An Interview with MMA Legend, Bas Rutten
Bas Rutten might just be the ultimate T-man. This 6'1", 220-pounder is a former Ultimate Fighting Champion and three time King of Pancrase. According to a Belgian physician, his Testosterone levels are higher than two normal men put together, which may explain how he used to so easily relieve bouncers of their AK-47s in the Ukraine.
Rutten is a pioneer in Mixed Martial Arts. Some say he did for MMA what Arnold did for bodybuilding – bringing a charismatic and approachable face to a sometimes controversial sport, a sport often perceived as a seamy subculture and associated with barroom brawlers like UFC bad boy, Tank Abbott. Rutten (also known as "El Guapo") is most visible these days as PRIDE's color man and has appeared on TV shows such as Martial Law.
I hooked up with Bas while he and other experts were giving their "Complete Combat Seminar" at the Self Defense Institute in Fremont, California. A couple of weeks later we sat down in his hotel room in Tokyo to talk about his career and his current projects. Here's how it all went down.
Testosterone Nation: Many of T-Nation's readers may not be familiar with your background, so could you tell us how you first got involved in Mixed Martial Arts?
Bas Rutten: I used to be a Thai Boxer. I won 14 fights by knockout, 13 in the first round and one in the second. Then I fought a guy that I should've never fought, because I didn't know him.
It was New Year's Eve, I was working as a bouncer, and I was kind of drunk when the promoters asked me to fight this guy in February. This guy was just released from prison! His name was Frank Lobman, and he had a record of 59 wins and 52 knockouts, a real bad ass. But I hadn't trained for two years because I was bouncing and partying a lot.
So the promoters called again in the beginning of February and said the fight was February twelfth. And they said, "Okay Bas, so are you going to be ready? Everything is in shape." They'd made posters and everything. "What are you talking about? What about Frank Lobman? When did I tell you I was going to fight him?" I said. I hadn't remembered agreeing to the fight! Oh crap!
T-Nation: So did you end up fighting him?
BR: Yeah, they had put up the posters so I couldn't go back. I started training but I couldn't even do the rope skipping. So anyway, I should have never fought that fight, but they put me on the poster so I said, "Let's do it." I lost.
Then I fought another guy who bit me on the ear and wouldn't let go. I kneed him in the groin and then this whole riot started, and that was kind of the finishing of my career. I thought, fuck it. I didn't want to fight for the stupid people anymore. They said, "You see, he can't fight." I won 14 fights by knockout, but I "couldn't fight."
T-Nation: This was all in Holland?
BR: All in Holland. I still loved the martial arts, so we started doing martial arts shows. We started doing them in discos, in bars, and to music. We'd beat the shit out of each other with sticks, nunchakus, weapons... we had a whole show.
Then I realized if we added comedy to it, people would really start loving it. People started inviting us to shows, big karate tournaments, and during the break they'd put us in the ring and we'd do our shit. Everyone started laughing, we'd make fun of the Tae Kwon Do guys, jumping around going, "YEEE-AAAAH! YEEE-AAAAH!" and all that shit. I used to be a Tae Kwon Do guy myself, so I could do it. But we exaggerated and that became real big. Someone from TV saw us, and bang! we were on TV in Holland. Then we started touring in Europe and were on European TV. It became big.
On one of those show, Chris Dolman came to me and said, "Man, your athletic ability is pretty cool; you should do free-fighting [pre MMA term]. He was with the organization RINGS at the time. I didn't know anything about RINGS so he invited me to his gym to train.
I went to his gym and at that time I was ranked number two in the world on the MTBN, the real Muay Thai list, so that's pretty good. I thought, "I'm going to kill these guys." They had these little guys, like 170 pounds, and they'd take my ass down and choke me. I thought I could hold a choke, so I did everything, but I had to tap. I got arm-barred and everything.
T-Nation: That must've been disheartening.
BR: I drove home and had to stop my car next to the road. I was fucked; I was done. I called my wife and told her I couldn't make it home because I couldn't even drive.
