Boxing isn’t typical Jiu-Jitsu Vortex material, in many ways it’s the opposite of BJJ – there’s no grappling, no throws, and punching is the only way to score. Sure, putting your opponent to sleep is a win in either sport, but boxers try to jolt the brain into shutdown, while Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters like to cut off its blood supply. Despite the differences, many of us BJJ addicts also love boxing – it’s integral to MMA after all, which is what got many of us into Brazilian jiu-jitsu in the first place. And some of MMA’s best boxers are also high-level jiu-jitsu fighters. Let’s take a look at some examples.
In the early ‘90s, when MMA (then known as NHB, or no holds barred fighting) was just beginning to breach the mainstream consciousness, boxing took a lot of flak for being a one-dimensional combat sport. Art Jimmerson with his single glove and complete lack of ground game had a bit to do with that. As did Melton Bowen, who, if he had any grappling ability, probably could have beaten last-round-alternate-turned-defending-champ Steve Jennum. Performances like those spurred a lot of talk about mixed martial arts killing boxing.
But that hasn’t happened. Boxing is still popular and is now experiencing a bit of a renaissance via the MMA world. We aren’t talking about epic hockey brawls a la Don Frye and Yoshihiro Takayama or a Forrest Griffin vs Stephan Bonnar slugfest. The subject here is clean, effective MMA boxing like we’ve seen from BJ Penn, Georges St. Pierre, and Nick Diaz. I tracked down some video links to most of the following fights, so come in and take a look:
BJ Penn vs. Sean Sherk
BJ Penn was the first non-Brazilian to win the black belt category of the World Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championship. He’s also an excellent MMA boxer. Before BJ Penn fought Sean Sherk at UFC 84 on May 24, 2008, there was a lot of speculation. Sean Sherk was a strong wrestler – not world-class like Mo Lawal, Kevin Jackson, or Mark Schultz, but he’d been wrestling since elementary school and had been using his skills to great effect in the UFC. Was he going to take BJ down and smash him? Nope. BJ controlled the match with his takedown defense and stiff jab, which he used to systematically reconstruct Sherk’s face until he found an opening for the flying knee KO.
BJ Penn vs Diego Sanchez
Remember the staredown between BJ Penn and Diego Sanchez at UFC 107 on December 12, 2009? Diego looked like a rabid dog waiting to devour BJ in messy fashion. To say that didn’t happen is an understatement. In a beautiful demonstration of effective takedown defense and MMA boxing, BJ kept Diego at bay – landing combinations and even dropping him with a picture-perfect right 30 seconds into round one – until he saw the opportunity for the head kick in round five. How many kicks did BJ Penn throw in that fight? Two? If you set them up right, that’s all it takes.
Georges St-Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck – UFC 74 & UFC 124
These guys faced off twice – GSP vs. Koscheck 1 at UFC 74 on August 25, 2007 and GSP vs. Koscheck 2 at UFC 124 on December 11, 2010. Both fights were, for the most part, one-sided smackdowns with Georges St-Pierre keeping Josh Koscheck off his game using straight-line punching, strong wrestling, and solid BJJ ground control. Notice how GSP’s jab lands on target repeatedly and Koschek’s ball-on-a-chain overhand right doesn’t? Compare Koscheck and GSP’s faces at the end of the second match – that tells the whole story.
Nick Diaz vs. Frank Shamrock
Nick Diaz is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Cesar Gracie and has submission wins in MMA fights over opponents like Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos, Scott Smith, and Hayato Sakurai. On top of that, Diaz is considered by many to have the best boxing in MMA today and was even in talks to set up a pro boxing match against Jeff Lacy until he set aside his pro boxing aspirations to sign a contract with Zuffa to fight in the UFC.
In contrast to BJ Penn or Georges St-Pierre, who tend to stick to the stiff jab and classic 1-2 combo, Diaz is more likely to throw combinations from disorienting angles and go for body shots. At Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Diaz on April 11, 2009 it was right after Diaz landed a right hook to the body that Shamrock’s legs gave out and – in the words of a training partner – “he folded up like a cheap chair”.
Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley
Diaz also worked Paul Daley’s body extensively in his April 9, 2011 title defense at Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley. He landed a lot of right hooks to Daley’s spleen in this exciting one-round, back-and-forth fight, which saw both fighters down and hurt before Diaz earned the TKO in the final seconds of the first round.
Ironically enough, one of the best showcases of Diaz’s MMA boxing was his victory over BJ Penn at UFC 137 on October 29, 2011. Aside from a quick ground exchange at the beginning of the fight, Diaz continued his streak by boxing the living bejeezus out of BJ – who, as mentioned, is considered one of the best MMA boxers around – and leaving him looking like a character from a monster movie.
So if you’re a BJJ addict and are looking for a cross-training opportunity, why not give boxing a try? It’s a complete change of angle from Brazilian jiu-jitsu training. The mindset is different, the techniques are more geared towards developing reflexes and fast-twitch muscles, it’s a lot of fun, and who knows… it might come in handy one day.