After claiming to have hung up his gloves, the 33-year-old B.J. Penn is set to again do battle when he steps into the cage with 23-year-old rising star Rory MacDonald this coming Dec. 8 at UFC on Fox 5 in Seattle.
To keep up to date with his ground game, B.J. called on his three-time world championship-winning buddy Rafael Mendes to take part in his training camp. Stoked about the work they did together, Rafa wrote in from California to share what he learned and what he taught over the course of his time working with the Hawaiian star. Here’s what our GMA in Costa Mesa, Calif. had to tell us:
GRACIEMAG: What was it like to train B.J. for such a dangerous opponent as Rory?
RAFAEL MENDES: I’ve trained with B.J. before. We’re friends. I’ve been to his academy in Hawaii, and he’s been to my academy here in Costa Mesa, Calif. The last time he was here, he asked me to go to Hawaii for a few days to help him make some adjustments to his ground game for his fight with Rory MacDonald. So I watched some tape on Rory, but focused more on B.J.’s latest performances to see where he was going wrong and what we could do to help improve his game. The strategy is there with the folks at the camp.
B.J. Penn won the world championship in Rio de Janeiro in 2000. More than a decade later, what does he now need to fine-tune or take a refresher course on?
He’s really skillful and good on the ground. And man, he’s really motivated for this fight, which is essential. During the time I spent over there with him, I tried getting his Jiu-Jitsu as modern as can be. I looked to get him up to date on the new and important techniques, concepts and variations so he won’t let any control positions get away from him during the fight.
B.J. hasn’t fought since his loss to Nick Diaz in October 2011. Do you feel the long layoff could hurt him?
I don’t think so. For an athlete of B.J. Penn’s level and experience, I don’t think it makes a difference. A lot of top MMA athletes do that and come back even better and more motivated than before.
Do you feel like taking the plunge into the world of MMA?
No, I love watching the UFC and find it all really interesting, but I have my goals within the realm of jiu-jitsu. I’m glad to get the recognition. An athlete like B.J. is a legend of the sport, and it’s an honor to have him pick me to work on his jiu-jitsu with him. But my goals are within jiu-jitsu. My focus is to carry on winning in jiu-jitsu, to get better with every day, break records and present newer and more modern jiu-jitsu to the world each time. With my academy, my objective is to be the best jiu-jitsu teacher I can be. No matter what my students want from the sport, I want to help them do it. My dream is to have the best kids team in the world down the road. jiu-jitsu helped me grow up without doing drugs, thinking athletic the whole time, always targeting performance and health. Now my family is proud of me, and I’m certain I can do the same for future generations. It all requires work, but Guilherme and I are working.
And what about the IBJJ Pro League in Long Beach, Calif. on the 8th?
I won’t be competing this time around. I’m back to training hard, started my diet and physical conditioning, but it’s for future championships. We just opened our academy not long ago and are totally focused on teaching, [and] creating a strong and well-structured team. We want to convey as much as we can so that in 2013 we’ll have good training partners to work with for competitions. Our objective is to improve the people around us and evolve through that ourselves. So our focus is the academy. Our instructor, Ramon Lemos, always taught us that to be a champion, to be the best, you have to train harder than the rest and, above all, be more disciplined than the rest. We always followed that advice, and it’s always worked for us.
Leandro Lo said he’d like to face you in the Pyramid, but from the look of it, that classic will have to wait until next year.
Leandro is an excellent athlete, but unfortunately we won’t be facing each other this time around. But I’m grateful to him for the good things he’s said about me. I’d like to take this chance to thank GRACIEMAG.com’s readers and invite them to pay a visit to the MendesBros.com website, where we post videos of the classes we tape every day. It’s a great way to learn new positions and details. The techniques are advanced, and I’m certain everyone will like them.