Bas Rutten Interview (Part 4 of 4)

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William C

Active Member
Sep 6, 2015
(Note from the author: my interview with Bas, along with a number of other interviews and essays, will be compiled in likely two volumes of books detailing the Fujiwara-Gumi organization, leading into the Pancrase organization)

Standing on His Own: The Bas Rutten Interview

Part Four of Four: Gravitating Towards the UFC

By William Colosimo |

William Colosimo: I have a question for you on Pancrase works- because of something Ken had mentioned about your rematch, and something you had mentioned. In March of ’95, for your rematch with Ken, I know you felt Funaki may have misled you- he showed you one way to defend a knee bar, but then Ken in the match spun in the opposite direction for the knee bar and got the win. Now on Ken’s side, this is interesting ‘cause Ken says he was pressured to lose the title, and he said he didn’t want to lose to another foreigner- but he would lose to a Japanese. So, this is an instance where both fighters feel the deck may have been stacked against them. So what are your thoughts on Ken’s comments there?

Bas Rutten: I don’t know? You can ask- I asked Guy Mezger, Frank Shamrock, I asked every single fighter- none of them has ever been asked to win or to lose. So, you know? But I know that they- Funaki and Ken and Suzuki- they were pro-wrestling before, so, if they did something among each other- I have no clue. But, that’s it. I never- nobody ever asked me. And for as long as I know, as far as I know, every single fighter, I ask them- “Did you ever been asked?”, and nobody said yes.

Colosimo: That answers my next question, I didn’t know if you heard any rumblings from any general Pancrase fighters at the time, about works.

Rutten: The only one was, um… Matt Hume?

Colosimo: Matt Hume.

Rutten: Yeah. That was the only one who said also- and that was the Ken Shamrock fight, actually. I believe he was talking about that (Editor’s Note: Ken Shamrock and Matt Hume had a match on the July 6th, 1994 Pancrase card that is generally accepted as being worked).

Colosimo: Yeah. Now, let’s shoot ahead to after you fought Yanagisawa in the rematch and you broke your hand. Since that time, when you were out, Frank won the provisional King of Pancrase title, and then you and Frank were both back in Pancrase in March of ’96 and April of ’96- but you guys didn’t fight each other and unify the title until May. Do you remember why that got staggered out? If one of you guys would have lost before then, that would have maybe took some luster off the unification.

Rutten: I have no clue. And you know, I never got that, because if it would have been like the UFC, every time when you’re the champion you fight for a title, that would have been great- I would have had fifteen titles now (both laugh). We fought regular fights in between. So no, I don’t know the reason for that.

Colosimo: A question for you on heel hooks- they got banned starting with the June of ’95 show, ‘cause obviously Yanagisawa got injured, Takahashi, Leon Van Dijk, other people. But when you fought Guy Mezger in March of ’96, you got him in what I call a modified heel hook- it seems like it’s a heel hook, just different hand positioning. Now, this is a move that even Funaki, the man behind Pancrase- he was doing that same thing later on (Editor’s Note: I had forgotten, but this move was done at least one time prior to the Bas versus Guy Mezger fight- Masakatsu Funaki was able to submit Frank Shamrock with the hold in their November 4th, 1995 rematch). Did you think at the time it was a heel hook? I’m confused why that move was allowed by Pancrase, and people were doing it.

Rutten: Well I think I started with it, because I just found a different way not to hook the heel but have the same exact effect. You know? So, they couldn’t say anything. I was pulling the heel and pushing the- it was a toe hold, an inverted toe hold pretty much. So, no. I just did something and made sure that I didn’t hook the heel, so they couldn't say anything.

Colosimo: Do you remember how early talks began with you and UFC, and when did Pancrase find out about that?

Rutten: Let me see, when was it… Pancrase knew right away. Because John Perretti came to Japan to watch me fight. And John Perretti was the matchmaker for the UFC at the time.

Colosimo: Yes, December of ’97 versus (Keiichiro) Yamamiya I think it was- because that Ultimate Japan show was roughly the same time. I know Perretti was at that show (Editor’s Note: The Pancrase event was held on December 20th, 1997. The UFC held their Ultimate Japan event on December 21st, 1997. Also- during the interview, Bas mentioned that Perretti may have talked with him one other occasion at a different Pancrase event- the timeline was unclear, but it would seem that it would have likely been at some point before that December 1997 show). Did you tell Pancrase you wanted to fight in both organizations? And did they give you pushback, or no?

Rutten: No, I never heard anything- and especially because everybody was doing it. I mean Maurice Smith, Frank Shamrock, everybody was doing it, you know? It was great promotion for Pancrase, we had like five guys from Pancrase became UFC champions. So (laughter), it was not bad for Pancrase at all. So no, I never had any pushback on nothing.

Colosimo: In September of ’96 you beat Funaki- Pancrase founder, the top opponent for you at the time ‘cause Ken was gone. It was their anniversary show, great event. Then the very next month you fight Manabu Yamada, you beat him in seconds at his own game- with a leg submission. He was at one point Japan’s top guy. So you have these two wins within a month of each other. And then already the following month, November, your title is gone and they’re doing the four man King of Pancrase tournament. So, they stripped your title very quickly when your wife was pregnant and ill. How much time did you ask for off?

