Atlanta Journal Constitution by Steve Hummer
The following article appeared in the Atlantic Journal Constitution….

No Holds Barred appeals to fighters who don’t want to win on points

Steve Hummer – Staff
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The second time Bernard Rutherford tried this No Holds Barred fighting thing — envision a martial arts-wrestling-prison riot hybrid — his foe could not play by even the few rules that are written somewhere on the back of an envelope.

So, the two are rolling around looking for a joint to hyperextend when Rutherford feels a tugging on his skull. “The only fight that I lost so far, this guy grabbed a handful of my hair and pulled a whole bunch of it out,” he recalled fondly. “He held me down by my hair and put a choke on me, and I couldn’t get out of the choke because he was holding onto my hair. There was like a wad of my dreadlocks in the ring.”

The most shocking development was that there would be a third fight for Rutherford. And a fourth. And so on to No. 11, on Friday night at downtown Atlanta’s Earthlink Live.

Rutherford is becoming one of the leading local lights of the ultimate fighting genre. It takes a special person to dress his fists in barely more padding than on the seat of a church pew and commence to punching, kicking and grabbing for any unguarded limb. This breed has created a niche sport that gets some decent pay-per-view play, its devotees claiming it will surpass boxing in popularity as American culture continues the search for an even lesser common denominator. Rutherford said the leading contract fighters can make a quarter-mil a year.

A 37-year-old one-time Marine and former death row guard at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison (i.e., The Big House) in Jackson should have all the necessary tools.

A reasonable man by all outward appearances, Rutherford has found safer work as a personal trainer and massage therapist stationed at the Forum Athletic Club in Alpharetta. He seems very friendly, but it is probably a good idea to give him another rep when he requests one.

Having discovered the martial arts as a Marine stationed in Okinawa, Rutherford quickly took to the discipline. But there was something missing. “I’ve always been a very aggressive fighter,” he said. “In kickboxing and Muay Thai kickboxing, there’s a lot of rules and regulations that keep you from engaging. There’s a lot of stand-off kicks and punches. I always thought my strength was more ground-and-pound.”

Ultimate fighting came along like an answered prayer.

He has the build: Let’s call it like a wine keg with arms, wide and sturdy, 200 or so pounds that have been ordered to march in close formation.

He has the temperament: He grew up in Barnesville and played football at Lamar County High School. By his own reckoning, he usually was at the center of any trouble on the field. Not an overtly confrontational type, but if the fight came to him, he would wholeheartedly embrace it.

“Everybody always liked me, but they know I was the wrong person to [honk] off,” Rutherford said.

When a man fights, is it too much to ask that there be something messed up? That’s where the more formal styles of combat fell apart for Rutherford. “Even after the [martial arts] tournaments I’d win, I felt so deprived. If you punched somebody in the mouth and bust his lip, you’d get disqualified. I want to know what it looks like when I do land that hard, fast punch. What’s the outcome of that?” he said.

He has the tattoos: His back is all broken out in ink, an intricate mural of swirls and flourishes. Body art is as fundamental to ultimate fighters as fountains are to Rome.

He even has a plan: Rock-climb the ultimate fighting scene for two more years, maybe put away enough money and credibility to open a gym of his own. He figures, “It’s one way for me to market myself, put my name on the map. When you see that bulletin board or see that flyer, maybe you say, ‘Oh, I know that guy. He’s the one who used to fight.’ ”

Which brought him to the intimate confines of Earthlink Live on Friday, everything leading to his main event. In this monthly show, like most others, there were other illustrated men of No Holds Barred fighting, women kickboxers, regular boxers, even children in the ring. All that was missing was a couple of boxing kangaroos.

By 11 p.m., Rutherford finally entered, pumping himself up with a series of leaps across the canvas. Ear-shredding music poured down on the scene. In the opposite corner stood Shannon “The Cannon” Ritch, a regular on the mayhem circuit whose promotional card credits him with a record of 80-62-2. He has been in more fights than Whitney and Bobby.

“Hit him in the kidney!” encouraged one of the about 900 fans.

But there was scarce little time for working any of the major organs. By midway through the first round, Rutherford had toppled Mr. Cannon and was giving him the business but good. Locked in something lovingly called the full-arm choke, Ritch surrendered.

“I came out pretty unscathed,” said Rutherford post-fight, holding an ice pack to the right side of his face, where a Ritch heel had connected.

Where to from there? There was some talk of taking a fight in Alaska next, if the numbers are right. “We’re taking this all the way to the top,” enthused Rutherford’s Marietta-based trainer, Tony Tucci. The trick may be recognizing the summit when they arrive.