Interview: Bas Rutten on new Inside MMA, working with Ranallo, Randleman, and more
The pioneer and UFC Hall of Famer Bas Rutten sat down with BloodyElbow to talk about a variety of subjects ahead of the addition of Mauro Ranallo to Inside MMA as his new co-host.
Rutten and Mauro Ranallo - one of the most classic commentary teams of MMA - recently reunited to work together on their podcast, the aptly titled Rutten and Ranallo, where they discuss all matter of subjects. Now in what is perhaps not a coincidence, co-host Kenny Rice will step aside from his co-host role with Rutten and Mauro Ranallo will be replacing him with his singular insight and style.
So now Inside MMA will have the duo together again in a different capacity, this time working on AXS TV and up to their usual hijinks. The Eindhoven native sat down with me to discuss various topics, including their personal and professional relationships, what to expect, and hopes for the future of the show.
Victor Rodriguez: Well, we've got a bit of things going full circle here, as I believe it was back in 2003 that there was a request for gentleman from Canada - Mauro Ranallo to come over and be a commentator for PRIDE Fighting Championships to join you after you had worked with him before and now you're doing the podcast with him and doing the show with him on AXS TV now that he'll be replacing Kenny Rice. So, how does it feel? I mean, you obviously have such a great partnership with the guy, how excited are you to be able to do all of these things with him now?
Bas Rutten: Very excited, you know? That everything fell together like this is just the craziest thing, you know? Kenny's schedule is just out of control, he's at home I think 15 or 20 days if he needs to be booked for NBC, for boxing or for horseback riding - the Kentucky Derby and the Olympics. So, with Mauro here, we just started our podcast, and suddenly I got contacted. They said "Hey, what do you think of Mauro as a host because Kenny's got got another job for Inside MMA, he's going to do the interviews." I go "Wow, that's the craziest thing!" On the one side, I don't want to lose Kenny, but on the other side, I got Mauro in place. It's both really good, and the fact that Kenny is still a part of it is very good.
VR: And going to the point about the podcast, you guys have been doing amazing work. I've been listening to not every episode, but a good amount of them, and you've had some very interesting and varied guests. You've had Jerry "The King" Lawler, Rafael dos Anjos, etc. How freeing is it to not just talk about MMA - the fact that you're just being yourselves and not keeping it within the context of one specific sport?
BR: You know, that's what we always wanted. A long time ago, there wasn't - when you said 2003 or 2004 or 2005, Mauro stayed at my home in December. My wife was with the kids in Holland and just before we were in PRIDE Fighting Championships I said "Why don't you come over? Spend Christmas with me. I'm by myself, you're by yourself." So we had a great time and one of our talks was about was doing radio together or maybe you know, podcasts. I don't even know at the time if it was a podcast or if they called it that. So we always thought "It would be great if we could do something together like radio." So suddenly he moved out here - California, I mean, literally, it's 15 minutes away from my home, you know? So we had to do it.
VR: There's obviously the infamous video in which you had set him up upon his arrival in PRIDE. The inimitable Cro Cop, unexpected prankster, had him corner and pretty much accused him of certain things, "You know, you've been saying negative things about me..." and all this. And I always remembered this because you kept pushing him back, you kept saying "Mauro, you have to finish the interview. Mauro, you gotta go back. You gotta go talk to the guy." He kept intimidating him, Mauro kept defending his case saying "No, that wasn't me, I didn't do this!" You don't happen to have anything planned for him upon his initiation here, do you
BR: (laughs) I'm kind of afraid that he's going to do something with me right now! But we will figure it out, I'm open for everything. This was just a thing that was hilarious to do, you know? Once people understood how scared Mauro really was from Mirko, it was a no brainer. He really did not want to interview him, so once we heard that I said "Oh, man... I got a great idea. Maybe we should set him up." And that's how the video came together. And Mirko also, of course, he's really funny. A lot of people see the serious side of Mirko Cro Cop but he can be a very funny guy, as you can see in that video.
