Bas Rutten | A Modern Samurai

Disclaimer: Since Bas spent the vast majority of his career fighting in Japan under the banner of Pancrase, he is ineligible to be covered under “The Uncrowned King" series. However, Bas fought and beat many top fighters throughout his career, including a few future UFC champions.

El Guapo. If there is one name that all die hard fans of MMA and NHB recognize, it’s Bas Rutten. In the 1990s, Bas was the ultimate paragon. No Holds Barred was a brutal form of combat, and Bas was known as a particularly aggressive Dutch Kickboxing stylist. Yet, in a cult sport full of meathead tough guys and performance-enhancing substances, Bas brought honor, discipline, sincerity, and creativity to the ring. We all know that the supreme proving ground for fighters was the Ultimate Fighting Championship, even in the 90s. Although all but three of his 33 fights took place in Pancrase, he ultimately secured UFC Heavyweight gold when he beat Kevin Randleman at UFC 20. Before that, Bas already had wins over the likes of Guy Mezger, Frank Shamrock, Vernon White, Maurice Smith, Jason DeLucia, and Masakatsu Funaki. Bas did have two early losses to Ken Shamrock, but was unable to avenge those losses, as a third fight never materialized. Bas’ achievements in the world of Martial Arts are nothing to sneeze at: 5th Dan black belt in Kyokushin Karate, 2nd Dan black belt in Taekwondo, 1st Dan black belt in Judo, three time King Of Pancrase, and one time UFC Heavyweight Champion. Not too shabby for a guy who couldn’t train consistently until he was an adult because of his parent’s disapproval, and had zero ground training when he debuted in Pancrase. Not only did he exclusively have kickboxing experience when he transitioned to No Holds Barred, but he lived in Holland, which was known for its kickboxing academies, not its wrestling or jiu jitsu schools. He is well known for his punishing knees, and crushing low kicks. His liver attacks were so accurate and destructive that he may as well have patented any strike to that area, insomuch as Bas’ liver shots were as dangerous and effective as any fighter we have ever seen, past or present. Unlike “The Uncrowned King” works, I will not be covering all of Bas’s wins. I have selected a few of Bas’s individual fights to cover, in order to demonstrate the fighting prowess and tactical genius of El Guapo. 

Pancrase

Before we talk about any of Bas’s fights, it’s important to note that his first 31 fights were fought under a ruleset unique to Pancrase. This organization pre-dates PRIDE and its early format was derived heavily from professional wrestling, since its founders Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki were catch wrestling practitioners. I’m not going to list all of the original rules, but I will talk about a few notable ones:

  1. No elbows 
  2. No closed fist strikes to the head
  3. Five “rope escapes” are given to each fighter in each fight. If one person grabs the ropes, the fight is reset on the feet in the center of the ring. 
  4. Round times vary based on the format (standard bout, title bout, tournament bout) but as a whole, fights were one round. 

I have read multiple sources that say early Pancrase rules consisted of one 15 minute round for non-title bouts and one 30 minute round for title bouts. Tournament fights would have been one 10 minute round plus one overtime. However, Bas has gone on record saying his early fights were all 30 minute rounds, which is what Tapology has documented. With that being said, there are a couple of important things to mention regarding the rules. In PRIDE, if their fighters got entangled in the ropes, the fight would be reset in the middle of the ring, with both fighters being placed in the same position. In Pancrase, if there is a rope escape or the action is taking place too close to the ropes, the fight is reset in the center of the ring. However, instead of them being put in the same position (if on the ground), the two fighters are stood up as they are at the beginning of the round. This rule benefits strikers, and it certainly aided Bas in some of his fights, although as you will see, it also hurt him at times. He admittedly had very little ground training early in his career, and was repeatedly taken down and controlled by wrestlers. But as far as striking is concerned, Bas was on another level. The other thing worth mentioning is while there were strikes allowed on the ground, they were discouraged by fans, and went relatively unused in Pancrase’s early days. Bas himself stated that he did not strike on the ground due to the perception at the time, but if his opponent did so, he then reciprocated. 