Rutten: Nothing yet, because I didn't know what was going on with my wife. My wife went to the hospital, that was… November, I would say? Little bit of October? And they wanted me to defend the title, and I said I was not going to do it because of my wife and kid- you know, I could lose them both. And then they said “Well, the people, they wouldn't understand that, we have to take your title.” I said “Take it.” If I want it back I’m gonna take it back anyway. So I just… gave up the title for that.

Colosimo: Now when that conversation took place- you were still in Japan, or were you on the phone at home?

Rutten: Yeah, I think it was on the phone. I think I made the decision once I realized how bad it was with my wife, and that’s when I said “Listen, I’m not gonna come. I don’t want to fight, I want to stay home.”

Colosimo: The rumor that I heard and the only fight that made sense for you at that time, it seems like they probably wanted you to fight Yuki Kondo, maybe in December of ’96. Did they offer you that fight?

Rutten: No. Not that I know.

Colosimo: Once you beat Funaki, did you lose any desire to compete in Pancrase because you went as far as you could go there? Ken was gone, you beat everybody else.

Rutten: No, that was it. It was hard to get myself ready for fights, to get the spark again. I remember one guy saying to me one time “Hey man, you won like eleven or twelve fights in a row”, and I look at him and go “Ah, dude, I wish you wouldn't have said that.” Because I had no clue. And now I thought “Oh, I hope I’m not going to fixate on that”, you know- that “I don’t want to lose, I don’t want to lose” because that’s never good. But then I think I shook it off, because then suddenly I’m at this crazy high number. And already I started getting some little injury, injury there and there, and I thought if I change the scenery, you know I go to the UFC- that’s a new spark, and then I’m probably gonna start training hard again. So yeah, no you’re one hundred percent right.

Colosimo: You came back in March of ’97, do you remember why it was a five and a half month stretch of time between Yamada and coming back for (Osami) Shibuya? Was there stress on each side because they took your title?

Rutten: No, no I just… I don't know. I do know that I broke my hand in between somewhere also?

Colosimo: After the fight with Shibuya, you did mention in the post fight you broke your hand again, and you had some trouble you put behind you. I understand you had the draw with Shibuya so you wanted a rematch, but, in ’97 they had you fighting Fuke for a third time, you were fighting Yamamiya and (Kiuma) Kunioku- you know, good guys- but they weren’t guys who necessarily would have got fans clamoring for a title match with you. Do you feel like you were being kept from the title?

Rutten: No, and you know what, I’ve always been like- I didn't care about that. I really didn’t. I just wanted to go to the UFC. I didn’t care if I was gonna get my title back. If I was, great; if I wasn't- I wasn't fixated on that anymore.

Colosimo: When did you move to America? Would that have been early ’98?

Rutten: ’97. May, ’97. May 5th I arrived.

Colosimo: That Kengo (Watanabe) fight- so you were basically done with Pancrase, you didn’t have any contract for ’98, you just came back for a one-off- it was supposed to be in theory a tune-up for the UFC?

Rutten: Well, they started getting less crowds. And they asked me- there was going to be one more fight, if I wanted to do one more fight for them. But I was very close to my fight against, um-

Colosimo: TK? (Tsuyoshi Kosaka)

Rutten: Randy Couture. No, officially I was going to fight Randy Couture for the first time.

Colosimo: In Ultimate Brazil (Editor’s Note: The Bas versus Kengo Watanabe fight took place on the September 14th, 1998 Pancrase card. The UFC held their Ultimate Brazil event in Sao Paulo, Brazil on October 16th, 1998. The Bas versus Randy Couture fight had to be scrapped from the Ultimate Brazil show as Randy had elected not to fight for the UFC at that point).

Rutten: Yeah, that was October. I remember it was a show in October, and in September I fought Kengo. And I said “Listen, this is very close together. I mean I’m okay with it, but you know I don’t want…” “No no, we have a guy who’s new, and he- you don’t have to worry, he’s not really a great fighter.” I said “Okay, I’ll fight him.” And then the day before the fight, freakin’ Guy Mezger tells me “Hey Bas, you know that they've been training this guy for a long time specifically for you, right?” I go, “What do you mean?” He says “Yeah, he’s been with Funaki in the gym every day, he was a professional rugby player…” and he started telling me. So, I was going into that fight by just taking him down and submitting him. That was the first time- I decided I’m going to take him down, and go for a submission. But once I heard that, I looked at my hands and I said “I’m sorry, I have to knock him out now.” I’m going to take the risk of… because now I want to show them that I was really angry about that. That’s why- I show all the people, they ask me what is the best quality for a fighter to have? I say being relaxed is always the best. I say if you want to see me angry- watch that fight- and see how unprofessional I am. I’m flying through the ring, my technique is half-ass, it’s such a bad fight- but that’s what anger does to you, you know? You start opening up, and you make mistakes, big mistakes when you’re angry. So, I always refer to that fight- watch that- then you can see what anger does to you. I knocked him out, but it wasn’t pretty.

William C

Active Member
Sep 6, 2015
The next interview I'll post (probably fairly soon) will be with Bas' manager in Pancrase- Don Clovis.