By Mick Hammond
With Bushido “The Tournament” quickly approaching, the MMA world is buzzing about what could be the single most intriguing night of action in the lower weight classes ever. Not only will the finals for 183lb welterweight division be set, but the stacked 160lb lightweight division will take one step closer to crowning a champion for the first time in many years.
MMA Weekly spoke to living legend and incomparable Pride commentator Bas “El Guapo” Rutten recently to break down the American hopes in the tournaments and to discuss the present and future of both himself and the Pride Fighting Championships.
MMA Weekly: Bas let’s not waste any time and get right into breaking down some of the fights in the two tournaments starting with the welterweights. First up let’s discuss the match between Ikuhisa “The Punk” Minowa and “The New York Bad Ass” Phil Baroni, tell us your thoughts on this fight.
Bas Rutten: You know what, knowing Minowa and this being a rematch, he’s going to be prepared like a crazy man. Phil knows that of course so he’s going to train real hard too. Hopefully they are going to start this fight like they did in round 2 of the last one, like right away just start slugging it out. I have a feeling that’s going to happen because Minowa doesn’t want to waste any time, I think he’s going to in and going to go real hard and force Phil to keep up with him.
MMA Weekly: So do you feel this fight will share the same outcome as their first match?
Bas Rutten: I don’t know, I really don’t know. The first time, in the first round, Minowa looked real good against Phil. I have to say Phil looked a lot better against Chonan, he looked lighter on his feet and his boxing improved. Saying that I think Phil should take this one again.
MMA Weekly: Next up we have Dan Henderson taking on Ryo Chonan. What do you see for this one?
Bas Rutten: This is a difficult one, very difficult. Dan has knockout power in his overhand right and a good left hook and he’s very hard to take down. Chonan is really good at striking himself but he has to use more of his legs in this fight. Dan doesn’t kick a lot, he kicks, but it’s not to knock people out, it’s more like set ups for his overhand. Chonan is just really tough, he got caught last time by Phil but he can come out with some crazy submissions. If Dan makes one little mistake while he’s in ground ‘n pound, he sits up or something and Chonan pulls him back there are the leg locks because he’s really good at that. I would say that Dan could take this fight because he’s very hard to take down and he will dictate if this fight goes to the ground or not. If he takes this a little bit too light there could be trouble.
MMA Weekly: You mentioned Ryo getting caught by Baroni in his last bout. Do you think that the KO will play at all in Chonan’s mind heading into this fight and could it have any effect on the outcome?
Bas Rutten: Yeah for sure, it’s one of the most difficult things a fighter has to deal with. When you get KO’d in one fight and come back, I have so much respect for those guys, especially the ones that come back and get a victory by KO, those are the real guys. I believe that for Chonan, he’s got true warrior spirit, I think it won’t be a problem. As long as it doesn’t get in his head and he starts thinking “what if?” Once he starts that, it’s bad, you fill your head with negative thoughts and you won’t be able to concentrate clearly on the fight.
MMA Weekly: So who do you see making their way to the finals and is there any dark horse that could come out of the 8-man field and surprise people?
Bas Rutten: That’s a very difficult question, I really can’t tell, it’s like the middleweight tournament, there is so much talent in it. Daniel Acacio is on a roll right now, Phil is always dangerous, Minowa if he starts off right away, Chonan is a favorite lately, and Akihiro Gono is so tough also. I can’t tell you, there are eight of the world’s best fighters in there so I cannot make a prediction right now.
MMA Weekly: Heading on to the lightweight tournament now. First up let’s talk about Hayoto “Mach” Sakurai taking on Jens “Little Evil” Pulver.
Bas Rutten: It’s going to be heavy. Sakurai is back in total shape now training with Matt Hume, he’s totally back. Jens Pulver had those losses a few years back but he’s in the groove again. I think this will be a real good fight. If it stands on its feet it should go to Jens.
MMA Weekly: What if this fight goes to the ground? Sakurai is a very accomplished submission fighter and we haven’t seen Pulver go to the ground much in his most recent fights.
Bas Rutten: The Miletich guys do know submissions and how to escape and when you’re going to fight Sakurai I’m sure they’ve worked with ground fighters to prepare. So I don’t see submissions being a problem for Jens if it goes to the ground.
MMA Weekly: Next up we have Yves Edwards, a fighter many claim is the uncrowned Lightweight Champion in the US, taking on Norwegian superstar Joachim “Hellboy” Hansen. Give us your breakdown on this fight.