The Basics

Organizations: Pancrase, UFC

Weight Class: Heavyweight, Openweight

Years Active: 1993-1999, 2006

MMA Record: 28-4-1

There is a lot of interesting information written about Bas and even spoken by the man himself, as his career is well documented. However, I will only be scratching the surface here. Bas Rutten started competing in Kickboxing in 1985, going 14-2, with all of his wins by knockout. All of his fights were in Holland, which comprises part of the Western region of the Netherlands. He eventually had trouble finding fights, and subsequently worked as a bouncer and entertainer during the late 80s and early 90s. Dutch wrestler Chris Dolman was impressed by Bas’ physical abilities, and invited Bas to train at the RINGS Holland Dojo. Bas accepted and while he was training there in 1993, Japanese Pro Wrestlers Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki scouted him, after seeing him knock out a certain unnamed RINGS fighter. In September of the same year, he made his debut.

The Arrival

Bas Rutten’s first fight in Pancrase was against pro wrestler turned fighter Ryushi Yanagisawa, who was also making his professional fighting debut. Bas originally thought he was going to fight 5x3 rounds, likely because of his background in Muay Thai. He was told the fight would be one 30 minute round. Yanagisawa opens with a rear low kick and when Bas counters with his own, Ryushi returns fire with a lead low kick. What followed from Bas was the right-side combination of a rear high kick that was blocked, then a right hand behind it. Bas first pawed his lead hand out, making Yanagisawa think about a lead side attack. Then Bas turned his hips and uncorked a right cross, uncoiling and driving forward like an aqueous machine, which then pulled back and constricted its wires, relaxing instinctively. 

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Yanagisawa fell over on his side and put his left hand up to his own face, checking for blood, seemingly in shock. Since Pancrase had ten counts, Ryushi got back up as the count was nearing its end, still dazed from the blow. The fight restarted and Bas immediately went on the offensive. He launched a lead liver kick, a right hook to the head, and went for the killshot. That would be a step-in rear knee to Yanagisawa’s head. Bas took the tiniest step to the left with his lead foot to create a different angle, and his leg rose up from the ground like a serpent, striking Ryushi’s left temple. When Bas threw the strike, the angle of his leg is such that it initially appears as though he is throwing a high kick, but instead lands the knee, widening the angle of his two legs like a Japanese war fan. Yanagisawa fell straight back on his tailbone, partially catching himself with his left elbow. 

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For a moment he tries to stand up but within a millisecond, he falls back and his head lands on the canvas, his body sprawled out on the mat. Bas checks on his opponent, who laid for a minute and eventually got up, with help. Not only did Bas win in 43 seconds, but he made that night the international debut of the Rutten Jump (which is a jumping split kick that he had certainly performed many times before), much to the crowd’s delight. He then followed that up with two front kicks, and ended it with a 360 degree round kick. The Bas Rutten era had begun. 

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Don’t Breathe

Bas Rutten’s debut lasted 43 seconds. With his first fight in Japan out of the way, he didn’t want to waste too much time here, either. When he was fighting in Holland, he was known for being overly aggressive, and used brute force to knock guys out. In Pancrase, Rutten became a more focused and calculated fighter, living up to the technical ability that he displayed in the gym. Bas says this was likely due to his personal growth, as well as the respectful fight audience in Japan. Takaku was another 1-0 fighter, having made quick work of Vernon White by submitting him at Pancrase 1. After Fuke snatches a quick single leg there are a few brief scrambles, and Bas uses Fuke’s armbar attempt to get on top. Fuke, having never let go of Bas’s left arm, hooks his right leg or Bas’s left shoulder and turns his belly down, cranking on another armbar. Bas is unable to step over Fuke’s body to relieve the pressure and decides to drag him towards the ropes, while his arm is being cranked, and unbelievably, achieves a rope escape. After Fuke takes Rutten down again and looks for another armbar, Bas is able to get up, and this spells the beginning of the end for Takaku. As he drives his head forward into Bas to take him down, Bas grabs hold of a double collar tie, and lands a hard knee to the solar plexus. He looks for a guillotine and his corner yells “knee!”, to which he obliges, and shockingly lands the same knee he landed on Yanigisawa. Rutten was so locked in that instead of committing to the choke, he saw giant red flashing crosshairs on Fuke’s liver, and slammed his left knee into it. 

