Sport Science: A Brave Host Puts His Neck on the Line Against BJ Penn

Sam NassarCorrespondent IApril 10, 2017

With the sport of MMA still searching for ways to legitimize itself, ESPN’s Sport Science is a perfect way to achieve success.  “Our mission is to show how incredible these fighters really are, MMA fighters in particular are some of the smartest athletes on the planet” remarked John Brenkus host of Sport Science on ESPN.  

John explained to us “The purpose of Sport Science is to put the best athletes to the ultimate test and to really look at the sport through the lens of science.”  Many MMA stars have participated on Sport Science as a way to legitimize MMA fighters as true athletes as well as to gauge their own personal performance.  Some notable names that have participated are: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Houston Alexander, Brandon Vera, Frank Mir, Bas Rutten, Fedor Emelianenko and now BJ Penn.  

Each episode is tailor made to each MMA fighters strengths in their fighting style.  “Rampage” Jackson was measured for his devastating punching power, Fedor for his crushing chokes, and Houston Alexander for his adrenaline rage before his bouts.  Sport Science spares no expense with regards to technology used to gauge the fighter’s performances. 


“We have every piece of technology that you could possibly think of.”  Motion capture censors and any other device to gauge performance is used by John’s team in order to gather the most accurate data possible.

When asked if he has ever received shocking results John answered “every episode of Sport Science is shocking, it’s really interesting to see how incredible elite athletes really are.”  John deserves a badge of honor due to the fact that he often puts himself on the chopping block in the name of science.  “I like to put myself in the line of fire so that people at home on the couch ,who like to scream at the TV and say, "why aren’t you able to get out of that chokehold?" Well here’s why.”  

John has been choked out by the dominant Fedor Emelianenko as well as top lightweight BJ Penn.  When asked what these experiences were like he remarked “I honestly remember so little I felt pressure on my neck and the next second I was talking I remembered nothing in between.” 

Brenkus is not a fighter or a professional athlete himself, so why would anyone want to become a human crash test dummy?  “I’m definitely representative of the average guy, I fit the mold for the average athlete, and it’s a matter of being willing to put yourself in the line of fire there’s nobody better than the host and creator of the show.”

Both Fedor and BJ put John in the infamous rear-naked choke.  When asked the difference between the two fighters chokes he replied “With BJ he held it a lot longer and we had a lot more technology on me, the readings we got in the BJ segment were much more in depth then with Fedor.”  When John was retelling the events of being choked by both champions he noted “Having both of their arms around my neck I would want neither guy to have their arm around my neck ever again.”  

Hosting Sport Science does not happen without a few perks involved.  John made fan-boys fantasies come true by being choked by the ever popular female fighter Gina Carano.  When asked what being choked by Gina was like he answered “It was completely different, it smelled much better, it felt much better and I didn’t mind the experiment that day, there were a lot of hands going up in the lab that day to volunteer.”

Each episode of Sport Science begins with a question and the upcoming BJ episode is no different.  “What we’re really trying to answer is exactly what happens moment by moment when you get choked out.”  This episode marks the most amount of technology used to measure a choke out.  “We’re able to tell you exactly when your memory stops recording, what’s happening in your brain, in your heart, with your repertory rate what happens with muscle activity every step of the way second by second.”

“The sport of MMA is really made for Sport Science because it’s so complex.”  In order to educate fans who may not understand the intricate details of the game, Sport Science can really help to illuminate them.

BJ Penn’s episode will air tonight May 20, 2010 on ESPN 2 at 10pm Pacific time during MMA Live.  We look forward to seeing the anatomy of the art of MMA broken down so we can see the really power and persistence behind our favorite kicks, punches and chokes.

Contact John at