Have you ever been hit in the liver? I’m not sure how to explain the sensation of pain involved. It immediately shuts your body down, turning the most violent person into a pacifist in a matter of seconds. It’s designed to crumble a giant. Well, there is a man among the MMA ranks that has paved his path with this pinpoint attack — a man that has fought and clawed his way to the top, but now knocks out his opponents with charm, class and an award-winning smile. This man is an immigrant. He’s an American citizen, father and a husband. This man is Bas Rutten, also known as “El Guapo.”
When I got the call that we had an interview with Bas Rutten, I couldn’t help smiling. As a life-long fight fan, I have watched him in legendary bouts with pipe hitters like Masakatsu Funaki, Kevin Randleman, and the Shamrock brothers. He was lethal on his feet and would snap your limbs on the ground. He comes from the era when rounds lasted 20 minutes and sheer will and determination would make you the victor. The era when hand-to-hand fighting was considered too taboo for mainstream television. The days when you actually had to be a tough guy alongside being a professional athlete.
I didn’t want to make this a cookie-cutter interview. I needed a leg up on all the big boys who have sat down with him in the past. So I figured the best way to start a day with a UFC legend would be to hit the range to see if he can handle a weapon.
As soon as Bas got off the plane, we drove to one of Phoenix’s top indoor gun ranges. C2 Tactical has hosted us before and they know that not all celebs are comfortable around firearms. They set us up with the VIP range and were ready to provide any instruction Mr. Rutten needed. I laid out some custom Glocks from SSVI, a Law Enforcement carbine from Modern Outfitters and a legacy Soviet AK47 in the hope that he had used at least one of these weapons in the past. “So, have you ever shot before?” I asked.
Bas replied in a thick Dutch accent, “Yeah, the SEAL Team guys took me out once to shoot. I will do my best.” He loads one of the pistols, press checks it and throws a five-round group the size of a half dollar downrange. I looked at my wide-eyed assistant editor and thought, “Damn! Is this guy good at everything?”
We continue to blast for the next hour until the ammo ran dry. Normally in the past, most guests will just shoot the guns provided and that’s it. But every time I would look back, I would see Bas loading magazines and sweeping up brass, all while engaging with fans. The guy is a true shooter. Even though he lives in the most gun-restrictive state in America, he has fully taken advantage of his Second Amendment right. Funny thing, I used to make the joke, “If I had to fight a guy like Bas Rutten, I would just shoot him.” Well shit, there goes that plan.
Still high off the adrenaline from the range, we head to lunch. (You got to keep that energy flowing, so you have to feed the machine.) Besides, all we had left in the day was a photoshoot and a podcast, old hat to “The Handsome One.” We crack a few beers and the stories start flowing. Within minutes he has us all rolling with tales about the Japanese Yakuza, buck-naked co-stars doing somersaults down the street, and doing time in a Swedish jail (Google it!).
At this point I can barely breathe from the laughter. He is nonstop. Eventually, I find a chance to stuff a burger in my mouth when Bas looks at me and says, “Have you ever heard about the time I knocked out a toilet?” I immediately spit up a pickle like someone has just given me the Heimlich maneuver. I’m laughing and choking at the same time, “I have to hear this one.” He puts down his sandwich and gets ready to unleash. I knew we were in for a treat.
Bas Rutten: So I just went out with BJ Penn (famous UFC fighter) and his brothers in Hawaii. I get back to the hotel and want to go to bed. I have this thing — that I have to shower before I go to sleep. It’s this weird thing in my mind, so however trashed I am, I’m gonna have to do that. So I’m going into the shower. Everything is good. When I get out, of course I slip. I fall back and my head hits the rim and the frickin toilet explodes in like a 150 pieces.
The problem was I’m so messed up at this moment, you know, I couldn’t figure out what to do. So, I walked to the bedroom and there were two queen-sized beds. I took the blankets off one and I stomp it in the hole because … well, obviously, there is water coming out.
