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Lessons from BJ Penn Street Fight

There can be a strange dichotomy in street fights.  On one hand, they can be entirely unpredictable.  On the other, they can be surprisingly predictable. 

Here’s one video of UFC Hall of Famer BJ Penn in a street fight in Hawaii. 

In this video you’ll see him get clipped by a left from an unknown adversary which sends him to the street with the classic arms outstretched posture consistent with knockouts. You’ll see he’s not completely knocked out and is helped up after the knockdown. 


Despite the online discussion on how and why this fight started, the main point I want to make is that this is a “street fight” with mutual combatants.  It’s not an ambush or a surprise attack by a criminal. This is a situation where your MMA training and experience is fully consistent with the scenario.  Penn has faced and drilled this type of combat endlessly during his career. 


We’ve had students who have shared their own street fight experiences with the common thread being “it was just like we drilled”.  When you train for realistic attacks, you find your human adversary can only do so many things.  A punch is a punch.  A headlock is a headlock. This is the area in which it’s not inaccurate to say the fight is predictable, not withstanding other actors getting involved. 


In this video clip, you see:

  • Initial shoving between the adversary and BJ;

  • Adversary throws overhand right as he presses forward;

  • Adversary misses punch and falls forward having overcommitted; 

  • Adversary rises from ground and attempts double-leg takedown, changes to single leg;

  • BJ defends against takedown; adversary lets go of leg, squares up while gripping BJ’s shirt with his right hand for positioning;

  • Adversary possibly changes his hand position to slightly grip BJ’s shirt with his left and throws a right haymaker which strikes BJ around the temple and forehead area;

  • Adversary throws a left which appears to hit BJ around the upper lip and nose area which snaps BJ’s head to his left;

  • BJ falls backwards to the pavement, apparently striking his head on the street.  

Which of these techniques are unknown to you as a trained fighter?  The initial shove? The overhand right? A double-leg takedown?  These are the techniques that you “should” be expecting if you are training. In this sense, the fight is predictable. The adversary is not presenting you with any problems for which you don’t have a solution. 


On the other hand, there are a myriad of factors which make any confrontation unpredictable: 

  • Can we suggest there may be alcohol involved? You will certainly be impaired to some extent.  

  • Your adversary may not necessarily telegraph their full intent or commitment to the fight until after the attack. 

  • Your adversary will not fight “fair”.

  • Your adversary may introduce a weapon into what you thought was a fist fight. 

  • You might be constrained by social mores and fear of legal repercussions. 

  • You might underestimate your adversary. 

  • Your ego might trick you into thinking you must engage. 

  • There are no weight classes in the street. 

  • There are no referees. 

  • You don’t know what your adversary knows. 

  • You will be distracted by other participants, lights, and noise. 

  • You might have friends or partners who try to “hold you back” limiting your ability to move or respond. 

  • There is always the chance a lucky punch can land rendering you unable to respond. 

You’ll see two additional video clips of BJ in street fights in the story above. One is the street fight reputed to be a follow up to the video of the knockdown with the same adversary.   This other street fight video is from a completely different altercation. 


Both of these involve more of grappling situations which offer more predictability than the striking video. 


Check them out and then train hard, train realistically, and stay alert. And, for crying out loud, keep your hands up!


#fight #fistfight #streetfight #bjpenn

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