Former UFC heavyweight champ and Karate Combat commentator Bas Rutten arrived a little too early to mix his martial arts as thoroughly as he desired. In his heyday, stopping the wrestler was a very good start.
These days, Rutten looks at the myriad of techniques from his primary art of Kyokushin karate and can’t help but feel proud at the home they’ve found in modern fighting. Whether it’s in the octagon or in the hybrid striking competition of Karate Combat, they’ve become a part of the game because they’re effective.
“These guys grind their techniques in over and over again,” Rutten, who calls the action in Season 4 of Karate Combat debuting online on Saturday, told MMA Fighting. “In MMA and kickboxing, it’s all about how hard we can kick because we want to knock people out. They have these faster kicks, and now, all these faster kicks have full contact, and it looks really good.”
Rutten has always had a good eye for the setups of striking techniques, but even he was taken aback by the work of Michael Chandler, who became the latest UFC fighter to viciously end a fight by front kick when he caught Tony Ferguson on the jaw at UFC 274.
Just looking at the pictures of the fight, Rutten said, “Boy, then you can really tell the impact. That was beautiful. This could be the ‘Knockout of the Year’ – by leg.”
It’s extremely difficult to pull off such a technique in a high-level fight. Your chances get better, however, if your opponent hasn’t experienced a particular setup. Ferguson may have been just as aware of his surroundings as other opponents, Rutten said, but if he hadn’t experienced that particular front kick attack, he may not have known what to look for.
“If this doesn’t happen to you in training, the chances that you’re going to get caught with it if somebody worked on it for the fight are extremely high,” he said. “If somebody in training is throwing front kicks to the face, you start measuring the leg automatically.”
Rutten said when he first started training in the US for fights, he worked with a Krav Maga specialist that went full-contact in the gym. No targets were off-limits, including the groin.
“When I picked him up for the very first time, he was sparring with kicks to the balls,” Rutten remembers. “I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s nasty stuff.’ But then you realize, because you are kicking with kicks to the balls, you automatically read the length of the opponent’s leg between him and your cajones. And nobody got kicked in the balls.”
In other words, if you’re guaranteed pain from lack of preparation, you’ll make sure you don’t mess up.
There is, of course, a certain amount of random chance when you get in a sanctioned MMA fight, and no fighter can be completely prepared for every single thing at every single moment. That’s part of the job risk, and why compelling moments such as the one seen at UFC 274 come out of nowhere.
Rutten said he helped cauliflower Frank Shamrock’s nose by shocking him with a front kick up the middle during a fight in Pancrase. Decades later, his fellow former UFC champ was grousing about it to a makeup lady as they prepared for a TV interview.
Rutten, along with Georges St-Pierre and Stephen Thompson, are some of the most decorated representatives to the karate game to cross over into the cage. They’re bringing a little bit of that perspective to every call at Karate Combat – and they can see when a fighter is plotting something big.
“If you create a setup, whether it’s striking or ground fighting, chances are you’re going to catch somebody, even if he’s a high-level black-belt,” Rutten said. “Sure, you’re only going to catch him once. But one time is enough to win a fight.”