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The Shorts

After a disappointing loss to Funaki in his last fight, Bas’s record dropped to 2-1. As the title above would indicate, This is Bas’s first fight without his patented pink (then faded and purple-looking) shorts. He loved these fight trunks, but Pancrase didn’t like them as much as he did. This was likely due to their bright color, and their use in Muay Thai, as opposed to the pro wrestling underwear worn by his Pancrase counterparts. Now sporting briefs, Rutten will face Vernon “Tiger” White - a fighter with perhaps a more questionable record than Bas’s previous opponents, coming in at 1-5. But Vernon, like Bas, had been another guy with a striking background, who was thrown into Pancrase with no experience fighting, and suffered losses against fighters with catch wrestling backgrounds, who took him down and submitted him. Tiger had a background in Taekwondo and displayed a great variety of kicks in his fights, but wasn’t adept at using palm strikes the way Bas was. White opened with a couple of low kicks, one outside, then one inside. Bas countered with a rear teep that whipped into Vernon’s stomach. Vernon didn’t like the way that felt - and immediately shot for a double leg takedown. 

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Bas sprawls and after a scramble, he goes hunting for a leg. The referee broke them up, likely due to how close Bas was to the ropes, and the two fighters stand back up. Vernon really didn’t like how hard Bas hit because he was looking for takedowns any time they exchanged in close. The second time this happened, Bas latched up a front headlock, and clamped down on White’s leg so he couldn’t escape the half guard position. Bas gripped tightly and cranked, his elbows pointed outward, his frame parallel to Vernon’s own. A few seconds later Vernon tapped, and Bas got in a full four Rutten Jumps before White was able to stand up. That’s a wrap. 

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A Clash Of Legends

By the time Bas faced this next opponent, he had amassed a record of 6-2, with his only losses being to Ken Shamrock and Funaki. It’s no secret that Bas struggled with wrestlers, but he was improving quickly. At Pancrase 13, Rutten fought none other than Frank Shamrock. Nowadays we all know Frank as the brother of Ken, and as a former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, WEC Light Heavyweight Champion, and Strikeforce Middleweight Champion. However, in December of 1994, Frank was in Tokyo making his debut against a dangerous striker. This is a tough first fight for anyone to say the least, and in retrospect seems unfair, but Frank was more than up for the challenge. In the first 20 seconds of the fight, Shamrock gets a blast double and drives Bas across the ring. Frank is able to achieve half guard before Bas uses his hips to elevate his right side, turns to his left and continues forward motion, pushing Frank to his back, and landing in half guard. Bas briefly considers an arm triangle and abandons it, and Frank reverses him nearly the same way he was reversed, and falls into Bas’s half guard. In modern Mixed Martial Arts, this next sequence would make hardcore fans scream in agony. Bas once again reverses Frank, takes his back, has a rear naked choke fully locked in, and the referee breaks up the action because Bas’s head was under the rope. 

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Once Shamrock takes him down again, Bas is able to get another reversal, and has Frank in trouble for a few seconds. At this point Frank is on bottom stretched out, Bas is on top and perpendicular to his body, with his legs straightened out, and his left arm wrapped around the back of Frank’s head. This is called a scarf hold position. Bas pulls Shamrock’s head towards his chest and looks for a neck crank, putting pressure on his spinal cord. In his own commentary Bas says he was looking to attack his arm as well, so perhaps he was looking to transition to an armbar or straight elbow lock.

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Frank counters by clasping his hands between his own head and Bas’s, stopping Bas from pulling his head all the way forward. Eventually Shamrock rolls to his feet. After a takedown by Frank and a few scrambles, Rutten attempts another rear naked choke, which results in him being mounted. On the feet Bas is doing damage, but he is ultimately taken down for his troubles, and most of this fight plays out on the ground. The fight ends with Rutten on top of Shamrock, landing some shots that aren’t necessarily punishing, but are pretty solid. Since this fight was a tournament bout in the first round of the King Of Pancrase Tournament, it was only one 10 minute round. Once the final bell rings, the fighters patiently await the judges decision, while Bas is looking for a contact lens that he lost. Bas recruits Frank to help him locate the missing contact before Shamrock is awarded a majority decision, which is something I ultimately disagree with. 