VR: But I think that's a testament to him, what a professional he tried to be during the whole thing because he kept trying to interview him regardless of how he was feeling and the point that he - even when he was asking him (Cro Cop) about his opponent that Cro Cop was going to face at the time, Ron Waterman, he kept pushing. Mauro's been such a professional, he's done so many sports, so many different kinds of events and interviews, etc. So, what do you think about that? His work ethic and how he continues to move things along?
BR: You know, it's great. I felt really bad about it because he's kind of asking my help here, you know? "Hey, back me up here, man! It wasn't me that was talking bad about Mirko!" I just kept going. I said "No, no, no." But that's Mauro, It doesn't matter if there's a storm, what kind of storm, it doesn't matter. As soon as the lights go on, Mauro is Mauro. He will do his job, whatever happens. So, if we're in a war and there's bullets flying around, when the lights go on I'm sure Mauro will report the news.
VR: Focusing now on the situation with the podcast and the TV show, what goals or aspirations do you have, if any? Are there any goals you want to meet?
BR: No, we're gonna figure it out. I think this Friday is going to be the first one, I think we're gonna have the same energy as we had on the podcast. We're just two guys shooting... shooting the crap, having fun. And then, we'll see what we like, what we don't like, and what we like we push even further and what we don't like we'll just cast it out. So I think it's to see what really works for us and what doesn't. Just shoot from the hip. I think that's the smartest thing to do for now.
VR: And as far as AXS TV goes, perhaps this new formula, this new dynamic obviously will be a major change given the different personality types between Kenny Rice and Mauro Ranallo. So as far as Inside MMA is concerned, do you think this will be similar to the podcast but with guests in some way?
BR: No, I think video people just like video and in-studio guests, and that's all, everything is going to have a different energy. That's one thing, for sure. Kenny always - Kenny is a really funny guy, but you know he has to play his part. He's got to be the serious guy. They're probably going to allow Mauro to be looser, because his crazy mind will pop up here and there. Mauro can also be very annoying and I'll let him pay for those times, when he does that. We did that in the past as well. But you know, what are you gonna do? He'll do it with me as well. No, I think it's different. We'll find out what we want to do and how we want to do it. Just waiting, I guess.
VR: So, as far as the state of MMA right now, what are your thoughts regarding where the sport is compared to where it was say, the days where you were doing commentary for PRIDE? Did you ever expect that things would go in the direction they've gone, that the sport would get this big and go in so many different directions?
BR: Yeah, I did. I did. I was way off, though. I said when they interviewed me after my first fight, this is September '93. They asked "Where do you see this going?" I said "This is going to be the biggest thing. This is going to be like Rollerball, the movie. You know, in the future, people are gonna need an outlet somewhere and I think this is the perfect outlet for people to get their energy out and this is gonna be one of the biggest things ever." I said "In four years from now, this is going to be the biggest sport."
Now, I was was about 11 years off, a long time. But you know, eventually it became the big sport, and from here it's only going to grow. I have to see how far it's going to grow. Now with boxing and no more headgear in the Olympics, we might even see it back in the Olympics. Of course, we're gonna need modified rules, it's an injury-prone sport, there's more ways to win. Some things they'll have to change, but hopefully as in the first two Olympics we're gonna see it back.
VR: Some people have advocated that perhaps not using gloves, fighting the way that things were in the Pancrase days where your stardom really exploded, would be the safest thing right now with all this talk about CTE and concussions and things of that sort. Do you think that's still a possibility or do you think we're too far gone in the direction where boxing is something fighters are so reliant upon?
BR: Yeah, I don't think... I think open hands, that's going to be very hard to do. It's funny, you talk about open-hand strikes, with Pancrase. We almost never got poked in the eyes, and here we are in modern MMA times where it's closed fist and people get poked in the eyes all the time. With us, it was open hands, you know? It's weird that it didn't happen in Pancrase. It was a side thought that I had, when you said that.
I think they're gonna need rules, though. Gloves, as well. I think it will have to be a different kind of padding, a little thicker padding on the knuckle. I don't know how they're gonna do it, but you know, yeah. No shinguards, I don't see that. Maybe they allow kicks to the body but not to the head. I dunno. I'm sure I can come up with some crazy rules that will still make it correct.
