This is the eighth in my series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities. I am honored to present the legendary MMA fighter, coach, broadcaster, and actor, Bas Rutten. As busy as he is, Bas couldn’t have been more accommodating with participating in this interview. Although my first experience with Bas was listening to his commentary for Pride FC years ago, I came to appreciate his historic fighting career as well as his boundless enthusiasm on both the small screen and the big screen. Please enjoy our conversation below.
Jack Brown: Your early years seemed quite extraordinary. Who and/or what helped keep you on the path to advancing in the martial arts when you were young?
Bas Rutten: I started MMA at the age of 28, so it was late, but I am an "all the way in or all the way out" kind of guy. For me, it is black or white and what I say I’m going to do, I do. I find it disturbing when people don't give it their all. Why even bother trying when you don't do it 100%? Also, I am really good at “talking to myself.” When I told myself I was going to do, for example, twelve rounds on the heavy bag, and I could only do ten because I was tired, I literally couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I would be ashamed of myself because I let myself down. That “curse” helped me A LOT, crushed me at times, but 95% of the time, it would help me. Early on, I heard the best line ever, from Henry Ford, I believe. “How do you want to be remembered?” I think if you really listen to that, you will do your very best and not step on other people in order to get to the top. I want to be remembered as a great martial artist, but also as a great role model who made people laugh. I think it’s all about what you do with your success.
As far as “advancing,” I didn’t have training partners for the ground for my first year and a half or so. I went to Amsterdam only twice a month because it was a long way from where I lived, but that was it. After my last loss against Ken Shamrock, I became more “vocal.” Everywhere I went, I asked if somebody wanted to train with me. I found this one guy, Leon van Dijk, within days of asking. He was 19-years-old and a freak. He would do biceps curls with 200lbs or more, no kidding. When I would straight armbar him, he could actually make a curl. So I really needed to use technique and strength there! We just started watching fights and moves, wrote them down, and tried them out during sparring. When I would submit Leon like four times, he would know the defense, and that would force me to create a different setup. Then he would know that one after another four times or so, and then I’d create another one. Once I started mixing those three up, one would eventually catch him. We did this with EVERY move. We broke everything down and asked how we could make it better. How can you escape? How can I stop you from escaping? What if I find a counter to your escape? How do I prevent myself from even getting into this position? After an escape, we would create a counterattack right away. I would do that after every escape and reversal, because that is the moment the opponent thinks “What the heck?” And while he is thinking “WTH?” in that short time I could counterattack. We trained two, or even three, times a day, EVERY day. My whole house was full of Post-its with techniques and counters. I was getting NUTS from it, and LOVED it, 24/7. I woke up my wife at least six times because I would dream a submission. I would put her in it, ask if it would hurt “here or there,” write it down, and use it the next day in training. I’m not kidding.
After I lost against Ken, I never lost again. I actually won my next eight fights by submission (one was a decision, but I controlled him with my submission game). In the end, I won more fights by sub then by KO (12KO’s, 14Subs, 3DEC). The “icing on the cake” came when BJ Penn called me. This was at a time when I didn’t know him personally yet. He said, “It’s BJ.” I asked, “BJ Penn?” “Yup,” he said. I asked why he called me, and he said he was watching my instructional DVDs, the “Big DVDs of Combat.” I asked, “So?” He said, “It’s the best instructional I have ever seen.” That was cool, and a true story!
JB: You had a long career in Pancrase before you ever stepped into the Octagon. Which do you feel was the most "satisfying" of your 25 victories in Pancrase?
BR: The rematch against Funaki. He beat me the first time with a toe hold. I didn’t even know what it was, Haha. So when they gave him to me as my last fight on the contract, thinking he would be beat me again and that would save them money in the renegotiations, I wanted to prove them wrong. And they were wrong, Haha. Many people consider that my best fight, but also a great fight for Funaki too because he had tremendous heart. I knocked him down four times before the final knee to the head dropped him hard and he stayed down. My hands and knees were dark blue from hitting him, and he broke his cheekbones and nose, but hadn’t stopped fighting.
JB: How do you compare your UFC heavyweight championship at UFC 20 to the other accomplishments in your fighting career?
BR: It was great, of course, because everybody knows the UFC, and many do not know Pancrase. But the controversy with the decision in that fight wasn’t so great. I only had three decisions in my career. I like to finish fights, but I didn’t finish that one. Plus, I looked like a mess from the first four minutes that Kevin beat me up. After that, I took over the fight. Kevin and I are great friends now, my kids love him and his family, and we even went to their wedding.
JB: There were seven years in between your last two fights. How would you characterize that period of time in your life?
BR: Stupid. I liked to party a little bit too much. I had so many injuries that I couldn’t really train and had to work so hard to provide for my family. I missed many birthdays, Holidays, even the birth of our youngest daughter. I was away a lot. The final fight really helped me. I took that not only for the money, but also to put my life back on track. It forced me to stop drinking and being crazy. After the fight, six months later, I actually stopped drinking completely for four years. After that, I resumed, but I have never been drunk again. I finally found the word “moderation,” Haha. And let me tell you, when I stopped drinking, about six to eight months later, I could not stop the work people threw at me. Although I never messed anything up while drinking (NEVER drunk on the job, only late at night), I realized that I had been a “liability.” People would hire me for an event, and if I got in trouble the night before, they wouldn’t have a commentator. So I am extremely happy I stopped. I always say that I should have done that ten years earlier, but hey, what’s done is done. This is a new life, and I learned from it and have already helped many others, using my experiences to help them stop drinking.
