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Judo Chop: B.J. Penn's Back Control

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T.P. Grant supplies us with an excellent Judo Chop on B.J. Penn's ground game - in particular, showing how his back takes and control of his opponents are a fearsome component of a fearsome ground game.

At this point, most MMA fans know B.J. Penn's story: starting his training under Ralph Gracie and then moving to Nova Uniao before earning his black belt in just three years of grappling. There was some outcry at the speed and his promotion and B.J. silenced all the doubters by being the first American to win a black belt World Championship in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Because of this rapid ascent to the top, B.J. is often hailed as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizard and many are quick to point out his amazing flexibly as the genesis of his grappling acumen.

To attribute his prowess simply to his inhuman flexibility and focus on his guard game is to discredit Penn's game. While his flexibility is impressive, Penn's technical diversity and firm grasp on foundational skills is what makes him so formidable.

Penn's guard is often praised - and for good reason. Penn has an active guard that is extremely difficult to pass. That said, in his fights with Jon Fitch and rematch with Georges St. Pierre they have great success damaging Penn from inside his guard. Penn's guard game has never really heavily featured submission attacks, instead focusing much more on sweeping or taking the back.

Below the jump is an examination of the several times we've seen B.J. take the back and how that led to great positions or victory.

In the second match of one of the best trilogies in MMA, B.J. managed to magic his way to Matt Hughes's back in the second round.


Kid Nate wrote an excellent Judo Chop on how exactly Penn took Hughes' back. It was a wonderful move, but a Pyrrhic victory for Penn.

Where Penn's jiu jitsu game truly shines is in his top control and his attack once he is on his opponent's back.


Here is Penn in the third round of his 2003 fight with Takanori Gomi. He is on Gomi's back and beginning to strike. Gomi is defending and attempts to elevate hips and drop his shoulders to shake Penn off his back. The normal response to that tactic is for the fighter on the back to grab over-under grips, going over one shoulder and under the opposite armpit to prevent from sliding off. Penn has the awareness to not just grip under Gomi's armpit, but trap his leg and prevent Gomi from being able to posture up to shake Penn off.

Gripping the leg also breaks Gomi down and allows Penn to make his hips heavy to flatten Gomi out, which sets up the rear naked choke that would finish the fight.


Here in the opening minutes of Penn's fight against Jon Fitch, the Hawaiian fighter shows off his diverse and creative grappling game. First Penn shows some defensive striking awareness, slipping a punch, escaping from off the cage and getting to an excellent angle for counter striking. Penn throws a quick combination causing Fitch to raise his hands in defense and Penn uses that as an opening to shoot a double leg in an excellent display of mixed martial arts instincts.

Once he takes Fitch down, not an easy task, he is able to establish strong over-under grips, slip off to Fitch's left, roll him over and take his back in a very basic no-gi jiu jitsu attack. The over-under hooks give Penn control of Fitch's upper body and when he slides up the side, Penn's knee blocks Fitch from basing with his arm and forces him to roll. As they roll over, Penn looks to sink his hooks and gets the top hook easily, but Fitch uses his arm to fight off the bottom side hook. Here Penn's flexibility comes into play as he is able to swing his leg over Fitch's arm and temporarily trapping the arm.

Once on Fitch's back, B.J. hooks his feet around Fitch's left leg, which prevents him from rolling over into top position in Penn's guard. Fitch establishes strong wrist control to prevent a choke, reaches down and pushes Penn's foot out, but Penn transitions to the body triangle. Fitch attempts to roll and Penn follows him, hooking Fitch's leg to control him.

While Fitch is able to fend off the choke and secure a draw by coming back in the later portion of the fight, Penn's nifty back control won him the first round on every judge's score card.

Going into UFC 137, the betting lines are close and the questions are looming large. Will we see this fight play out on the ground, where both have highly polished skills honed with years of sweat, blood and tears? Does one of these two fighters have the grappling chops submit the other? Or will we see this battle be decided on the feet? What do you readers think?

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