Wednesday night, BJPenn.com Radio was able to talk with famed MMA striking coach, Jason Parillo. Parillo is perhaps best known for his long working relationship and friendship with UFC Hall of Famer, BJ Penn, though he has worked with some of the sport’s top athletes including Tito Ortiz, Jose Aldo, Vitor Belfort and Michael Bisping. In this episode of BJPenn.com Radio, Parillo took some time to discuss the tension between boxing and MMA that has existed for some time now.
Being a boxer himself, Parillo made the transition to coaching after his fighting career ended. Having trained under Hall of Fame trainer Jesse Reid, who trained the likes of Roger Mayweather and Hector Camacho, Parillo to train his own fighters, eventually transitioning to mixed martial arts, where he has since forged an exceptional career as corner man and coach.
Given his unique perspective, it is always interesting to hear what Parillo has to say about the boxing-MMA debate. Many in boxing assert that MMA fighters don’t understand punching to the same degree as boxers; and many MMA fighters and fans argue that boxers could not survive in the Octagon (see James Toney). For Parillo, however, the tension comes from either side’s unwillingness to understand the other sport.
In the case of MMA fighters not studying pure boxing, Parillo says, “Well I don’t think they’re willing to do it. I mean, my number one thing is you can tell a guy that’s green with his hands, or his feet even, or just his movement on his feet. They’re green, they’re not willing to put in the work. They want to do a few things to get them in the position they want to be, they’re not willing to listen to somebody, maybe, at the end of the day and strap on some headgear and gloves and just focus on their game on the feet. A lot of skills are developed working with a coach, working on your fundamentals and your body mechanics, but you got to get in that fire line and focus on just straight stand-up. If you want to improve your boxing, you got to box. If you want to improve your wrestling, you got to wrestle. If you want to improve your jiu jitsu, you got to work on jiu jitsu.”
On the other side of the debate, we have a few pure boxing coaches beginning to enter the training regimens of MMA’s top athletes. Trainers like Floyd Mayweather Sr., Jeff Mayweather and Freddy Roach have all begun working with top-level MMA athletes. While they genuinely help the fighters, these trainers are boxing coaches rather than MMA coaches. For Parillo, this is a reciprocation of stubbornness.
“The way I look at it,” says Parillo, “it’s not that they don’t get the game, I mean they’re not willing to learn the game. There’s a lot of stubbornness in boxing; I mean boxing is a tough deal, man. I think the way they’re watching MMA explode around them, and money getting generated in a different fight game, I think they get rubbed the wrong way. It’s almost like, rather than embracing it and understanding it and be willing to adapt their boxing game to helping these MMA guys out, they can differ from it. But really, it’s stubbornness. Old-school boxing guys are stubborn. They think if you want to go roll around on the ground, you’re not fighting. They think if you’re going to kick, you’re not fighting. There’s a different mentality to it, you know, because they haven’t done it… Just like the boxing guys, they’re not willing to go and understand it; understand that there’s kicks involved, there’s knees involved, there’s elbows involved, there’s takedowns involved. When you’re a boxer, you just feel like you can go get anybody out of there with your hands, so you’re not thinking about anything else. It’s almost like a pure jiu jitsu person. You got pure jiu jitsu guys who are like, ‘I ain’t going to learn to punch someone in the face, why would I? I don’t need to.’ So boxing coaches, like Freddy Roach and stuff- Freddy Roach has already made his millions of bucks, so he’s not thinking about [beginning] MMA. I’m sure he messes around with it, you know, takes some money from Arlovski and coaches him for a bit. Probably, him being a pure coach, he has the same mentality as me: if you want to come learn from him, he’s going to teach you. But as far as him stepping outside and thinking outside of boxing, I think there’s going to be more stubbornness as far as him willing to do that.”
Of course, despite the differences between boxing and MMA, they are both combat sports; and fans of either side always wonder if a fighter’s skills would transition well in the other sport. MMA has already welcomed a top-level boxer in James Toney, and he unsurprisingly lost to Randy Couture via takedown and submission. For Parillo, he thinks that fighters can make the transition between sports, it’s just a matter of willingness to learn.
