By Thomas Gerbasi
Mixed martial arts fans will know that when UFC Hall of Famer Bas Rutten was competing in Japan’s Pancrase promotion, he was knocking folks out with open-hand strikes, as closed fist strikes weren’t permitted. So what would “El Guapo” have done if presented with bare knuckle fighting during his 90s heyday?
“I would love to do that,” he laughs. Not just then, but now. “Unfortunately, I had four neck surgeries. Otherwise, I still might have at least tried it one time, but with maybe someone ten years younger than me, not these young guns. They’re way too crazy and I’m already 53.”
So what’s the next best thing for Rutten, one of the most respected figures in the fight game? Try being president and commentator for the World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation (WBKFF), which puts on its first event on Friday in Casper, Wyoming.
“How crazy is that?” Rutten said. “I’ve been asked by other companies to be a president for MMA, but I’m already working with the Professional Fighters League and I do Karate Combat, and now this came along. They said they want to do anything in their power to have me as a commentator with the show. I told them I believe this can go somewhere, so I said, ‘Well if you want to do everything, I would like to be involved in the company because I truly believe this could be a big thing.’ And they okayed it and it was decided that I would become the president.”
Having Rutten aboard adds legitimacy to the latest company to get into the bare knuckle ring, and having a host of former UFC fighters like Johny Hendricks, Chris Leben, Phil Baroni and Isaac Vallie-Flagg competing this weekend doesn’t hurt either. But as Rutten points out, just because these fighters don’t have to worry about chokes, kicks or takedowns doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods when the bell rings.
“If you’re a mixed martial artist and train for mixed martial arts, and then you’re gonna do boxing, stamina-wise it’s a big difference,” he said. “It’s much easier for us to go boxing. It’s less of an attack on the body. I realized that when I came back for my last fight in 2006. Within three weeks I could do 12 rounds on the focus mitts but I was just using my hands. But when you start incorporating kicks and takedowns, then you get really tired. So I hope those guys are doing that, because if you’re in MMA shape and you go to a boxing event, I think you’ll be just fine.”
And once the fights are underway, Rutten expects excitement, but not in the way you might imagine.
“They have to fight with a completely different strategy because you don’t want to break your hand on the head,” he said. “You’re going to have to pick your shots, there are going to be a lot of body shots, and it’s completely different. I think it’s easy to penetrate through the defense because there are no boxing gloves, and I don’t think we’re going to see slugfests, but really calculated fights.”
In other words, for a man who has built a career around combat sports, Rutten is going to be in his element while having the best seat in the house. And though he is confident that the first show will deliver, he believes round two will be even better.
“I’m super excited for this, but I can’t wait for our next show because then we have the control right from the beginning.”
El Presidente has spoken.