Before answering my first question yesterday during a one-on-one interview at Gallagher’s Steakhouse in Midtown Manhattan, MMA great Bas Rutten stabbed a thick piece of bloody meat like it stole something from him. He held the sirloin up to his eyes for inspection, nodded his approval, and then let his powerful jaws go to work on it.
The International Fight League (IFL) color commentator and former coach of the Los Angeles Anacondas chewed vigorously about 30 times before speaking.
“What was the question again?” Rutten asked after swallowing, in his inimitable Dutch accent.
As I began to repeat myself, the famously hyperactive former kickboxer cut me off: “Just kidding, man! The fights are going to be fantastic this Thursday. They’re all good match-ups. It’s going to be very competitive.”
Rutten was referring to the IFL’s Championship Semifinals taking place at the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, NJ (Aug. 2, 7:30 PM). The card, featuring the Los Angles Anacondas vs. the Quad Cities Silverbacks and the New York Pitbulls vs. the Tokyo Sabres, is dubbed “Road to the Championship.” The Finals will be on Sept. 20 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.
Of the 12 bouts taking place, the one Rutten is most looking forward is a clash of heavyweights: the Silverbacks Ben Rothwell vs. the Anacondas Krzysztof Soszynski.
The two first faced each other in April 2006, with Rothwell earning a TKO 1 over the green Soszynski. Rothwell is considered the best heavyweight in the league and is undefeated going into their rematch—7-0 with four wins coming via KO, two by submission and only one by decision.
But since they last fought, Sosznski has raised his game to another level. “He’s way more well-rounded,” Rutten says of the fighter he once trained. “Way better in submissions, his ground game, stamina—everything. They say he is the most improved fighter in the IFL. We’re going to find out. It’s going to be a big test. And I mean big.”
Rothwell isn’t just physically imposing—at 6’5’’ he has to watch his carbs to get down to the heavyweight limit of 265—he’s also deceptively fast and athletic. While he has made a name for himself as a dangerous striker, and is equally adept with his fists or his feet, his foundation is in jiu-jitsu. He takes pride in being a complete fighter and holding the heavyweight mantle.
So how would Rutten advise his former charge when facing Big Ben?
“I would fight in close as possible,” Rutten says, unwittingly figuring himself into the equation. “The longer his limbs are, they can’t reach any speed when you crowd him. Rothwell’s got a long jab, long legs and long punches. In close is how you take from his power. Krzysztof is smaller than him and this is what he must do. But he can’t get caught coming in.
“Rothwell is very light on his feet, moves very well” Rutten continues. “Don’t judge him by his love handles. He’s like a Fedor Emelianenko. You look at the guy and you think”—he scrunches up his features like he smelled something nasty—“and then he goes bap-bap-bap really fast!”
RUTTEN ON KIMBO SLICE
The restless Rutten was getting antsy, so before I lost him, I asked him about his experience working with Kimbo Slice, the Miami-based street brawler made famous by YouTube.com. Rutten schooled him in MMA before his recent blowout of ancient boxer Ray Mercer.
“He’s a real good guy,” Rutten said of Slice. “He listens to everything you say to him, does everything you ask him to do, and never complains. I mean, that’s hard to find in anybody.”
How far can Slice go if he wholeheartedly dedicates himself to MMA?
“Listen,” Rutten said, “he was two weeks with Shawn Tompkins (current coach of the Anacondas) and Alex Schoenauer (a light heavy under Tompkins) taught him ground. Then at the end, he trained one-on-one with me for a week. That’s three weeks. And what did he do to Ray Mercer? He boxed, he elbowed, he kneed, took him down and submitted him. He showed everything about mixed martial arts!
“Mercer put him into a guillotine,” said Rutten, “which Kimbo felt he would try to do because he does it in boxing. He jumped right away to the side and got out of it. Exactly like how we had practiced. So he’s got a lot of talent. This is after three weeks! If I had this guy for a year, fed him some opponents and built him up the right way, he could be really good.
“Kimbos’ just a really nice guy,” Rutten positively gushed. “My daughters don’t walk up to anybody. And I mean, he’s a scary dude. They ran up to him and high fived him right away—six and 10 years old. They felt really comfortable around him.”