EXCLUSIVE (Part 2) | Top Coach Jason Parillo: ‘People May Not Want To Hear This But BJ Penn Will Be Lightweight Champ Again’
Well-known MMA striking coach, Jason Parillo, spoke with BJPenn.com Radio Wednesday night to talk about his work with some of the sport’s top athletes and how he works with these fighters.
One of the more recognizable corner men in MMA today, Parillo has worked with some of the best MMA fighters starting in the early days. He worked with Tito Ortiz during his first run in the UFC, and most famously, he worked for years with another UFC Hall of Famer, BJ Penn. He has also worked with Vitor Belfort, Jose Aldo, and he is now working with Michael Bisping, among many others. Parillo, who began himself as a boxer and boxing trainer, talks about his early days in the sport of mixed martial arts.
“Well obviously it helped that I connected with BJ back in the day, he was definitely credited with really good boxing with his natural skills and the skills I got to add to his game. You know, I’ve actually answered this question before, I’ve been around MMA since it started. I grew up with guys that were involved in it when I was doing my boxing. So I would help them with their boxing, to apply it to their ‘no-rules’ thing or their MMA thing back in the day. So I got an understanding of the difference with the distances. I also did some kickboxing back in the day, and I messed around with these guys. I don’t do much rolling around on the ground, but I’ve been around it for a long time. I see where there are vulnerabilities in the boxing game. Sometimes with these older guys, it’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks, I think the saying is. I think I got an old-school mind to my boxing, but at the same time I’m willing to be open-minded so I can adapt a guy to being vulnerable to kicks or vulnerable to takedowns and that kind of thing.”
This adaptation led Parillo to help BJ Penn, a fighter who for a long time was seen as one of the better boxers in the sport. Parillo credits their success as trainer and fighter, not entirely to their individual skills, but more to the relationship they were able to build and the impact this held on their mental preparation for fights.
“You know, that’s not something I want to toot my own horn on… the reason I connect with a lot of these MMA guys is this psychological part of the game and the motivational part of the game. Me and BJ obviously became close friends. He stopped by my house on his way to Abu Dhabi a few days ago, and he still responds to my motivation. He knows that I understand what it’s like to prepare the mind for a fight. I was a fighter myself, but my career got cut short. I knew that, if you want to make it to the highest level in this game, a lot of it- most of it- is psychology. My coach, Jesse Reid, when I boxed, and who helped me out, was really high on the psychology of the game and the motivation of the game. And my father being a motivational speaker my whole life was a big help; I’d watch him practice for speeches and he talked to me about positive motivation. It’s a blessing that I had both a coach and a father who motivated me positively. It really taught me a lot about myself and just the whole aspect of it psychologically. [So] I understand where [fighters] come from. I understand, this is all I’ve ever done since I was 18 years old, I’ve been paying my bills training and teaching fighters and fighting myself. I don’t step outside the fight game.”
Jason had a particularly strong friendship and connection with BJ Penn, leading to UFC titles in the welterweight and lightweight divisions. Parillo’s job then, in addition to striking coach, became channeling BJ’s mind and motivating him for his fights. Now he reflects on BJ’s mindset and how it made him such a great fighter.
“When I talked to BJ, for example… BJ’s a straight fighter, I mean he’s a killer. I mean he’s an athlete- and all these guys are athletes. But a lot of these guys make it through this game just being athletic; BJ makes it through this game being a bonafide killer. I mean the guy really has a different mindset; he’s an intelligent guy, and we were able to connect because he knew that’s what kept him going was his mind. That’s what keeps him going. BJ’s mind is still so strong, we’re going to see that guy win a title again [laughs]. But he is, he’s going to win a 55 title.”
Of course, BJ Penn’s relationship with Parillo was not without its lows. Jason remembers the second loss to Frankie Edgar as one of the more disappointing moments in his career.
