Bas Rutten can empathize with fighters who struggle with retirement issues.
It’s hard to walk away from the spotlight, the money, and the fame, which is why so many end up returning to act ion, usually to diminishing returns — with UFC Hall of Famer and former two-weight class champion B.J. Penn frequently mentioned near the top of the list of those who overstayed their welcome.
Rutten himself stepped away from mixed martial arts in 1999 after downing Kevin Randleman atUFC 20 to win the UFC heavyweight title. Injuries forced his hand; he left the sport unbeaten in his previous 21 fights.
“For me it was very simple,” Rutten said on a recent edition of The MMA Hour with Luke Thomas. “It was injuries.”
But even Rutten couldn’t resist the temptation of one last go. He came back and defeated Ruben Villareal at a WFA show in 2006, but the aches and pains of training camp let him know it was time to let go once and for all.
“I’m very blessed in that I didn’t lose in my last 22 fights,” Rutten said. “That’s a great way of getting out. I tried one more time after seven years in 2006 and I thought all my injuries were gone, which they were, for the first four weeks, and then they came back, and then some. So I had a lot of injuries, and thankfully, that was it.”
Which brings us back to Penn, who retired in 2014, was named to the UFC Hall of Fame, and then returned in 2017: It hasn’t been pretty: He’s winless in his past six fights (0-5-1), hasn’t won since a knockout of Matt Hughes in 2010, and is on a 1-7-1 overall stretch. Penn is scheduled to fightRyan Hall at UFC 232.
“That’s going to be a tough fight for him as well,” Rutten said.
The way Rutten sees it, the sport evolves, and if you don’t evolve with it, things will go south in a hurry.
“Let’s face it, man, these young guys right now, they’re so good, they’re so in shape, and they know everything,” Rutten said. “In my time, there were still guys, I was good on the ground, I was good on the feet, and in my time, you could get away with that. There were a lot of guys who were strikers, or they were submission guys, but not a lot of fighters had all three components, I never was a good wrestler by the way. But now all these guys are phenomenal everywhere, they have a full gas tank. Nobody runs out of gas anymore like the old times.”
Still, Rutten wants to give Penn the benefit of the doubt, and he believes the former champion could put in a surprising showing against Hall … so long as the old dog is willing to learn some new tricks.
“BJ is a guy that, if he goes to a camp and he has a guy that he listens to, who tell him no, you’re going to have to do an extra round, as long as he is not in control of the training, I think, maybe in this fight he’ll do really good and perform really well,” Rutten said.