Bas Rutten Tries to Tame Powerful Derrick Lewis

December 28, 2023
2 months

Comparing the pioneers of MMA to current fighters is tough. The UFC, especially, is a different spot from when it debuted in the early 1990s. Some fighters used to wear shoes into the octagon. Others used to compete in karate gis, according to MMA news sites.

But as the sport moved away from the “human cockfighting era” and toward being a more mainstream sport, the athletic commissions developed a unified ruleset to make everything more uniform. Bas Rutten was a legend in Pancrase before leaping to the UFC late in his career.

While Rutten would become a heavyweight champion, his potential opponent in this bout, Derrick Lewis, came along in the modern era of the UFC. Lewis, a former heavyweight title challenger, constantly fought with the unified ruleset. Lewis has a terrifying amount of power and can put out any fighter who isn’t careful. 

But could Lewis have handled Rutten’s mixed fighting style?

Rutten Finds Success in Japan

Rutten, a native of the Netherlands, started his combat sports journey in taekwondo. In his early 20s, Rutten decided to try his hand at kickboxing. He would go 16-2 during his career but ultimately quit after taking a problematic first-round knockout loss to Frank Lobman in February 1991.

Ultimately, Rutten would be scouted for a mixed martial arts career and invited to fight for the Japanese organization Pancrase. Pancrase wasn’t mixed martial arts as people know it today. Instead, Pancrase was described as a ‘hybrid wrestling organization’ where fighters weren’t allowed to strike with close fists. Fights could end by knockout, decision, or submission as in other combat sports.

Pancrase would create a lot of future MMA stars like Frank Shamrock and Ken Shamrock. Rutten competed in Pancrase from 1993 to 1998. During that time, Rutten won the King of Pancrase title by beating Minoru Suzuki by guillotine choke in September 1995. He would defend the title in 1996 against Frank Shamrock and Masakatsu Funaki before leaping to the UFC.

During Rutten’s time in Pancrase, he accumulated a 25-4-1 record. Rutten finished with 14 submissions and nine knockouts during his time in the organization, according to MMA news websites.

Rutten Earns Quick Shot at Heavyweight Title

MMA news sites saw that Rutten’s star power quickly earned him a heavyweight title shot. In his first fight, Rutten knocked out Tsuyoshi Kohsaka at the 14-minute, 15-second mark of the bout at UFC 18 in January 1999. The UFC didn’t have its now-traditional three-round fight structure until later that year.

Rutten fought Kevin Randleman at UFC 20 in a bout that would tie the two men together forever. The split decision that ensued following their fight is still debated today. Randleman landed all six of the takedowns that he attempted. He also finished with a 20-18 edge in significant strikes.

Meanwhile, Rutten would land more strikes, finishing with an 181-56 edge. However, many of Rutten’s strengths were punches and elbows he threw off his back. Randleman was comfortable staying on top of Rutten after scoring takedowns.

When the judges read the scores after the fight, Rutten won a split decision to capture the heavyweight crown. There were no 10-point judges’ decisions at the time, and the winner was based on who the judges felt won. Rutten would never defend his title as he suffered an injury and retired on doctors’ advice.

Lewis Took Time to Reach the Big Time

Coming up in a more traditional MMA environment meant that Lewis had to battle through the regional scene to reach the UFC. A native of Houston, Texas, Lewis spent much of the early part of his career taking fights in Texas. Lewis took time to figure things out, as he would lose two of his first six fights.

Lewis would have issues early in his career with fights that went the distance. However, Lewis would end up stringing together five straight wins by knockout in various promotions to earn his spot in the UFC in July 2014. He debuted with a knockout win over Jack May. Winning in the first round with vicious striking would become a hallmark of his career.

Lewis would have a setback against Shawn Jordan, whom he also lost on the regional scene during a UFC fight in June 2015. But Lewis would quickly regain his form and pick up several wins to put himself into fighting in a heavyweight title eliminator against Alexander Volkov at UFC 229 in October 2018.

Lewis’ Balls Are Hot

Lewis shot to prominence because of his willingness to say anything during interviews. At UFC 229, Lewis had a big stage thanks to fighting on the main card of a fight between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor, the highest-selling pay-per-view in UFC history.

During the third round of his fight with Volkov, Lewis, who was losing on the scorecards, knocked out Volkov with 11 seconds left. He then took off his fighting shorts and told Joe Rogan after the bout he did it because his “balls were hot:”

Lewis would fight for the championship the following month against Daniel Cormier but lost by second-round submission. Lewis earned another crack at the interim title in August 2021 but would lose to Cyril Gane by secondary-round knockout.

Lewis, who is still an active heavyweight the UFC counts on to headline many fight night cards, has a 27-12 career record. He has 22 wins by knockout but has also lost by knockout seven times. Lewis has also been submitted twice.

Two Different Types of Strikers Square Off

Calling Rutten a grappler isn’t fair because he is more accurately described as a well-rounded fighter. Rutten had to learn different ways of striking throughout his career because of the different rules. When Rutten fought Randleman for the UFC heavyweight title, Randleman was still allowed by rule to wear shoes for the belt.

But Rutten was good at submitting people when the fight went to the ground. Lewis was vulnerable to being taken down by top fighters, though he memorably knocked out Curtis Blaydes when he shot for a takedown. This bout would be an exciting chess match between two likable fighters.

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