Part II of MMA Philippines’ Exclusive Interview with 6th Dan Judoka and BJJ Black Belt John Baylon
I was a nervous wreck this particular Saturday afternoon. I had done interviews before, but this was different: John Baylon is arguably the greatest Filipino judoka ever. Already in his 50’s, physically he still looks like the man who dominated judo over 20 years ago.
Walking with him around the premises of that afternoon’s Pan Asians, people – some his students, more competitors from other schools – kept bowing and greeting him. Obviously, the reputation of this simple, quiet man preceded him. But it is his attitude that makes him relatable, respectable, remarkable.
We started our conversation with the 1991 SEA Games in Manila. Sensei John considers it his most memorable triumph. “I’ll always remember the four fights I won which lasted less than 93 seconds each, and what made it even sweeter was the fact that it was in front of Filipino fans who always cheered for me.” This would be the first of nine gold medals won by Baylon in the biennial meet – a SEA Games record for an individual athlete.
We proceeded to conversing about Sensei John’s decision to pursue BJJ after judo in 2002. He received his black belt six years later in 2008 under Toshiyuki Wado, who got his black belt from two-time ADCC Champion Leonardo Vieira.”I really preferred grappling ever since because size gets nullified on the ground when having to deal with a quicker, faster opponent. So transitioning to BJJ was a natural one after judo, and I just love the aspect of grappling and the concept of self-improvement. Even in my early days as a judoka, I favored the grappling aspect of it because I knew I had an advantage.”
Of course, the talk gravitated towards MMA and how a judoka can compete in it.”If you have a judo background, it’s easier to take your opponent down without having to shoot, which opens you up to a knee, kick, or punch, and end up getting KO’d,” Sensei John spoke of judo’s key advantage in MMA. “But you still have to train in all aspects of the fight and not be one-dimensional. It’s one thing to get close and lock arms to execute throws. But before doing that you have to utilize strikes to get inside your opponent’s range, which is easier said than done. Look at what happened to Rousey vs. Nunes. Ronda could not adjust when Amanda kept her distance and relied on her striking. Same with wrestlers who have a tendency to go back to their instincts without any defense.
“In MMA, you have to train in every aspect of the fight so you don’t get caught. If you’re a striker, then you need to work on defending submissions and takedowns even if you’re not proficient at it, because there’s always somebody better. Same thing if you’re a grappler, you need to practice your striking so your opponent does not always wait to hit you on the counter when you shoot or come close to initiate a takedown. The sport has evolved so much to the point where an MMA fighter needs all the tools to compete and win in a fight. Training and repetition are important especially when it comes to improving on the skills you lack.”
He got very excited talking about Clube de Jiu-Jitsu. “We moved to Libertad in Pasay in 2012 and slowly but surely our students have increased. That is where patience gets you to improve yourself as a teacher because you will get different people with different backgrounds and skill levels,” Sensei John reflects on his experiences in coaching. “I’ve had types of students ranging from zero knowledge to people who can perform a berimbolo or a gogoplata because of what they have watched on YouTube, although the technique is not that smooth and that is expected, so I’ve had to treat each student differently based on what their capacity is physically and mentally. We never force our students to compete in tournaments, but we encourage them to do so because competing is part of the learning process and gives something normal training cannot give.