When I finally got home she started laughing and said, "So that's it then, no more free-fighting for you?" I said, "I'm going to go back and within three months I'm going to submit all these motherfuckers, you watch me." And I did, I went back and started training.
Then I broke my thumb in a street fight as a bouncer, so I couldn't train for a while. Then one day the telephone rings. I pick it up and it was that guy Chris Dolman. He says, "Bas, you should come now to the gym. There are two guys here, Funaki and Suzuki, and they're looking for new fighters. They're with Pancrase, a new organization, and they want fighters." I said okay.
My Thai Boxing shape was pretty good and I started sparring in the ring with one of the lead guys from RINGS. At that time RINGS was a work [fixed matches], but I didn't know. He started to put the pressure on me, so I said, "Fuck this." He tries to hit me hard and I hit him hard back. I kicked him the head, he goes to the hospital, stitches in his eye. And that was it. Funaki and Suzuki said, "We want him." Five weeks later I was in Japan.
T-Nation: How did your first fight go?
BR: It was the craziest experience of my life because I was a Thai Boxer. I was used to rounds, five rounds of three minutes. I was used to maybe a five-pound weight difference. But then I came there and my opponent was like 45 pounds heavier! I asked him how many rounds and he said, "One." I said, "Great, how many minutes?" and he said, "30." I said, "Great! I'm in great shape!" And then I looked at my manager and I tried to get my poker face on. I said, "What the fuck did you do to me, man?"
T-Nation: And who was that opponent?
BR: Yanagisawa. And then, the weirdest thing in the world happened. I came out and I just manhandled the guy. At that time my Thai Boxing was phenomenal. It was like 43 seconds and the guy goes to the hospital and spent two days there. So I got really scared...
T-Nation: But that was open-handed, old Pancrase rules, right?
BR: Yes, open-handed, but he was taller than me so what happened was I gave him a right high-kick and he defended it, so I went straight through the middle "BOONK!" under his jaw, "BAAAAH!" and he goes down and I think it's over. He stands up and I think okay, now I gotta' get his hands down, so how do I do it? I give him a liver kick, "BOOOOM!" his hands drop, and I come right straight again. While he was going down I kneed him in the head.
He was on the ground, eyes open. I think he stood up maybe three times and stumbled down three times. They called an ambulance and then I got scared, because I thought I did something to the guy. And he was a really nice guy, too.
But the audience went wild for me. I couldn't believe it. In Holland, if you're a foreign guy and you beat a Dutch guy, hopefully you're going to make it out alive. You know what I mean. But these people, they're putting babies in my hand, taking pictures with babies. I couldn't believe it. The next day I was walking in the street and people were bowing to me. I was in the papers. I just couldn't believe it.
I wanted to stay here in Japan, because I wanted to know what was going on with Yanagisawa, but he came out. Strange enough, he was the shortest fight I've ever had, and in the rematch he was the longest fight I've ever had – 28 minutes. But in the rematch I broke my hand in the first punching exchange. He came in too soon, so I didn't flex my muscle at all, so I broke my hand on his head. I only had one arm left. So you see me submitting him with one arm every time. I submitted him like five times and the last time was a choke.
T-Nation: When did you start adding submissions to your repertoire?
BR: In the beginning I only knew the guillotine choke, but I knew it very well. I had everyone with it. The best guys, I choked them and they couldn't get out. But of course they found out soon enough. Then I lost to Funaki in my third fight and then I lost to Ken Shamrock. They had a rematch against Ken and that was a real fast fight. He got me in the knee bar. So then I said, okay, now I've got to learn the game. That was in '95. Then I started learning the game and that was the last fight I lost.
T-Nation: How did you go from Pancrase to the UFC?
BR: I always wanted to be an actor. When I was a kid I liked to entertain people. I wanted to go to America. They told me that the people here in America would know me from Pancrase. But not a lot of people were watching Pancrase in America; they were watching UFC.
I came to America and I tried to get an acting job, but I couldn't get it because nobody knew me, only the hardcore fans. So a friend of mine told me, "Bas listen, you beat Maurice Smith, Frank Shamrock, Takahashi, Guy Metzger, all these guys. They all became UFC champs. Why don't you go to the UFC? If you win the UFC people will know you and it'll help your movie career.