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You would think that since most of this fight took place on the ground, Shamrock getting the decision would be a no-brainer (because that’s where he wants it). However, like modern MMA, I think the judges were awarding the wrestler, younger brother of Ken Shamrock and potential future star, while favoring control and takedowns over damage and aggression. Watching the fight, it wasn’t a particularly difficult decision for me to make when picking Bas, as he landed hard on the feet. Once the two were on the ground, Bas was constantly on the attack, got on top of Frank several times, and had multiple submission attempts that were pretty close to being finishes. I counted five reversals for Bas in this bout, which is pretty impressive, considering he hadn’t been training on the ground for long. This would mark Bas’s third career loss, bringing him to a record of 6-3.

The Rematch

In March of 1995, just three months after the loss to Frank Shamrock, Bas was submitted by his brother Ken Shamrock again, using a defense that he thought would work. As a result of training with Funaki, he was overconfident, resulting in Ken surprising him with a painful kneebar. This ignited a fire in Bas, and he vowed to become a submission master so that he never fell victim to one again. He would respond to this loss by spending every waking (and unwaking) moment obsessing over submissions. Bas personally attested to putting his own wife into submission holds in the middle of the night while still asleep, putting illustrations of them all over his walls, and creating different variations of set ups and submissions to make them his own unique weapons. Consequently, Bas rattled off three impressive wins over Fuke, Smith and DeLucia, all by submission. By this time Bas was so feared standing up that his opponents tried to take him down and upon doing so, would find out that he’s just as dangerous on the ground. All of these events led to a rematch against Frank Shamrock, one that Bas desired greatly. This rematch took place in July of 1995, which tells you how active Pancrase fighters were in those days. 

Shamrock opens with an overhand right that lands. He catches a teep that Bas makes contact with, and starts the second fight like he did the first one. This time Bas takes a different approach, gaining wrist control on both hands, with Frank being able to shake free. After about two minutes of control time and minimal damage, the referee stands them up. For all of Bas’s work disguising his kicks, Shamrock sure loves catching them, and is exceptional at doing so. Any periods of striking in this fight are brief, none lasting more than 30 seconds. At one point on the ground Bas reverses Frank. Inside of Shamrock’s full guard, Bas reaches and pulls his head off the mat, towards his own chest. Nowadays this looks more like a can opener to get the bottom guy to open his guard, in this case it’s clear that Bas is looking for a neck crank. Similar to the one he was looking for in their first matchup, but from a different position. Shamrock tries to stand up and Bas rolls for a leg lock, then transitions into a kneebar attempt. Right as he is about to have Frank in big trouble, his foot touches the rope and the fight is stood up. 

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About halfway through the fight, Bas opens his guard and kicks Shamrock off of him to stand up - an action that gets him a respectful bow from Shamrock. A later takedown sees Bas attack the legs again, with Frank fully stretched out in a kneebar before the two are stood up, again. Once they are back on the ground, Bas nearly locks in a triangle choke from the bottom before losing leg position and hearing the bell ring. The frustration is evident on the face of Bas, but the fight is over. As the fighters are waiting for the judge’s decision, you can hear Bas say “10 more seconds”, indicating that’s all the time he needed to get a finish over Shamrock. Bas has been on record many times saying that the rules in Pancrase regarding the ropes really bothered him to no end, and if he was allowed to keep the position until we saw a tap, that he would have more submissions on his record. He also said that he and Frank were friends, and spent a lot of time together in Japan. What’s interesting about this is that I felt Bas clearly won both fights. Although he was taken down at will in this fight, like the first one, he was the more aggressive fighter, and came closer to getting a stoppage than Frank did. Shamrock also improved on the feet, as he landed some good shots throughout the course of the fight, even taunting Bas, baiting him to throw something so Frank could get an opening for a takedown. I’m not going to pretend that these fights weren’t competitive though, because they were both close. For as little time as these two spent on the feet in their first matchup, they spent even less time standing in this contest. Bas wasn’t thrilled with his performance, but he was happy to get this one back. 