Bas Rutten: This is going to be a knockout probably, even though Yves surprised us last time with a submission. Joachim has only lost a couple of times and when he lost it was by submission. Yves shows that he’s good on the ground, if he plays his cards right he’ll strike with Hansen and then take him down and he could pull off a submission. If it stays standing it could be the fight of the night, it’s going to be just brutal, they’re both very good.
MMA Weekly: Breaking away from the Americans in the tournament, we have to talk about “Fireball Kid” Takanori Gomi and Tatsuya Kawajiri. How do you think this battle of Japanese superstars will go?
Bas Rutten: This could be a main event this fight, it’s the hometown boys, they don’t want to lose in front of their own crowd, so it’s going to be brutal and a real hard fight. This is the kind of fight that you can’t predict an outcome, all these fights are so well matched up that you can’t really say who’s going to win. What I can say, it’s going to be a war that’s for sure.
MMA Weekly: Neither fighter looked very good in their last bout, do you think because of that they will want to come out and impress early?
Bas Rutten: Fighters are always trying things. In his last fight Gomi probably wanted more power so he hit the weights and bulked up, but he found out in his last fight that it wasn’t good because he got tired, so he won’t make the same mistake this time. Kawajiri in his debut he didn’t look good, but I think now fighting Gomi that he’s familiar with, it will be different.
MMA Weekly: Is there anyone, favorite or underdog, that we can look to make an impact in this show and make it to the finals?
Bas Rutten: Again look at this tournament, there’s so much talent in there. Azeredo gave Gomi his run for his money, Gomi, Kawajiri, Yves Edwards, Sakurai, Jens Pulver, I mean can you pick one? I can’t. Joachim comes in with a bang, he’s on a roll, he’s got a chance, all eight of them do, it’s just the most impossible thing to predict.
MMA Weekly: Tell us how overall important it is for Pride to have these tournaments and secure champions at these weights?
Bas Rutten: I think it’s very important because of separating the weight classes, it’s all about weight nowadays. In the early days it wasn’t, but now it does make a lot of difference. It’s very important for Pride to have these tournaments; the talent involved is unbelievable. I don’t think there’s ever been in the world with two tournaments like this with names like this. What can I say, it’s going to be an unbelievable happening.
MMA Weekly: Getting away from the tournament, tell what kind of impact are you seeing from Pride now being featured on Fox Sports Net?
Bas Rutten: The Fox thing was the best thing that could have happened to Pride. Now the regular people who aren’t normally MMA fans get slowly shown what MMA and Pride is and they see the 50,000 people at a show and are blown away and get interested. If I was seeing it for the first time I would want to get involved in this, it’s a happening. This is what we wanted our whole lives, everybody was working for this. It’s just phenomenal that it’s happening like this. I mean you watch in just one more year, it’s going so fast in the last few years, it’s going to get even bigger.
MMA Weekly: Let’s talk about El Guapo now, I know you’re one of the busiest people in MMA, tell our readers what’s upcoming for you.
Bas Rutten: You know there’s a lot going on with me. There’s the Pride show on Fox every month and the Best Damn Sports Show wants to have me on as a regular. Every month in Japan we have Pride and Bushido, and I have the Bas Rutten MMA System that I do. I’ve got movies, I have to shoot a pilot again, it’s a lot of work, I’ve got a lot of stuff in my head. I’m flying all over the place, I’m going to Japan, when I come back I shoot a part in a movie, I go back to Japan, I come back, I do seminars, and instructor-cons. It’s crazy for me the last six months; I can’t go at this speed anymore. I tell everybody I can do this for a couple of more months but then I’m going to burn out. So I’ve got to really make some good choices about exactly what I’m going to do.
MMA Weekly: Any new products/merchandise we can look forward to in the coming months?
Bas Rutten: Not here soon, but I’ve got the Bas Rutten MMA Workout that’s going to be renewed and it’s going to be really cool, I’ve got some good ideas for that. I’m also writing a book actually, it’s Bas Rutten’s philosophy of life and it’s very funny I think. But that’s going to take a while because I don’t have a lot of time to work on it so I just take it with me in my PDA. Everywhere I go I have moments of what I think is funny, every day something pops up, and I stop the car and I put it in the book. Later on I’m going to take it to a real book editor and actually let them edit it for me because my grammar in English isn’t that good.
MMA Weekly: Sounds great Bas. Is there anything you’d like to say to the fans as we head out?
Bas Rutten: Just keep watching MMA and do not to forget to tune in on the 25th for Bushido because it’s going to be a spectacle, it’s going to be unbelievable. I said it last time after the middleweight tournament, every time we think we cannot top it anymore, and for some reason it happens again, it tops it again. If it happens for the welterweight and lightweight tournament I don’t know how we’re going to top that. Just keep supporting MMA that’s all I’m asking.