So I did. I went to the UFC and it worked out fine, thank God. The movies started happening and now I'm in the running again.
T-Nation: Tell us about the movie you're in now.
BR: It's called The Vault.
I just did a movie called The Eliminator, it's out now, but it's low budget; it's not going to go to theaters...
T-Nation: Straight to video?
BR: Straight to video, or Showtime or HBO. But on the big screen it's probably coming to Japan, Germany, Italy, those countries. But from that moment, when they saw me acting, they offered me three more movies. We're also working on a TV series and a lot of things right now. In other words, it looks good.
T-Nation: I saw the episode of Martial Law you did. How did you get, was that from the UFC?
BR: That was from the UFC, yeah. I was teaching Kevin James, star of King of Queens, and he made some phone calls. He was going to be on the show so he set it up where we were partners in crime. I was a bank robber and he was my backup.
T-Nation: Cool. How'd you become involved with PRIDE?
BR: Mark Kerr was fighting in PRIDE and I was his trainer. So he came over here to Japan and then they got interested in me. They wanted me to fight for them, but they offered me real low money and we walked out laughing. They were totally different people than now. But I'm here all the time and one thing led to another. They needed a commentator and asked me to do it. I couldn't resist that.
T-Nation: Do you have any good behind-the-scenes stories about PRIDE?
BR: Oh man, many! Yeah, it's just a blast. I mean we do interviews with fighters and they're out of control. But people like Kevin Randleman and Quinton Jackson, they're colorful people, they know how to talk, how to act. You got Mark Coleman; you've got a lot of colorful people here in PRIDE.
I've got a lot of stories, everybody getting drunk. After the show it's anything goes. But I have to say, the last one or two years I don't go out anymore afterwards. The last time I went out after the show I got hit by a taxi. I flew through the air and did a couple of somersaults. And I wasn't even drunk!
I'd been in the bar with Don Frye and everybody was trying to get me to stay, buying be shots and beers. After my third shot of tequila and my third beer, I know where I'm going to go... I'm going to drink three bottles of tequila and 25 beers! So instead I left. I walked out and then the cab came and BANG! I flew through the air!
They thought I was dead. They said, "Stand back! Stand back!" I sit up and say, "No internal damage!" and everyone started laughing! I got only this big piece of meat out of my hip from the road, that was it. But it was a close call.
T-Nation: You have a reputation of being something of a wild man.
BR: [Laughing] Yeah, but not anymore.
T-Nation: Are the stories exaggerated, or is there some truth to them?
BR: There's a lot of truth to the stories...yeah!
T-Nation: There's the one about you pissing on a cab driver in Russia.
BR: No, not on the cab driver, in the cab. Actually, it wasn't a cab, it was the people who invited us. We were driving in a van and one guy says, "Oh my God, Bas is taking a piss!" And then another guy says, "Ah, let him piss." The other guy says, "No, no, open the door!" So they open the door and I fell out with my feet still in the van, and I fell in the black snow. For some reason they had black snow, the pollution there, wherever it was...
T-Nation: What city was it?
BR: I think, uh, Kiev. I fell face first in the snow and I pissed there, and it wasn't that bad. The stories in Russia are worse. I mean, I threw Paul Varelans through a window. He attacked me from the back; he was drunk, I was drunk, you know. He started playing around and he bit a hole in my back. His teeth went through my back, through my skin. I said, let go man, you're hurting me, so I slapped a Kimura lock on him and I threw him, WWHUUUHHP! And he flew away through a glass window. He went to a hospital to get a few stitches, but it was all in good fun because we're friends.
Then this security guy comes to me and says I have to take it easy. I told him to fuck himself and he pulls out a machine gun. I grabbed the machine gun, pulled it away from him, and slapped the guy in the face. I mean, I was drunk, I was so lucky to leave that country alive.
He goes away, he comes back, now I'm on the dance floor with the strip girls dancing around the pole. Now there were the two of them [bouncers], and then the owner of the club who invited me there said, no, no, no, leave the guy, he's with us. So I was very, very, fucking lucky there. How many angels I have, I don't know, but I have a lot of guardian angels.
