One of the biggest and most eccentric personalities in the MMA industry, it’s no surprise that Bas Rutten’s explosive charm is finally working its way into the mainstream entertainment industry.
Before Rich Franklin ever starred in a Terminator rip-off and before Randy Couture became an Expendable, “El Guapo” (“The Handsome One”) was entering American homes through guest spots on Kevin James’ show King of Queens. Now, the pioneer of the liver shot links up with James again in his most high-profile acting role to date, appearing in the recently released Summer blockbuster Zookeeper.
Speaking to hosts Mike, Amy and Brian of the MMA Beatdown radio show on the MMADieHards.com Radio Network, Rutten (Twitter: @BasRuttenMMA) spoke in great detail of his foray into the world of acting, as well as using his expertise within the MMA industry to comment on Steven Seagal’s apparent move in the opposite direction, the greatest bouts he has ever seen and what lies in the future of PRIDE legends Fedor Emelianenko and Wanderlei Silva.
Rutten’s contribution to the part-animated family comedy Zookeeper sees the former UFC heavyweight champion lend his voice to the character Sebastian the Wolf. In doing so, he joins a cast of illustrious comedic mainstays in Hollywood, including Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Ken Jeong and Jim Breuer. Perhaps most impressive of all is that starring actor James personally approached Rutten to offer the role.
“Yeah, that’s what he did, we go back – I’ve known him from since I’d been in the country for three months, which I’ve just realized was 14 years ago; unbelievable,” Rutten exclaimed. “I did a few episodes with him and shot a short comedy film during that time – The Kingdom of Ultimate Power – that did really well in New York. It played at their film festival and won first prize. One thing led another and he recently asked, ‘Hey, are you interested in playing a wolf?’ And I said, ‘Of course.’ You know, if he asked that I play a flamingo it might have been a different story; I’m not so sure about flamingos.”
Appearing in a big-budget summer holiday release doesn’t appear to be the height of Rutten’s professional acting career or working relationship with James, either. The pair already have their next film project lined up, and for the former King of Pancrase open-weight champion it’s a little closer to home
“We’ve also just shot another movie (Here Comes The Boom) in Boston for 10 weeks,” Rutten revealed. “That was my first big part in a big movie, and we’re looking forward to that – it’s going to be a mixed martial arts comedy. It’ll have a serious storyline, but also some great comedic undertones.
“This is definitely one of the biggest things I’ve ever done, it’s a big part, a co-star part, which is really good for me. I can’t say a lot about it, but he (James’ character) starts doing mixed martial arts to raise money to save a music program.
“Henry Winkler’s also involved. He’s a great guy, everything that comes out of his mouth is really funny. When you hang out with those guys, everything is funny, it’s the same way as with Kevin, what you see on TV is what you get. Every three sentences there’s a joke and that’s how I like to live my life.”
No stranger to being in front of a camera, Rutten remains prevalent among the MMA community as a host on Inside MMA on HDNet. Before that, he had commentated for PRIDE Fighting Championships and the International Fight League, respectively. Despite such experiences, Rutten is the first to profess that there is a marked difference between the television genres of presenting and acting.
“Well, (with acting) you have to jump into a character, which is different,” Rutten said. “Although that was quite an easy move for me, (in Here Comes The Boom) this character is actually quite similar to myself and is even from Holland. There’s a great deal more acting than there is fighting in the film. But what I would love to do at some point is act as a completely different character, much like Robert Downey Jr. does in the film Chaplin, something like that.”
As Rutten has edged closer to a career in Hollywood, iconic martial arts film star Steven Seagal has gone the other way. Appearing in the corner of Brazilian UFC duo Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida in their most recent outings, the seventh degree Aikido black belt and star of Under Siege has been partially credited with the sudden front upkick that finished their respective bouts against Vitor Befort and Randy Couture. Rutten, however, calmly rejects that notion.
“Anything that helps bring attention to the sport is cool with me,” Rutten said. “But there’s a big difference between movie fighting and real fighting. Aikido is a beautiful martial art and there are things from most martial arts that you can take and apply to real fighting. The likes of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, striking and wrestling are most effective in MMA, but I’ve never heard of an Aikido guy being top-of-the-line in MMA. Nobody feeds their hand to you like in Aikido practice or the movies. Nobody comes at you with a right fist that allows you to grab it in mid-air, that just doesn’t happen.
