, Penn has Gomi backing up. As soon as Gomi has his back to the cage, Penn uses that momentum as he turns away from the momentum of Gomi dragging him down to the mat and landing in guard.
In doing so, Penn took away the two most dangerous parts of Gomi’s game: His powerful wrestling which he did use to put Penn on his back prior in the course of the fight and his lethal strikes which have been his method of knocking out his fair share of fighters in his career.
You will immediately see the flexibility that has been Penn’s signature skill for his entire career. He has his right leg inside and underneath Gomi as he attempts to establish back mount. One key skill Penn has when he is in top position is that he never stops working. He always applies pressure and never allows his opponents to rest or breathe.
Penn is working his strikes as he looks for the opening on Gomi, instead of going all out on a barrage of strikes or giving up position by going for the choke. Penn continues to stay diligent and pepper away while waiting for Gomi to make a mistake.
Holding top position can be very tough at this point. Penn and Gomi are both very sweaty thus very slippery, also with only one established hook in on Gomi, Penn is relying a lot on balance.
Penn has established back control entirely with a body triangle, utilizing his legs to lock down the body of Gomi, preventing him from moving as well as suffocating the breathing. Penn has now gained easily one of if not the most dominant position anyone could achieve grappling.
There is not a real effective way for Gomi to escape at this point.
After Penn fights off the hand from defending, he locks the arm under the chin and buries the other deep behind Gomi’s head. When Penn can put his hand that far behind the head of Gomi the choke becomes just about the tightest it can be. You can see Gomi attempt to rip down the arm that is placed behind his head, however Penn has buried it down so deep it would take some tremendous power to accomplish that feat.
With perfect technique on the choke and the body triangle suffocating the body, it is very easy to see why Gomi grimaces and taps out. Already battered and bloody from the onslaught prior to the choke, Gomi has little left in him. Penn overwhelms his opponent and becomes the recognized undisputed 155-pound fighter in the world.
While many argue Penn is one dimensional in his jiu-jitsu because of his usage constantly of the rear naked choke, one must remember that choke is the hardest to achieve out of all the regularly used submissions.
And it is that way for a number of reasons.
In order to achieve the back mount, traditionally you have to pass several times and in a lot of instances get into the mount position first. You also have to work for the back mount; you rarely are ever given that position by your opponent.
You also take a big risk when holding back mount as it can lead to you being rolled or bucked off. You could even be reversed and scrambling may lead to you being on your back.
It is also the most suffocating of chokes because of the full body restriction. In a rear naked choke you take away everything from your opponent -- you essentially tangle them up, rendering them immobile.
Up next, B.J. Penn moves up in weight to dethrone the UFC's longtime welterweight champion, Matt Hughes.