VR: Well, the side note that you raised was still an interesting one, because even though Pancrase didn't use gloves, you are correct. We didn't see that many eyepokes. But still, even what followed that, the next evolution in the sport and the next major promotion or company that we saw was PRIDE, and even then we didn't see as many eyepokes as we see on a constant basis now. Do you think that's because there's more fights, therefore there's a higher statistical probability of that or is it something with the gloves or even the fighters themselves not keeping their hands closed?
BR: Well, just not keeping their hands closed. If you're totally relaxed and calm in the ring, you should know exactly what you're doing. Now, trust me, if I poke somebody in the eye, I know when I poked somebody in the eye and I would not like that attribute of myself when I would do that, you know? So I think for fighters it's pretty easy, to not do it. It's just focus. It's almost to me when it happens, it looks like they almost do it on purpose. I mean, I understand they don't, but it happens 3-4 times in a row, I'm gonna go "OK, give him a warning." I also think fighter who have been doing that for a while, I think they should get a warning before the fight even starts. Say "Hey, last time you did that like, five times. This time do it the first time, you're gonna get a red card." I think a warning for someone like that, a repeat offender, I think it would work really well.
VR: On your podcast - episode 5, I believe it was - a tribute to the recently departed "The Monster" Kevin Randleman. I remember an episode of Inside MMA where he was a guest on the panel and he praised you specifically for the fight you both had in the UFC, the heavyweight title fight. He said something along the lines of how grateful he was to have the opportunity to fight you and how much he learned from that fight, how deeply he appreciated and respected you after that. I guess my question is twofold, here. Number 1, how did that feel? Was that praise somewhat unusual perhaps, at the time? And when you look back, what do you think we really lost with the departure of Kevin Randleman? He was obviously an asset to the sport but you knew him better than a lot of other people.
BR: Well, he was just a really great guy, you know? He was always like that. He was, right away, after the fight, the next day we were in the lobby and we were already talking. We were talking before the fight, in the elevator. You know, he's always been that guy. I believe it was Ricardo Arona, I read a thing online, and he just beat Randleman and he was in his dressing room and suddenly he saw a shadow. He said that at the time, you know, there was a lot of fighting at the time. Also, after the fights in the dressing room, you know? People would just come in, there would be a fight. That was nothing unheard of. And he realized that Randleman came walking into his place where he was getting ready to scrap, he thought.
But then Randleman walked over to him and gave him the biggest hug and said "Congratulations, that was an awesome job." That's how he was. He did that to everybody. He was such a good guy. So if you listen to his wife Elizabeth and listen to all the things that he did for fans, you know, fans that contact him and maybe mentally had a problem or something. He was the first one to jump on that person and make sure that everything was OK. Everything he did for other people, that was just Kevin. When we did the funeral and we had the party afterwards - we had a party because he wanted a party at Xtreme Couture. All the people said the same thing. Everybody said the same thing, you know? We talked to so many people that had a different story, but it was all about Kevin, helping them. And I think that's the biggest thing, that shows who Kevin Randleman really is. He was just out there always to help people.
VR: I wanna ask you just one last question here before I let you go - what are you hoping to see, let's say within the next year, what kind of evolution or what kind of steps and changes would you like to see in MMA that you'll be able to cover in the new and revamped Inside MMA with Bas Rutten and Mauro Ranallo?
BR: Ooh, that's a hard one. In MMA in general, I've been asking for the last 6-7 years for New Year's I've been asking for instant replay and I know a few states do it already but I want it everywhere for mixed martial arts. I also want a 235lb weight class, I think that would be a smart thing, cruiserweight. That would be the only things, and for our show, I don't know. That's the thing with Mauro, you never know where it's gonna go. He can pull out crazy things with me, and I'm pretty sure I can pull out crazy things with him. So, hopefully that's gonna start happening and you'll get an insight of what a maniac this guy really is in a good way, because that's really what he is. He's the same guy. The only thing he does all day long is be on social media and e-mails, and learning and helping people. That's what Mauro does.