Jason Parillo: ‘Never in a million years’ would I have developed B.J. Penn’s new upright striking style

USA TODAY Sports

B.J. Penn ended up debuting more than a new trimmer frame for his retirement fight against Frankie Edgar at Sunday's night The Ultimate Fighter 19 Finale. The 35-year-old legend also attempted to showcase a new, somewhat bizarre stand-up style to largely unsuccessful results, as Penn's upright stance failed to provide him any offensive benefits and left him wide open for all three of Edgar's takedown attempts.

In the time since Penn's loss, the lion's share of the criticism in regards to his disastrous game plan has been levied towards his corner, which was headed by his longtime coach Jason Parillo. However, speaking on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour, Parillo revealed that he was just as unhappy with Penn's experiment as the horde of confused viewers were watching at home.

"I would never in a million years develop that new style," Parillo said. "Never in a million years.

"I got called a week before the fight to work his corner for the fight, so I, myself, hadn't spent time in camp at all with B.J. ... I answered yes automatically because he's my friend. So I didn't know. They explained to me kind of the gameplan the week of the fight, and I was actually rooming with his boxing coach the whole week, so I was listening to him, talking to him about what they were doing. At that point, it's not my position to make any adjustments, like, ‘no, no, no, let's do this, let's do that,' because it's too late for that. It's too late. He's been doing this s--t for two years. What, am I going to come in the week of the fight and change a whole gameplan? Change a whole style around? That's not going to happen, nor does B.J. want me to make that happen. He doesn't want that to happen, he wants to go in there with want they have planned."

Parillo, who led Penn's team when the Hawaiian was running roughshod over the UFC lightweight division from 2007 to 2009, said that he first noticed and voiced displeasure with Penn's new upright striking style during the filming of The Ultimate Fighter 19, but never got an invitation to adjust it, in part because Penn was confident in the style and didn't want to invite stress on the pair's friendship by bringing Parillo into his training camp when the two were in direct disagreement over the idea.

Still, Parillo agreed to corner Penn, and he says it was "agonizing" to watch what ensued, as Edgar methodically dismantled Penn for three rounds before finishing him under a somber hailstorm of grounded strikes.

"Everybody and their mother is calling me up going, what the f--k?" Parillo said. "They're going, what the f--k, Jay? What is that? And I'm like, I don't know. If you can see it (not working) on TV, I can imagine how the audience is seeing it. But you know, that's B.J. B.J. gets something set in his head and he likes it, and apparently it was working for him in the gym, so he wanted to go from there.

"I wanted him bending his knees. It's called sitting down on your punch in boxing, and that way you can use your legs to help with your head movement, help with your footwork, help with all this stuff. He just says he doesn't like that style anymore because it made him too tired. So at the end of the day, what can I do? He's my friend and I've got to support him. I always have and I always will."

The bout marked Penn's first and only appearance at featherweight, as afterward an emotional Penn announced his absolute retirement from mixed martial arts. Yet unlike Penn's first two battles with Edgar, this time around the Hawaiian was a significant betting underdog, having sat on the shelf for two years and winning just once in his previous six tries.

Parillo noted that while Penn "felt a little depleted" at 145 pounds, simply because he lost doesn't automatically mean that the lower weight class was a bad idea. Rather, it was the way in which the match-up was billed from the start that led to such a dismal result.

"In hindsight, let me tell you this," Parillo said. "I come from the game of boxing, okay? Any fighter, any great ex-champion that decides to retire and then wants to make a comeback, two years later they want to make a comeback, their management, their promoters, whoever it is... usually if you're a manager, your main job you do is to shake the rust off this kid. You don't put him in there with the No. 2 guy in the world. I don't know any ex-champion fighters who, once they come back, come to a weight class that they've never fought before, and their first time shaking off the rust after two years, you go fight the No. 2 guy in the world. It doesn't make sense.

"145? I don't know, that could be an okay weight class. I mean, if he feels like he knows how to rehydrate properly afterwards and we fight a guy whose a top-20 guy even; a guy who, we'll see where you're at, B.J. Not the guy who is still campaigning to fight for the title again and people are considering him No. 2, No. 3 in the world. In any fight game, that's a tough move to make right off the get-go."

But ultimately that's just B.J. Penn, isn't it? If you're going to make a comeback, why not shot right for the top, even if the guy you're fighting has already beaten you twice?

It's part of the reason the lore behind Penn is so celebrated, yet it's also part of the reason many feel Penn ultimately underachieved throughout his career; that if he would've stuck to one weight class and one organization, he could've been one of the greatest fighters of all-time.

"That goes back to how a fighter is handled," Parillo said. "It's always going to go back to that. You've still got to protect your guy, but B.J. steers his own ship most of the time. B.J., it's hard, he's not a guy who really... he likes that challenge. Who's the best? F--k, I want to fight that guy. ‘Who's the best? Oh, Cain Velasquez? I want to fight him.' He's 230 pounds, B.J. ‘I know! F--k him! I'll kick his f--king ass!' That's part of why everybody f--king loves him, let's be honest. But yes, I do believe he could've had a way better stretch.

"But that's neither here nor there. That's the way it went. He decided to go from Diego (Sanchez) to Frankie, and after two losses to Frankie, I think he decided f--k this, I'm going to go back to 170. It's hard to get in that kid's head, he's so unpredictable."

Regardless of his melancholy swan song, Penn still exits the sport with his legacy intact. He's one of the pioneers of the lighter divisions, one of the first true stars under 170 pounds, and one of the men who most embodied the word "fighter" who ever laced up a pair of four-ounce gloves. Penn always had a knack for attempting -- and occasionally pulling off -- the unbelievable, even if it sometimes drove Parillo crazy.

So when asked for his favorite Penn memory, Parillo's reply was telling: "All of them.

"The Sean Sherk fight was really (the best). When he beat Sean Sherk, I was developing him through Jens Pulver and Joe Stevenson, when he won his title, and we really settled in with the development we made together for the Sean Sherk fight. And he boxed Sean Sherk's ears off. He pimped him. He went out there and made him miss, pumped that jab, broke him down and took him out. It was poetic.

"I went back all by myself to the back locker room and just... was proud. I remember I spent a second by myself, said this is what we've been doing, this is what we've been getting ready for.

"And then all of a sudden I get slapped with... F--k, we're fighting GSP. Damn it."

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