“If you were to ask me which boxer would do unbelievably in MMA,” Jason explained, “James Toney would be the last on my list. His style, he was a pure boxer, I mean he’s not going to make it in MMA. With his posture and his stance, he’s going to be put on his back all day. I know your question was, have I seen MMA fighters that could find success in the game of boxing? Sure I have. Of course… I would say BJ [Penn]. I would tell BJ that back in the day. BJ is a guy, being a fighter, when a guy’s a fighter it makes it easier. He’s got to have some rawness to him, he’s got to be able to take a punch, he’s going to have to have that mental toughness to grind it out, because there’s no way of bailing out of a boxing match except getting punched out. Guys like BJ, Vitor Belfort who I’ve worked with on and off over the last ten years- I mean there’s a guy that could have made some noise in boxing. You know, Michael Bisping, he definitely has more of the European style, but there’s a guy that any fight game that he wanted to be involved with, he would definitely find success in it. What guy can get to the top echelon, the top of the game, the top of the food chain in boxing, that’s hard to say. I can’t say that. It’s how much they want it, and how much they’re willing to put themselves in there and develop themselves to get to that level.”
Any talk about boxing in MMA will undoubtedly turn to the Diaz brothers. While unsuccessful in their last few fights, the brothers from Stockton brought a distinctly different approach to the stand-up game to mixed martial arts. They box their opponents, going for a barrage of punches rather than one big shot. Parillo explains their style as one built on time in the boxing gym and the confidence that comes with it.
“Well, it’s just a tough style. It would just be a tough style for boxing. I understand what the boxing purists say about his style. He’s not a real heavy-handed guy, he’s more of a guy that’s going to break you down. You know, but his style for MMA is wonderful for a boxer to watch because a guy like Nick Diaz has put in the work, the boxing work… done nothing but pure boxing. He steps up into that pocket, he’s willing to step up into the pocket, and he knows these guys are going to jump out of the pocket. So that’s why he can creep up and talk his s***, maybe because he knows he’s been to that fire-line for many years, you know, many hours, many minutes. He knows. You can feel a green guy. When you’re a fighter, you can feel a guy and if he’s timid to step into that pocket and timid to exchange hands with you- you can feel that when you put the work in over the years. He knows that, and with his length and his frame- he’s got a great frame for the fight game if you know how to use it- and he’s developed a great style and knows how to use it well and keep guys at the end of his punch and do real well with it.”
Looking back on his introduction to mixed martial arts, Parillo reflects on his hesitance toward the sport. After seeing the dedication and hard work of some of top athletes some years ago, however, he began to see that these guys are, at their cores, fighters.
“Even as a boxer,” Parillo explains, “and I’m going to run on here for a second, back in the day it was hard for me to respect MMA, you know what I’m saying? I had my boys around it, and the reflex of it, the development of the game- it was hard for me to look at it and have a tremendous amount of respect for it. It wasn’t until a handful of years later, I went with my old boxing coach to help Tito [Ortiz] out for one of his earlier fights back in the day, and I saw the way the camp was going. I just saw the amount of work that was going on and all the different sparring partners and just the make up of the camp, and I had been involved in a handful of world title boxing fight camps. I was like, ‘Wow, this is actually developing into something.’ Then over the course of time, I had watched the way these guys trained, the work and the way they’re sparring, the way they’re putting in the work. I realized there’s actually something to this shit. Then I went off to BJ’s camp, I got involved with a few fights before we fought for the title. I found out that these guys were doing work, these guys are doing something. With that being said, a fighter’s a fighter… he’s got the raw tools to do something with it… that ability and inside hunger it takes to be a fighter.”
Whether it be in a boxing ring or a cage, Parillo explains, grit, tenacity and a fighter’s spirit will lead to greatness.
Be sure to check out the entire interview with Jason Parillo on BJPenn.com Radio here. You can also read the other half of the interview where Parillo discusses his work with BJ Penn and Michael Bisping.