Keenan Cornelius Sounds Off: 10 Bombshells from Our Mega Interview


There was a lot to unpack from out 1hr 45min interview with Keenan Cornelius. Here are 10 explosive takeaways where he drops the bomb. 

1. No one is bigger than Keenan Cornelius 

Keenan is due to face Unity bruiser Aaron “Tex’ Johnson in a gi superfight on Third Coast Grappling on Saturday, January 12, which will be live streamed on FloGrappling. 

Discussing the match Will remarked to Keenan, “He’s a bit bigger than you?” To which he joked, “No one is bigger than me.” 

Cornelius expects Tex to come out hard. “Both time I fought him he comes out super aggressive and tries to overwhelm me with intensity. But I’m pretty good at absorbing the impact and weathering the early storm before I get to my game.” 

2. Nobody told Keenan about Abu Dhabi 

“I really missed that whole boat, the whole ranking system for Abu Dhabi (UAEJJF). I just wasn’t even aware it existed. I would have done all those tournaments, but no one told me. 

“Those guys were keeping it secret because they know the other good fighters won’t come and take a shot at the rankings system.”  

3. He’s going to do ADCC 

“That’s the big one. There are a lot of IBJJF World Champions that no one really cares or knows about, but if you’re an ADCC champion, in the grappling community that’s a really valuable accolade.”  

4. No-Gi is “imploding” and “less technical” 

Keenan is of the opinion that there are less technical options in no-gi, and that no-gi is less technical overall. Before you disagree, he reminds you: “I have more accolades in no-gi than gi, I’ve been in it for a while.” 

He believes that it’s imploding because the leg lock game has killed guard passing. “The game is becoming more dense, it’s smaller around leg locks and takedowns.” 

5. Keenan wants to work with MMA fighters, but... 

Keenan actually began training no-gi and MMA many years ago, even joining BJ Penn’s gym in Hawaii. He put his MMA plans on hold while training at Lloyd Irvin’s gym because he was worried about head trauma, but says he still gets messages from MMA fighters inviting him to come train. 

“I’ve turned them down because I want four on my own training,” he says. “But if I were to do that, I think it would be fun to do MMA-style training with punches, but I just want to punch them.”  

6. Keenan can’t wait for Gordon Ryan to fight MMA…. So he can see him get KO’d

Keenan and Gordon are kind of buddies, but have fought twice no-gi with Gordon holding two submissions wins over Keenan. They’ve hung out and trained together, so there’s no beef there… but Keenan’s “evil side” is hoping that Gordon’s MMA plans lead to him getting messed up. 

“I can’t wait to see Gordon Ryan to fight MMA, because he’s going to get knocked out eventually, and it’s going to be so satisfying,” he says. 

“All of the jiu-jitsu guys who go to MMA, eventually they’re going to get knocked out one day and it’s going to be funny to watch. But I say that because I know I’m not going to do MMA because I’d get knocked out too!” 

It’s nothing personal against Gordon (or is it?) but Keenan makes a good point in that’s it’s just a case of looking at the numbers. “It’s just the brutal reality of MMA. On a long enough timeline of fighting MMA, some one is going to catch you with something. You’re going to get knocked out in front of all your friends and family.” 

7. He got the “gubber guard” from Shane Jamil Hill-Taylor

Before Keenan joined Atos he trained at Team Lloyd Irvin, and it was there that a young green belt (who would later go on to become a black belt World champion) showed him the gi version of the rubber guard: the “gubber guard”. 

“He showed me the position, I sort of systemized it and added some submissions,” says Keenan. “He was like 14, a green belt.”  

8. The worm guard wasn’t always called the worm guard

In fact, it used to be called the “marionette guard”, because Keenan felt he was playing people like a puppet on a string. Thankfully, Keenan realized it was a stupid name. 

The development of the lapel tricks dates back to when Keenan was a purple belt in 2011 and 2012. He started using it to survive rolling with JT Torres, but it wasn’t until he moved to Atos in 2013 that he started having success with it. 

Keenan kept the lapel stuff secret until he was a black belt, and it was Andre Galvao who actually christened it the worm guard. 

9. Keenan lost to AJ Agazarm… in chess 

While discussing the concept of tempo in a jiu-jitsu match (meaning who controls the tempo of a bout), Keenan said he got the term from chess. He’s not a chess player though – he tried to get into it, but he lost to AJ Agazarm and immediately quit: “I’m never doing chess again.” 

10. He’s not a “fantastic competitor” but he is extremely self-aware 

It’s pretty shocking to hear a world class black belt say this, but Keenan said: “Sometimes my mindset can be kind of weak. Sometimes I feel I don’t train as hard as a should.” 

BUT one thing he recognizes as a strength is that he is good as finding new positions in jiu-jitsu. “They come to me in training. I don’t sit at home analyzing a problem, I’m just training and I’m like ‘maybe I can do this’.” 

Watch the full podcast here


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