JB: You retired on an unbeaten streak of 22 straight fights. Were there times that you regretted retiring when you did?
BR: No, because training wasn’t fun anymore. I had no cartilage on both my kneecaps, and tendonitis in both arms that would come back every time before a fight. In the past, it would show up every four fights or so. But the last four fights were very hard on me. It was the most painful thing you could imagine. I could train about forty-five minutes before it hit, and then I would be in intense pain for about an hour or more, every training, ten times a week. If this started four weeks out from an event, I would have this for four weeks straight, and lose weight from the pain because it ruined my appetite. But every time when I would see guys training it would drive me nuts, because I used to LOVE training. I would LOVE to get tired. I taught myself to love it (that’s why I never ran out of gas), and I missed that a lot!
JB: In addition to your status as a legendary fighter, you have also coached many great fighters. Who are just a few of the fighters that you have enjoyed coaching and what was rewarding about those experiences?BR:
· Genki Sudo – I started his whole career. He came to the U.S. as soon as he found out I was here, was with me for three years, and was my training partner as well. I put him in his first fights in Pancrase, and the rest was history.
· Mark Kerr – I trained him almost right from the start. I think he had three or four fights before he came to me, but during his whole Pride career, I trained him.
· Carlos Newton – I met him in Japan, interviewed him, and he attacked me for fun. I rolled him in a knee bar and told him to “watch out for Sakuraba. He is good at knee bars.” And then Sakuraba beat him with one. The next week he stayed with us for a long time - great guy, lived at the gym.
· Duane Ludwig – I met him in Colorado, when he was very young, at one of my events, “The Bas Rutten Invitational.” We clicked right away and became great friends.
· Kimbo Slice – He was with me before his first fight, and I had a lot of fun with him!
· Shawn Tompkins – I met him at a seminar in Canada. He asked me if he could train with me, and I said “Sure,” not knowing that he meant the next week, Haha. He slept at the gym and was with me for a long time. He didn’t use the training for fighting, but for teaching, and he became one of the best striking coaches on the planet.
· Omar Bouiche – He was from Sweden. He also fought, and is a really great teacher, one of the top guys in Europe.
And then I trained a lot of guys who just walked in for a few days, like Tim Sylvia, Gegard Mousasi, other Dutch fighters, etc. I would go to Oregon to help out Randy Couture for a fight and would stay there ten days, things like that. Is it rewarding? It is when they actually do what you taught them and win that way. That’s almost like you did it yourself, very rewarding!
JB: You were an iconic voice as color commentator for Pride FC. What were a few of your favorite Pride fights and why?
BR: It’s so hard to say. How about every Fedor, Wanderlei, Sakuraba, and Cro Cop fight, Haha? And, of course, there were way more guys. It was cool to see Coleman win the 2000 tournament as well. Everybody thought he was “over the hill,” but boy did he prove them wrong.
JB: You, along with Kenny Rice, have had the most successful MMA show on television since 2007 with Inside MMA. What have you enjoyed most about the experience of doing the show?
BR: It’s been working with Kenny and Ron Kruck, and then all the guys behind the curtains are all really great guys. We NEVER have words EVER. Everybody gets along. When we do the show, we bowl together, watch movies, and have dinner. It’s like family! I also love to meet all the new fighters, the upcoming fighters, and sometimes the old fighters of my generation. It’s a great show to do to stay in contact with everybody.
JB: You were larger than life in "Here Comes the Boom." What were the highlights of having a significant role in a major movie?
BR: It was one big highlight! Kevin and I have been friends for fifteen years. He is very busy, and so am I, so this was the perfect “excuse” to be with each other for ten weeks straight. We all watched “American Idol” together every week, and we had a lot of fun. Meeting “The Fonz,” are you kidding? Henry is the best, and Salma Hayek was just “one of the guys” - very funny, constantly looking for new fighting combinations. The whole cast, Charice Pempengco - that voice was crazy good, Mark Dellagrotte, and Kevin’s brother, Gary, I really believe that everybody was great in it. We all worked really well together and it shows.
JB: Last question, Bas, and it has been an honor. You still have many years ahead of you. What plans or goals do you have at this time?
BR: Hopefully more people will find out what my “o2trainer” can really do for them. They should please check out www.o2trainer.com. All the results and testimonials are real. People with asthma who use an inhaler won’t have to use it anymore after only a few times training (Or 90% less), athletes will feel stronger and go harder, and singers’ voices will be more powerful. It’s really good for everybody.
And of course I’d like to do more movies. I have had very good reviews from even the biggest critics. So hopefully that will help to get me in more movies. Only time will tell. William Morris Endeavor saw the movie and called my management asking if they could represent me. I thought that was pretty cool. That’s why I mention it in my interviews, Haha.
Plus, it’s the “Year of the Snake” and that’s my year. Let’s hope it’s going be a great one!
Godspeed and party on!
Thanks so much for reading and please follow @BasRuttenMMA and @jackjohnbrown on Twitter.