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Lion’s Den Continued

Bas Rutten had a lot of fights in the 90s. Pancrase had their rule set centered on ring action, but also wanted to limit injuries, so that they could compete with pro wrestling programming. Therefore in a span of 31 months, Bas had 20 fights. In his 19th professional fight, Rutten faced Guy Mezger at Pancrase 26. Guy of course was (mostly) known for winning two alternate bouts in the UFC, at UFC 4 and UFC 5, respectively. He had both a wrestling and kickboxing background (along with other arts). The former was during high school, and the latter had him competing as a professional as late as 1995, the year he made his Pancrase debut. He had cross trained quite a bit and joined The Lion’s Den, which made Guy a unique opponent for Bas - a fighter who was dangerous both on the feet and on the ground. Out of all of the Bas fights I’m covering here, Guy was by far the most accomplished striker, and the most competitive with Bas on the feet. Bas seemed more weary of Guy’s ground game, as he felt he could beat anyone standing up (and rightfully so). Mezger was able to take Bas down early. As Guy gets double underhooks, Bas secures double overhooks, and Mezger uses those hooks to pull Bas nearly off the ground towards Guy’s own head, then uses that momentum to drive forward, taking Bas off of his feet. Mezger is able to stay in side control for a while, looking to isolate Bas’s left arm. He eventually takes mount and Bas recovers full guard, then the fight is reset. An aggressive Rutten rolls for a leg lock while they are standing and it costs him a position. This fight, like both fights against Frank Shamrock, consist of lots of ground exchanges, followed by brief segments of striking. The striking itself was very competitive in this fight, with the left hook being Bas’s best weapon. Mezger was mixing it up well with low kicks, knees, and some body punches. 

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The body work was impressive, as nobody had been able to work the body or legs the way Guy did. This certainly paid dividends for Mezger, as Bas was visibly tired later in the fight, and Guy was arguably winning for a large portion of the contest. I feel like Bas’s advantage in striking was the fact that he was dangerous from all distances, whereas Guy had a variety of techniques and was landing good shots, but couldn’t comfortably strike at every range without worrying about counters. Bas also had a power advantage and didn’t seem to be phased by anything Guy was landing. Mezger did not strike on the ground but had several takedowns, each lasting at least 2-3 minutes on the canvas. Although they both had success with low kicks, they both showed competent low kick defense, sporadically checking the other’s attacks. At almost 18 minutes into the fight, Guy had his knee on Bas’s belly, and Rutten looked tired. He was discouraged from the takedowns, and his hand was injured. That wasn’t enough to stop him though, as the fight was reset and he went on the attack. Guy took him down and immediately starting fishing for his right leg. As Mezger went for a kneebar, Bas grabbed Guy’s right ankle. This was during a period of time when heel hooks were banned in Pancrase, because of the frequency of injuries. This meant that we saw more guys looking for straight kneebars and/or ankle locks. There is a huge difference between a heel hook, ankle lock, and toe hold. Since I’m not a Jiu Jitsu guy, I don’t want to disrespect the art by giving a bad explanation, or confuse anyone. So instead of typing the differences, I will put some pictures here, and let you look up these submissions yourself.

Here’s what a heel hook looks like:

Here’s a toe hold:

Countering the De La Riva with a Quick Toe Hold – BJJ Fanatics

As Guy tries to stand and pull his foot out, Bas takes the ankle he has control of and uses both hands to twist it to his right, almost at a 45 degree angle. Mezger screamed out in agony, which would normally be considered a verbal tap. However, Bas let go of the submission and upon doing so, Guy tapped on the mat, and the referee confirmed his decision to stop fighting. If you look at the images above, you will see that what Bas Rutten did was more of a toe hold, as opposed to an ankle lock, which is what his official record says. Either way, Bas continues the trend of submitting fighters who are supposed to be better than him at submissions. 

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The Rubber Match

I thought about covering the third Frank Shamrock fight, but I didn’t think it would be fun for myself or anyone else to write about three fights against the same guy. El Guapo had multiple rematches during his Pancrase career, as there were only so many heavyweights fighting in Japan at that time. One of such rematches was Jason DeLucia, for a third time. Having fought twice before, they were familiar with each other, but both fights ended quickly, Bas claiming victory by submission early in each of those contests. This time these two got to know each other a little bit, and it made for an entertaining and unusual affair. Jason opens with some nice side kicks and low kicks, and Bas counters with a rear body kick, followed by a closed fist punch. According to Bas, he was training to punch in the high chest area, and hit Jason in the throat. It appeared to land on his chin but could have hit his throat, but DeLucia’s hand is sort of blocking the view.