T-Nation: You have a DVD coming out on street fighting. How would you fight differently in the street from in the ring?
BR: In a street fight, the main difference is you have to go in right away! The video is pretty violent, real street fighting, things from what I used to do as a bouncer. In fact, when I was a bouncer, I was a lot more violent. I would just kick people in the groin. In a street fight everything goes, head-butting and stuff. Since I started fighting professionally, I fight more cleanly, like the rules from a fight.
T-Nation: There's a section on weight training in one of your books. What are your thoughts on weight training for the fighter?
BR: I believe in doing lots of reps, twenty-five, at least. You've got to condition your muscle; you're not going to hit somebody once. But like with dips I need machines now, because I can do like 80 dips, it's now getting ridiculous. Or like pull-ups, you got to hang some weight, otherwise you do too many.
T-Nation: I see you using a lot of machines in the books. What do you think about the argument that free-weight or bodyweight exercises are better for sports?
BR: I don't believe that. Bodybuilders always come to me and say that I don't do it right. I'm standing there with two dumbbells going GON, GON, GON, GON, [starts throwing rapid-fire uppercuts], and I go fast. I say I'm not a goddamn bodybuilder, I'm a fighter!
Most of the time I train not to build my body, but to make my fighting better. Like I'm in the machine and I'll push, BOOM, BOOM, like punching. I won't bench press with my elbows out because I don't punch like that.
I do a lot of dips to push the head down for the grappling, for the wrestling. The cable machine, I love that machine for doing hooks because it makes the side of your abs real strong. I do it also standing up for the liver shots. It develops the side of your abs and it will make your hooks like hooks from hell.
I hate weight training though. I'm not into it. For me it's boring, but you have to do it to get the power. I like conditioning training a lot. I'm crazy for running hills, things like that for stamina.
T-Nation: When we met in California, you were giving the seminar with the Krav Maga guys. How'd you get hooked up with them?
BR: Amir Perets, one of the instructors, is very talented. I think he was 19 or 20 when he was a Navy Seal Instructor in Israel [IDF Naval Commando Unit, the Israeli equivalent to the U.S Navy SEALS]. So with that said, you've got to be a hell of a fucking guy. Normally those are people who are 45 or 50, and who know everything, have been through everything. But they made him an instructor at 20 years of age, so the guy is phenomenal. He's really that good. I found out when I checked him out.
I first met him in a bar. He knew everything, my whole Pancrase career, everything. And then he came to my class and was really into it. One day he brought a plastic gun to class, a pellet gun, and he says: "Do you want to know what I do?" I said, "Yeah, what do you do?" He said he did the self-defense thing and I told him I was very skeptical about that stuff.
He loads up the gun, gives it to me and says, "Shoot me when you see me move." I said, okay. VOOM, VOOM, BANG, BANG! And it goes out of my hand! What the fuck! I want to do it one more time and he got me again. Every time, the gun was gone.
This was the real stuff; I was so impressed.
T-Nation: Do you agree with most of Krav Maga's ideas?
BR: They did the striking a little bit different than me. Everybody stands on one line, but I stand real square. I explained why I stand real square to them, because you get a lot more power in the left kicks and punches, and they started adapting. They're really open to new things. That's the good thing about Krav Maga; it's not like a self-defense system that was made up 200 years ago. It doesn't stay the same like Kung Fu or Karate. No, they evolve, they see something better, they take it and use it.
You got to evolve. You got to go with it. One time the Krav Maga guys asked me what I'd do if choked from behind. I said, "Choke me." I showed them this thing I made up when I was a bouncer. They look at me and say, "From now on this is in Krav Maga."
I like these people. They give you the tools that could save your life. If you're standing there and there's a guy who's already shot two people and he's pointing the gun at you, you're gonna' die. This guy isn't going to let you live because he doesn't want to end up in court with you pointing the finger at him. You don't do anything, you die. You try, you increase your odds 50% or more right away.