“I don’t think he’s teaching anything to the likes of Silva and Machida. I imagine Anderson’s just giving a handout. He’s always laughing when Seagal’s around and I think to him it’s just a fun thing. With that front kick, the fourth or fifth thing you’re taught in most martial arts usually involves a kick to the face. I imagine the guys respect him for the movies he’s been in, but that’s about it.”
Rutten also had a personal tongue-in-cheek message for Seagal.
“If you want to make some money, you should take that to boxing,” Rutten laughed. “I heard Mayweather was offered $65 million to fight, that’s a lot of money. If you’re fast enough to catch a right hand like that you could do pretty well in the boxing industry.”
An ever-present force in the world of mixed martial arts, with a career-spanning active competition, color commentary and punditry at the highest level, the inevitable question of Rutten’s favorite fight eventually surfaced to the topic of discussion.
“Oh man, that’s a hard one,” Rutten sighed. “Wanderlei and Quinton in the PRIDE days, Fedor and Nogueira the first time, Heath Herring and Nogueira the first time, those were all great fights. Anything with Clay Guida in – that guy can take so much punishment. I really like watching Aldo as well, he’s an unbelievable fighter.”
Calling fights at the height of PRIDE’s success, Rutten was treated to seeing one of those fighters, Fedor Emelianenko, compete at his absolute best. During that time, Emelianenko staked a claim for the title of best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, with victories over a Who’s Who of heavyweight greats in their prime, including Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, Kevin Randleman and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipović. In more recent times, Emelianenko’s record has been tarnished by two straight losses at heavyweight and he now faces a more evenly-sized Dan Henderson on July 30.
Having witnessed the evolution of MMA firsthand, Rutten listed a number of factors surrounding the decline of Emelianenko.
“I think it’s age — of course it’s age,” Rutten said. “It’s also weight, too, fighting a guy like Bigfoot Silva who has to cut to make 265 when Fedor’s 233 soaking wet. Size makes a much bigger difference nowadays.
“On top of that, look at the way he strikes, he throws nothing but hooks – much in the way Wanderlei Silva does – there’s no crisp combinations, jabs or straights down the middle, its just a lot of big swings. Now people are recognizing that and working on counter-fighting at a distance. Fedor needs to change his style, he needs to start throwing different shots, spray punches, mix it up and then throw in an overhand right if he wants. Its really do-or-die now for Fedor.”
With larger athletes at heavyweight beginning to develop technique to accompany their impressive frames, a host of fans and critics alike are calling for Emelianenko to make a move down to light-heavyweight in an attempt to salvage his reputation, citing well-rounded goliaths such as Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem as obstacles simply too great to overcome.
“Yeah, I would say exactly the same thing,” Rutten agreed. “And that’s why I’ve already been saying on Inside MMA for a while now, get another weight class. Get the 235-pound weight class there. That way, the leap from light-heavyweight to heavyweight doesn’t become as big. Guys like Forrest Griffin – who if you meet him in person is actually huge guy – I imagine have great difficulty cutting to 205 so another option in between the two weight classes for them would be perfect.”
Another former PRIDE icon whose career path is up in the air is Wanderlei Silva. After suffering a quick KO loss to Chris Leben at UFC 132, UFC president Dana White hinted the former PRIDE middleweight champion and 2003 Middleweight Grand Prix winner could have fought his last fight under the Zuffa banner, with nothing left to prove to the fans and questions raised over his cage-related health.
“I think (Wanderlei retiring) is the right decision,” Rutten admitted. “It’s not going to hurt him among the fans, it’s like with Chuck Liddell. Chuck Liddell was such an exciting fighter that even if he got knocked out 10 times, he wouldn’t lose a single fan – just because of who he is and the style he fights. I feel it’s the same way with Wanderlei Silva, but if he keeps losing it affects his ability to teach his students. Something like that could be a factor.
“He doesn’t need to fight anymore, we’ve already seen some unbelievable fights from him. He’s the first guy I mentioned when you asked me about the best fights I’ve seen. His bout with Sakuraba was absolutely crazy, and the one with Quinton Jackson was the same. I think it’s the right time for him to stop and hopefully Dana can do something with him like he was able to do for Chuck.”
Despite carving an impressive niche of his own in the world of film, it appears Bas Rutten’s heart still very much lies with the sport of mixed martial arts. There’s plenty of Bas to go around.