“First of all, I don’t mean to sound like an a**hole, but I truly believe BJ won the first fight. I’d argue that until I’m blue in the face, but that’s neither here nor there. That [second] fight was a very disappointing fight for me. I felt me and BJ didn’t have the same connection in that camp, he actually had another mitt-man in the camp at that time, I don’t think we spent a whole lot of time physically together, we talked here and there. You know, as a coach, I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t step up earlier. Me and BJ became close, you know, a fighter like BJ- all the fights I’m looking at where I was responsible and where I wasn’t responsible… I’ll kind of hone in on [the 2nd Edgar] fight… I was disappointed with myself that I could not draw more out of BJ in that fight. If you watch that fight, in the corner all I really did was swear at him; ‘Come on, kick this f***ing guy’s a**!’ because we didn’t develop a connection through camp. I remember the Sean Sherk fight, I lived with the guy for five months. Every day we’re talking about pumping the jab in the guy’s face, and we’re just kind of visualizing a lot, you know, visualizing together. On that fight, when I see an athlete that I think that I could have done more in camp and stepped up, if I didn’t let the personal side get the best of me, that’s when I go home and I’m really disappointed in myself. That’s when I feel like I have let the athlete down, and the fighter down. If I see any of these guys, when these guys get caught with the punches, with the MMA game, I got to see where we went wrong and we got to go back to the drawing board… I don’t like to hear the negative stuff people say about the fighter, you know, you don’t know what’s going on a lot psychologically with the athlete leading up to the fight. When they’re not right psychologically, that’s when I’m the most heart-broken, where I feel like I’ve the athlete down, the fighter down, when I haven’t been able to be there for them psychologically. You know, if they go in there 100%, their mind is there, and their hunger is there, and they’re ready to fight, and they got caught, we both got to accept it, both me and the fighter. But when they’re not there, me as the coach- because there is a difference between a trainer and a coach- if I haven’t been able to connect with that athlete or fighter psychologically and mentally to where I know they could have won it…”
For Parillo, that connection is not only the most important part of being a coach- it can also be the most difficult. He explains, “You know, it’s developing the relationship. I can’t go out and train with a guy for the first couple weeks and be in his head and develop a relationship with a guy. A lot of it takes a few fights, you know, to develop the relationship and develop the connection so that it can benefit them [not only] physically but mentally. Personality is a big part of this game. You can have the best coaches in the world, you can have… Freddy Roach, the Mayweathers and stuff, I mean- you know, I used to say this to BJ too- you got Freddy Roach and you got Roger Mayweather, these are two great boxing coaches. Would Manny Pacquiao be just as successful with Roger Mayweather? Would Floyd Mayweather Jr. be just as successful with Freddy Roach? I don’t know, I don’t think so. When two personalities connect, you can benefit from each other. Sometimes I do work with fighters, and fighters come and go. They come in, I very rarely have people disagree with my training techniques, but maybe the personalities don’t really connect, and they feel they can gain more in other places… If they want to train with me, I respect them right off the bat because they want to learn from me. If they show me the same respect, and the personalities connect, we can gain some great [things].”
Looking forward, Jason Parillo will be continuing to work with Michael Bisping as the British fighter prepares for his UFC 159 bout with Alan Belcher later this month.
“How do I break it down?” Jason asks about that match up. “I’m hoping it’s going to be a good one. Actually I hope it’s going to be an easy one, but I doubt that. None of these fights seem to be easy. You know, I look at Mike as having the experience. They match up well. Belcher’s obviously a strong guy, his kicks seem like his strongest attribute. His wrestling game doesn’t seem like it’s the strongest wrestling game. I mean it’s funny because I get so many different people’s opinions, and then I watch the guy on tape. You know, he’s a well-rounded guy; I don’t see him on the top threshold in any one area, but he’s definitely a well-rounded guy. I think Mike’s experience and his hunger right now is going to play the big difference in this fight. I think that’s where Belcher is going to find the short end of the stick.”
For Bisping, a fighter who has been on the cusp of a title fight at 185 lbs. for quite some time, Parillo feels motivated to help his fighter realize that goal. Parillo describes this motivation as that ideal connection between fighter and coach, where both feed off the other’s energy and drive.
“Oh, of course. I mean, you’re always hungry as a fighter, and you’re only as good as a fighter. When I got a hungry guy, I do this my whole life, I wake up and go to the gym. I’ll go in and train an everyday Joe-Blow, I’ll train a pre-lim fighter, and I’ll train a top-ten guy in the same day. I’m working as hard as he is. When a guy is like a Michael Bisping- who has been campaigning for the title, who has won and lost and won and lost, and he’s still kind of floating in that area; to see a guy, he’s got three kids, he’s got a family, this is all he lives for, he’s felt the losses, and he’s still pecking away, and is as hungry as he is- it makes me excited, you know, it makes me hungry. This is my livelihood, this is what I do and what I love to do. It’s easy to get motivated for a guy that wants to win that title. Of course that’s what I want to do, I want to help these guys achieve that.”
You can listen to the full interview with Jason Parillo on BJPenn.com Radio here. Be sure to check out the other half of his interview and read how Parillo breaks down the debate between boxing and MMA.