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Keep in mind that closed fist strikes were illegal only when landed to the head, so if it landed elsewhere, it would have been perfectly legal. Bas received a warning from the referee, and the action continued. Rutten liked to challenge himself in different ways in some of his fights. In this one, he told his corner he wanted to let the fight go on 15 minutes, then try to knock DeLucia out. That didn’t go quite according to plan, and pretty soon you’ll see why. In this fight it’s clear Jason took some lessons from their first two meetings, because he’s very aggressive, and is putting his punches and kicks together really well. 

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Bas is able to check some of the low kicks and do some good body work with right and left combinations. What’s notable with respect to the striking is that as Bas is covering up, DeLucia is looking to land shots around and in between his guard. It’s when Jason allows Bas to come forward, that Bas is able to cover ground and do some damage. About halfway through Jason gets a takedown and achieves mount, but gets stood up after a period of inactivity. In another exchange, Jason complains that Bas punched him in the face with a closed fist. If you watch it back, it appears to land in the upper chest area, near the clavicle bone, which would be legal. 

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It’s hard to tell, but since I don’t see DeLucia’s head move from the impact, I’m taking Bas’s word for it that it landed below the head. Regardless, Rutten is given a yellow card, which means a point is being taken from him. Less than a minute after this occurs, Bas lands a right straight to the solar plexus. He follows with another. DeLucia again claims Bas hit him in the head with a closed fist, even though it’s painfully obvious he didn’t.

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Bas is given a red card, which deducts two points from his score, if this fight goes to the judges. Rutten is visibly angry, and who wouldn’t be, particularly a competitor who holds himself to the standards that Bas does. In his own commentary, Bas states that at this point he wanted to take DeLucia out. What’s interesting is, the referee has no way of confirming the foul, but punishes Rutten for it anyways. El Guapo ups his tempo, at one point pushing Jason against the ropes, causing him to get thrown across the ring, almost falling. Bas then took advantage of a flaw in DeLucia’s defense, landing a right cross-left hook to the body combination, one he landed earlier in the fight. Jason falls backwards into the corner of the ring. He stands up on the eight count. Bas decided he doesn’t need head shots at all for this one. He drops Jason again quickly with a round kick to the body. DeLucia again cries foul, claiming the kick was low. 

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I think the referee is aware of Jason’s tactic now, and shows him where the kick landed, on his left hip. Bas begrudgingly shakes his hand, and this handshake precedes the next knockdown by a mere 5 seconds. Jason is back up again. More punishing body work from El Guapo. Surprisingly DeLucia doesn’t drop his hands, and Bas lands the final blows. He flashes the right hand in his face, forces him to defend, and comes around the guard with a final left-hook to the liver. Don’t piss off Bas Rutten. 

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The King

By this time, Bas Rutten was a star in Japan. He had submitted Suzuki at the 1995 Pancrase Anniversary show to become the King Of Pancrase, and he unified, as well as defended that belt against Frank Shamrock when he fought him for the third time. His fight against DeLucia that we just analyzed, was not a title fight. However, this next one is. After brutalizing the liver of Jason DeLucia, Rutten looked to defend his King Of Pancrase title in a rematch against Funaki. Their first time meeting was in 1994, and it was Bas’s third professional NHB fight. Just 3 minutes into that fight, Funaki had him mounted, and cranked his right leg with a heel hook, forcing Bas to accept defeat. This time around, things would be different. Bas was a completely different fighter now, and he was ready to prove it. Bas was 18-4 coming into this one, and the biggest factor in this fight was the progression of Rutten’s ground game. For a lot of the fight, Funaki employed various tactics to initiate his leg attacks - leg-on-belly, leg-on-chest, and later on even pressing his shin bones onto Bas’s shoulders to attempt a kneebar. Bas had to survive a heel hook that had him in serious trouble, turning his leg away from him, his leg and body at nearly a 90-degree angle. He withstood it by pulling Funaki’s legs toward him, trying to relieve the pressure being activated by Funaki’s hips. 

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For the rest of the fight, Funaki was able to get Bas down with relative ease, but never came close to locking anything in. In fact Bas later uses these leg attacks to get up and push away from Funaki, looking to do some striking damage. One thing I noticed about Bas is that he has great timing - he anticipates when his opponent is about to strike, and he strikes first, landing on them before they are ready for it. We see this in spades here, and Funaki is unable to land anything significant. By around 14 minutes or so, Funaki is showing signs of fatigue, and Rutten takes advantage of it. He lands two consecutive right hooks in a row. 

