by Mick Hammond
This weekend Pride returns back to the their original format for the first time since February with Pride 30: Fully Loaded. On the card such stars as Mirko Cro Cop, Josh Barnett, Ken Shamrock, Quinton Jackson, and Sergei Kharitonov will be looking to make a big impression before the year ending Shockwave 2005 show on New Year’s Eve.

To help us break down those fighters’ chances as well as more, the incomparable commentator of Pride, “El Guapo” Bas Rutten spoke to MMA Weekly before heading over to Japan. Giving us his expert opinion on the show and what could be ahead for not only the company but for himself in the coming months.

MMA Weekly: All right Bas, let’s jump right into things. This is the first regular Pride show in a long time, how important is it for Fully Loaded to live up to the momentum that the company has gained this year after tremendous Bushido and tournament-based formatted shows?

Bas Rutten: Of course it’s always important to deliver a great show. We kind of had like three shows that were like unbelievably high, one right after the other, so it’s going to be very to top that but hey there are some very interesting fights on this card so let’s see what it will bring. I think it’s good for the people also. It’s like Matt Hughes’ said, “I’m kind of happy I lost my title because it was too much pressure,” I think this is also a breathing time for the fans. Let’s focus on some individual fighters instead of a group of 16.

MMA Weekly: Okay, let’s get into some of the bigger fights on the card, starting with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson taking on Hirotaka Yokoi. What do you think about this fight?

Bas Rutten: First off I think Yokoi is a great fighter, I’ve always thought it. He’s very well rounded and I can only imagine that he’s way better now. Quinton, thank God he’s gotten a new camp, because I wasn’t happy with the one he had before. Before I always was, but I didn’t like the way he got treated in his last fight. I spoke him to him last week or two weeks ago and he told me he finally knows what it is to train real hard. So I asked him if we will see the old Quinton back and he said, “oh yes, I’m back.” So if the old Quinton is back I see him taking this one.

MMA Weekly: Next up, a fight that could very well determine the #1 contender for the Pride Heavyweight Championship, Sergei Kharitonov against Fabricio Werdum. Who do you think comes out on top in this close match-up?

Bas Rutten: Man, Kharitonov, the way he impressed me so much how he took care of Pedro Rizzo, so we know his striking is phenomenal. Fabricio needs to take this fight to the ground, that’s no big surprise, although he’s been training with Mirko Cro Cop a long time so he knows what it is like to get hit real hard, but still Mirko’s a southpaw, Kharitonov isn’t. He’s different, he has a different kind of attack, he’s also all over the place. He’ll go to the body, body, body, in order to set up a shot to the head. He’ll do that the entire fight and then the finishing blow will come at the end. He’s very patient in what he does; he has the perfect gameplan and is good on the ground, but not as good as Werdum I think. I think Werdum should win this fight if it goes to the ground. It depends on who is on top; I don’t know how Werdum can deal with the ground ‘n pound, because he’s been in control the most on the ground in his fights. On paper I’d say ground experience that Fabricio would win and in the striking I would say Kharitonov.

MMA Weekly: Also on the card is a match between two of the legends of MMA, Ken Shamrock and Kazushi Sakuraba. What should we expect from these two veteran fighters?

Bas Rutten: Personally I haven’t looked into their weight, but for Ken around 205lbs is not his natural weight. I think the Ken that we saw that didn’t perform like he can was when he was out of his weight class. If he can fight in his own weight class I can see it going real good for Ken. But if he’s cutting all the way to 200lbs or something, then it could cause problems with his stamina like we’ve seen before. That’s going to be a hard one to call, both are coming off of losses and they want to win real bad. Sakuraba went to Brazil (to train with Chute Boxe), is he going to come back with knee strikes now, is he going to concentrate on that? You never know with Sakuraba, just don’t count him out. What’s going to happen if Ken wins or Sakuraba wins, they will fight Fedor (Emelianenko) next or something? It’s a great set up for their next fight, but I can’t make any calls for this one.

MMA Weekly: Last we have the main event, a rematch between Mirko Cro Cop and Josh Barnett. We didn’t get to see much the first time due to Barnett’s freak injury, but do you think both will go in with the same strategy they had the last time or something different?