Skillset: As opposed to just calling the front desk?
Bas Rutten: Yeah, well, I really wanted to go to sleep. But I didn’t really realize that the whole 38th floor started flooding.
Skillset: Oh, shit. Okay.
Bas: So you can imagine, people start calling. Then I had the weirdest dream that people came into my room and fixed the toilet. When I woke up in the morning the toilet flushed, so obviously something was done, but I still wasn’t quite sure. I thought it was just a dream. So, I go into the bathroom and I sit on the toilet. I always sit down when I pee in the dark, because otherwise the light goes on and makes me awake and I don’t want to go to sleep anymore. So, I’m sitting down and I think, “Man, that was such a weird dream!” Then I flipped the light switch on. I don’t know if you saw the movie “The Blair Witch Project” with all the little bloody handprints?
Skillset: Of course! That movie was freaky.
Bas: Yeah, yeah! You know! There were bloody handprints everywhere. But now I’m thinking, because the toilet is there … so, it didn’t break. It was just a dream. But where is the blood coming from? I’m looking at myself in the mirror. I go, “Oh, dude. Did I kill somebody?” I’m freaking out at this point. This is a true story.
Skillset: No f-ing way!
Bas: YES! I’m freaking out. So, it turns out, I had a cut on the back of my head.
Skillset: Yeah, that happens when you head butt porcelain.
Bas: Right! But when I looked at myself straight in the mirror I didn’t see a cut! So I’m going through the whole apartment looking for a body — you know, as if I threw somebody over the balcony.
Skillset: CSI Hawaii!
Bas: I was freaking out. Then the telephone rings … the front desk girl says, “We have to come up and we’re sending security.” I tell her, “Yeah. Okay. Whatever. Come up.”
A beautiful girl walks in and sees I have these crazy pictures lying around of me in a 1970s suit, you know, with a big smile and bling on my teeth, and it says, “El Guapo says dance.” It’s for autographs. I always make these funny pictures. Anyway, she stands there and she goes “Um, is that you?” I go, “Yeah, that’s me.” She says, “Uh, that’s a cool picture.” I say, “Thank you. Thank you.”
We’re talking and she says, “My boss is extremely angry.” I say, “Why would that be?” The girl says the entire 38th floor has been flooding. They had to call up a lot of extra staff. Then she gets a call. “Uh-oh. He’s coming. He’s coming. Get ready,” she says to me. The guy walks in very upset and says, “Okay sir. Well, (he suddenly recognizes me) — Bas Rutten? Big fan man! How you doing?”
Skillset: Boom! You got away with it?
Bas: I got nothing! Ha-ha! I eventually went down to the lobby to get some food and there was a big body building expo going on. Everyone was talking in the lobby. They were like, “We get free breakfast for the next three days.” I go, “Why is that?” They say, “Yeah, some guy flooded the 38th floor!” I go, “Dude. All that breakfast was because of me. I did that!”
Skillset: You’re welcome!
Bas: You are very welcome!
Skillset: I think I need to go party with you one night. Just one night.
Bas: Are you sure? Ha-ha!
We leave the restaurant and head to the studio. During the drive, I asked him what made him get into martial arts. His answer had a lot in common with many great fighters’ stories about their reasons for entering the sport. They were bullied.
Bas: I had a horrible skin disease — on my hands, on my arms, on my neck and face. Kids think it’s contagious, you know; they call you all kinds of things. Actually, that hurt me the most. I always tell people, a beating is not as bad as words. As you can see right now, with kids and social media, they literally kill themselves. The other kids don’t have a clue how much words can hurt, you know. I actually have like two guys still on my list. One was a teacher. If I was to see him — this guy’s like 65 years old right now — I would smack him in the face. Hitting him with a fist I would at least make him nervous and say, “Do you remember what you did to me?”
Skillset: It was that bad huh?
Bas: Yeah. Words stays with you. A beating doesn’t.