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Funaki falls down, hands covering his face. Once the fight is restarted, Funaki immediately shoots as Bas collapses space between them, and lands a hard palm strike (hammer palm) to an exhausted Funaki on the ground. He is unable to get up right away so it counts as another knockdown. Funaki is clearly hurt but that doesn’t stop him from getting up. After a brief break for a rope escape, Bas feints a right knee and delivers a painful mixture of strikes - left hook, rear uppercut, left hook, and right cross. For the third time, Funaki is down again, only this time the fearless Japanese wrestler somehow recovers even faster, getting up before the ref reaches six seconds. The final exchange of the fight lasts for about 20 seconds, with Bas throwing everything in his arsenal, and it is absolutely brutal. 

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At one point Bas holds Funaki’s head with his left hand and throws an overhand right, but because of the space between them, the right hand ends up being a stabbing punch, like Rutten was impaling him with a sword right through his temple. Funaki can barely move at this point, after being exhausted and made to be a human punching bag. The final shot was a rear knee. Out of desperation, Funaki grabs a single collar tie and as he does so, Bas’s right knee meets his head with extraordinary force. Merciless. Bas ranks this as the single greatest performance of his career, outlasting the Golden Boy of Pancrase by dragging him into deep waters, just like he said he would. 

When all was said and done for Bas Rutten, he retired in 1999 at the young age of 34. He would have one last fight in 2006 but ultimately, he had too many injuries to continue fighting. He started a successful career commentating in PRIDE FC and WSOF, acted in some movies, wrote some books, created some training equipment, and always finds a way to keep himself busy. His unbeaten streak of 22 fights following his second loss to Ken is one of the great runs in MMA history, and it’s crazy to think that 21 of those fights came in just 4 short years. Bas Rutten was ahead of his time in a brutal freakshow sport, a terrifying man who would pulverize your liver into dust with his fist, then visit you in the hospital the next day. He was a thinking man amongst his contemporaries, who could read your patterns, figure you out, and find a way to finish you. In his first fight against Fuke, he timed his knee right as Fuke was breathing in, knowing that a fully tensed midsection could not take that sort of blunt force trauma without collapsing. Bas was fearless in ways most of us cannot imagine, even when he was out of his comfort zone. He wasn’t afraid to try new things and in fact tirelessly pursued methods and moves not yet conceived, not just for their uniqueness, but for their functionality. In May of 1994, the day before Bas fought Kazuo Takahashi, he was walking the streets of Japan. He saw a massive screen on the side of a building promoting Pancrase, and playing some of the fight footage from recent events. While he is standing on side of the road, Rutten watches this play, and sees a fighter going for an inverted heel hook. He says to himself “I gotta try that”. The next night he fights Takahashi, tries the move he saw on the screen, and ended up breaking his leg with it. 

We’ve all heard the term “Ronin” before - A Samurai without a master. In Feudal Japan this was considered shameful, and at times meant the samurai had no ties to his family or clan. The broader, more philosophical way of describing this concept is a wanderer or free person who finds their own way without belonging to a single master or place. The term Ronin describes Bas better than any other word I can imagine - a man armed with the sword of the desire for combat. With a comprehension of fighting above most of his time period, Bas moved around to different academies, collecting useful data. When he didn’t find anything valuable, he simply scrapped the superfluous, went elsewhere, and sharpened his sword. His corners consisted of his manager and a rotating door of fighters and athletes he discovered during his training sessions. Ultimately Bas always was (and still is) a man living of his own accord, looking for his own path in the debris around him. 

A special shout out to Mike Davis and Chris Lytle of the Lytes Out Podcast. Their interviews with Bas were a tremendous help in writing this article. 

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References
  1. Bas Rutten. (2011, March 21). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bas_Rutten
  2. (hdmexiqtioner). Tapology | Bas Rutten. Tapology. https://www.tapology.com/fightcenter/fighters/bas-rutten-el-guapo
  3. (n.d.). Bas Rutten. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/@OfficialBasRutten
  4. L. O. (2023, January 10). Pancrase Years Deep Dive. YouTube. https://youtu.be/uuiI0gGz060?si=lyMLNw0ON5Eyd00D

 

 

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