He was a UFC heavyweight champion, in the pre-Dana White days, came on the radar of many fight fans with his standout showings in the Pancrase organization and, at age 53, he can know that he was an inspiration to a legion of young guns seeking to elevate themselves in the MMA sphere.
Today, Bas Rutten finds himself branching out a bit, into a sphere he admits he had to do some research on to see if he wanted to enter.
Rutten has been tapped as President of World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation; he will commentate on their inaugural show in Wyoming on Friday, November 9. “Rise of the Titans” is what they’ve titled the 14 or so-bout promotion, which will air on Worldwide PPV Live.
MMA fans of a certain age will know some of the names on the card: Phil Baroni, the trash talker from NY, is back in the fray, and UFC fans are familiar with his foe, Chris Leben, who has a track record as being unafraid to shoot from the lip. Ex-NFLer Shawne Merriman was to be a participant, but Rutten said he’s a scratch, and they hope to have him back some other time.
The main event pits “Irish” Brennan Ward against Johnny Hendricks, another UFC alum. For the record, Wyoming is the only state currently OK with bareknuckle, which is why other BN orgs have beat a path there. (David Feldman’s Bareknuckle Fighting Championship crew has run two shows and seems to be fighting the good fight, staying alive and spreading the word while staying solvent by putting their fights on pay-per-view.)
So, how’d Rutten get involved?
CEO Tom Stankiewicz and some associates approached Rutten, wondering if he’d like to hop on board.
“I started Googling it, wondering if it was safe,” Rutten told me in a phoner from his home in Cali. Once he was satisfied that this wasn’t a free-for-all and something likely to hasten Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in participants, he said, “OK, I’d love to do it.”
The Netherlands native hopped in after planning had started and was surprised that salary promises were, to him, out of whack. So he recommended adjusting that. And now he’s in a mode where he’s pumped to see the fights unfold. They will do five two-minute rounds and maybe adjust that down the line for title fights. Yes, Rutten said, he’s bummed to lose Merriman. “I’ve seen him train; he’s a freak athlete. But this is a really great sport – safer than boxing, regarding CTE.”
Rutten won’t be tempted, in case you are wondering, to step in and waltz himself. He last fought in 2006, and, he said, hasn’t so much as sparred since. That’s because he’s had four neck surgeries after an injury, so yeah, he’s leaving well enough alone. And that goes for bar fights, too. His Wiki says he’s been in a few. Truth? Rutten laughs and says that he is a lover, not a fighter. Now and again, he’s been bugged by bouncers or tough guys who know of his rep. “I’m always defending, never starting,” he insists, and shares a tale of a slobberknocker in Sweden. Cops came, knockouts occured, jailings happened. He’s been in maybe 20 bar fights in his life, he relayed, and that’s including time spent working as a bouncer. That’s past tense, though, and he’s happy to focus on the quality of the Wyoming event. “I’m a super happy guy! So yeah, this will be a high end show. We have a great producer. Very classy. The cost is a reasonable $29.95.”
We should be on the lookout for a free stream, three or four fights, to precede the PPV, Rutten said. And he noted that the women’s fight, pitting Christina Marks against Jasmine Clarkson, should be solid as well.
Bottom line: Rutten is a survivor so it’s no big surprise to see him enter this realm. He’s open to new experiences and likes to stay open to new concepts. The man hawks a device which he says is great for attacking your asthma and his personality makes him a compelling salesman. That should help WBKFF differentiate itself from the other operators seeking to grow an old sport into a newfound sensation. Or at least make it large enough to give some of these athletes who have that thirst for combat entrenched in their DNA another viable zone to operate in.
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