Skillset: So what made you decide to learn martial arts?
Bas: I saw a Bruce Lee movie with my brother. We were on a vacation in France and snuck into this movie theater showing “Enter the Dragon.” I was 12 and you had to be 17 to watch it, but we found a way to sneak in for free! That’s when I saw Bruce Lee and realized that if I could be like him, my being bullied would stop.
Bas: That’s where my quest started. I came home and asked my parents if I could start training. It took like two years for them to finally say yes, because they’re very conservative. They don’t like violence. They consider everything violent. My neighbor brought me to the adult classes and I started training. Within a couple of months, I start dropping these people. I heard them talk about me when I would walk into the locker room, so my confidence started rising. Then I got into a fight with the biggest bully in town.
Skillset: You went right to the top then, huh?
Bas: Right away. They actually came to me, like they always did. Everybody rides a bicycle in Holland. I’m going one way and this group of seven guys rides past me yelling, “Hey, leper! Watch out your ears don’t fall off.” They were always yelling things like that to me. And this time I shouted something back.
Skillset: Oh, damn.
Bas: I heard them laugh. I looked back and I saw them all turning around. That’s when I stopped the bike and put it on the stand. I said to myself, “I’m gonna do something. I’m not going to take this anymore.”
Skillset: Here we go!
Bas: It was like a scene from a badass movie, where guys drive up in their cars and surround you. It was just like that, but with bicycles.
Skillset: Cue the rumble music.
Bas: They all surrounded me. The main bully gets off his bike and he starts pushing me, bumping his chest into my chest and saying, “You wanna hit me Rutten? Come on, man. You wanna hit me? Here’s a clean shot.” I go, “Okay”. That was it. One shot. One shot and he was out.
Bas: I realized at that point, nobody was his real friend. Everybody was afraid of him. If they were his real friends, they would have jumped me. They didn’t. They were all afraid. The problem was I broke his nose, so he had to go to the hospital. Normally in Holland, when you fight on the street, police come and break it up. No police reports … everyone just gets sent home. But if a guy has to go to the hospital, you’re going to be in trouble; that meant police were at my mom and dad’s doorstep. They took me out of martial arts right away, but obviously I made my way back.
Made his way back is an understatement. Bas eventually earned black belts in Taekwondo, Judo, Kyokushin Karate and Shinto Karate. This led to a legendary fighting career that spanned the globe. He won numerous world titles and even was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. But as I stated earlier, these stats are plastered all over the internet. Take some time and look up some of his fights on YouTube — I promise you won’t be disappointed.
After Bas hung up the gloves, he set his sights on Hollywood. He immediately started taking acting classes and landing roles. Of course, he had to cut his teeth first. Acting in “straight-to-video” flicks like “The Vault,” “Shadow Fury” and “The Eliminator” wouldn’t get him walking on a red carpet any time soon, but he knew he had to start somewhere.
Fast-forward a few years to TV show appearances on “The King of Queens,” after which Bas was cast as a drill instructor in “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” alongside friend Kevin James. It wasn’t until Sony Pictures saw an independent short called “The Kingdom of Ultimate Power” (Google this for some laughs) that Bas got a co-starring role. He played a Dutch immigrant/MMA instructor in the 2012 comedy, “Here Comes the Boom.” This is one of those family friendly movies that makes you laugh, no matter how many times you see it. Bas basically got to play himself in the film which, in my opinion, is his best character. What you see is what you get with him. He’s also as energetic in real life as he is on the screen. Plus, the film has Henry Winkler in it. I mean come on, who doesn’t love “The Fonz”?
The day wrapped up and Bas boarded a plane back to Simi Valley. Driving away, I knew he was one of us, and a friend—the type of guy who’s the center of attention when he walks into a room, but who works hard for everything he’s earned. He’s a family man, mentor and TV personality who made the American dream a reality. We are honored to have spent time with one of the greats — not only a world champion in the cage, but a world champion in life.