It's bad to say, but if someone puts a gun to me and say, "Give me your wallet," I'm going to get the gun. For sure, I'm going to get it. He's not going to get my wallet. He'd better shoot me right away.
[laughing] With that said I hope nobody's going to shoot me. [Addressing the tape recorder] Please stay away from me, and I'll give you my wallet!
T-Nation: What else is in the works?
BR: I'm going to make the best submission fighting DVD ever. I made up a lot of my own submission moves. Ask my wife how many times I woke her up at night to try a submission on her. I would sleep, wake up and go, "Holy fuck, this is great! Karin, Karin, wake up!" And I'd try a new hold on her and she'd go "AAAGGGGHHHH!"
T-Nation: This is foreplay?
BR: No, I don't think you can score after doing that. You have to do it after you've had sex! Anyway, then I'd write the move down on paper on all these Post-its everywhere.
T-Nation: Do you have any plans to compete again?
BR: Never! Well, never say never. I have top ten guys coming to the gym and I'm still submitting them. I haven't been submitted in six years, so I think I'd do pretty good. But the other side of this is, this is training, not fighting, and I'm 38 years old. Now, I can submit somebody, take a 20-second break, and I can go on. In a fight if I submit somebody, and he moves to escape, I've got to keep fighting. I'm 38 and I'm not Randy Couture. I just saw Randy downstairs. Man, 40 years old, being in that kind of shape, he's phenomenal.
T-Nation: You also train fighters yourself, correct?
BR: I do, but lately I can't because of my acting.
T-Nation: Which of your fights are you most proud of?
BR: My fight against Funaki, the second time. He beat me the first time with a toehold, which I didn't even know what it was. He tried to break my leg, trust me. That was the most painful thing.
The second time I fought him, because of the training with Ken Shamrock, I knew exactly what he was going to do to me. And he did, but I was totally prepared. Before the fight when he came to me, he made that thumb over the neck, throat slashing motion
like I was going to go down. I turned to my manager and said, "Okay, now I'm going to kill this guy, you watch."
My game plan was to keep the fight going for 15 minutes. It was a 30-minute fight and Funaki had never fought above 15 minutes. He's going to think, "My God, this is the first guy that's gone 15 minutes with me." So I thought that would be a mental advantage for me.
But then, like 12 minutes into it, I push him away. But while I'm still on my knees he kicks me in the head. I block, but for me that was an illegal thing to do. So right away I start, BANG, BANG, BANG, and he goes down. From that moment on, I totally destroyed him. You got to see the fight; it was a massacre. My palms were black from hitting him so hard. He had the gods on his side or something, because he stood up every time.
I hit his face back on the mat and you hear it slam into the mat. His nose is all the way to the side, broke, they have to straighten it out. I go, "Oh my God, this guy can take a shot!" I kneed him so hard in the head. He went down four times. But the last knee I gave to him was like everything I had. I grabbed him by the head and kneed him.
It was really like a Rocky movie. I'm standing there and I fall backwards, and I'm totally out of breath. I get up and the referee holds my hand up. Then he lets my hand go and I drop again, BOOM! I was exhausted, I gave everything I had; I really wanted to destroy him. I broke his cheekbones and broke his nose, just because he said he was going to kill me. Oh, I was so angry at him. But afterwards, friends again...what a crazy sport this is, huh?
T-Nation: The Japanese fans like fighters that show a lot of heart, huh?
BR: Oh yeah! That's it! You know, that's the reason that I love Japan. You can't lose, as long as you fight. If somebody mounts you and he pulls his arm back in order to hit you, and you tap before he hits you, they're going to boo you. But if you fight and get knocked out, it doesn't matter, they still gonna' love you. You can't lose, you know, as long as you fight. If you're a pussy, hey, they don't like you, but as long as you fight, they love you.
T-Nation: This has been a lot of fun. We do appreciate your time.
BR: You're very welcome!
For those interested in getting Bas Rutten's Big Book of Combat plus other books and DVD's, go to www.basrutten.tv.
Some of the pictures in this article were courtesy of Full Contact Fighter, www.fcfighter.com.