Bas Rutten: It’s going to be different because this time Mirko has trained a lot with Fabricio Werdum who is phenomenal, so now on the ground he knows how to handle himself way more than he did then (in the original fight). Josh had him down the last time and he probably could have done something with it then, but can he do it now? Fedor couldn’t do anything on the ground with Mirko; the ground game of Cro Cop was very good in that last fight with Fedor. He kept Fedor in his guard, kept moving, bobbing and weaving away from the ground ‘n pound of Fedor. I don’t see Mirko getting caught in an submission though, even if he is, it’s going to be a leg lock or something, not an arm bar, I just don’t see that. If Mirko is going to get taken down, Josh should go for ground ‘n pound, I think that would be the best thing. Josh has all the tools to win, but he’s been out for a year and a half now and hasn’t been training or fighting as much so I don’t know if it is too fast for him. Mirko kept fighting and training with very strong people, constantly improving himself. It’s going to be a hard one for Josh to come off an injury and come into a fight like this one. It’s more of a bad match for Josh than it is for Mirko.

MMA Weekly: Obviously whoever has a good showing at Fully Loaded could build a lot of momentum for themselves going into Shockwave 2005, which could be one of the biggest shows in Pride’s history. Give us a little insight into your thoughts about heading into New Year’s Eve after Fully Loaded.

Bas Rutten: The winners are going to come out and probably be many of the guys that participate in Shockwave. It is very important for all the fighters we’ve talked about to win. I think it’s going to be the biggest show we’ve ever had so far, for real. It’s all the champions from all the tournaments all fighting on the same card. The Welterweight and Lightweight Championships, just those two finals do it already for me. And to see guys like Wanderlei (Silva) coming back, he’ll come back with a bang, he’s going to come out after the loss last time and let the world know he’s still here. Ricardo Arona and Mauricio (Rua) should also be on the show; it’s going to be packed.

MMA Weekly: One of the most rumored matches for Shockwave is the one pitting Hidehiko Yoshida against Pride Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko. Obviously with Yoshida and Fedor’s popularity it could bring in a big crowd and ratings. Please give us your thoughts about this possible match-up.

Bas Rutten: Yes I would say that would bring in the crowd. I like Yoshida, he’s got a big heart, he’s tough as nails, I don’t think he would be ready for Fedor, but we’ve said that before against other people and he’s done well. What I would really like to see would be Fedor VS Kharitonov, that is if Sergei wins this fight. That would be a real good match up. Another good match up would be Fedor VS Mark Hunt. For some reason Mark is hard to take down, he’s short, he’s stocky, he can bang, that would be a good fight too. He can press the fight; he’s the kind of guy that is always coming forward. I would like to see either of those fights happen before the Yoshida fight, but Yoshida surprises many times, so who knows what he could do this time?

MMA Weekly: Fedor definitely has a lot of options right now. What about the possibility of getting El Guapo back in there to challenge the Russian Experiment?

Bas Rutten: (Laughs) No if I came out and fought Fedor right now it wouldn’t be so good for me. He is just so good right now it’s unbelievable.

MMA Weekly: Let’s talk about you before we head out, because the fans are always curious to know what’s going on with El Guapo. We’ve heard you’ve had a lot in the works right now, can you give us a little insight into what’s going on with you?

Bas Rutten: You know I don’t like to talk about things before they get signed, but the main reason I came here to America was to act and there are a few things that are getting real close now, not small things. Let’s hope things keep going like it’s going and I hope next year I can surprise the fans on the big screen instead of going to Blockbuster right away. Man I really hope it will be a good year, I’ve worked so hard on it, like I said before our interview started, I’ve been running around like a crazy man. People think I’m a millionaire and trust me I’m not even close. I really think that I deserve something good right now, don’t get me wrong, everything is perfect, but I would really like to get some consistency. You want to make sure that every month that money comes in and you have enough money for your family. Anyone knows that has a family or kids knows what I’m talking about. I want to have money in the bank for college and everything and then be able to breathe.

MMA Weekly: Recently we’ve been seeing El Guapo gear all over the place, particularly sported by actor/comedian Kevin James. How cool is it to have someone so in the mainstream showing you the love?

Bas Rutten: Man Kevin James is a freakshow, he’s the nicest guy, he’s exactly like he is on screen. What people don’t know is that he’s extremely talented in the fighting business. I tell him that if he ever gets into a street fight that he shouldn’t hit the guy in the head because he could break someone’s face for real. I’ve never held Thai pads or focus mitts for anyone that hits as hard as he does, and he does it fast. People say he’s just a fat guy or something, well I say hold his punches for him and see. The speed he delivers them is crazy, if the guy hits you, you go down, he really hits and kicks like a mule. It’s really good to have someone like that supporting me.

MMA Weekly: Thanks for your time as always Bas. Is there anything you’d like to say as we head out?

Bas Rutten: Guys what can I say, El Guapo can only do one thing and that is telling you, commanding you, to watch Fully Loaded. Because it’s going to be an unbelievable show and be sure you keep tuning into to BasRutten.tv and MMAWeekly.com.