At the age of 20 he started competing in Muay Thai. He fought 16 times and won the first 14 by knockout, 13 in the first round. He lost his final two fights by TKO.
In perhaps the biggest fight of his kickboxing career, Rutten faced Frank Lobman for the European Muay Thai title on February 12, 1991. Lobman won by TKO in the first round.
Rutten began his professional mixed martial arts career with the Pancrase organisation in Japan. In 1993, Japanese pro wrestlers Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki traveled to the Netherlands to scout fighters for their new "hybrid
wrestling" (Bushido wrestling) organization, featuring submission
fighting, but with no closed fisted strikes to the face. A precursor to
modern mixed martial arts, the organization was the first of its kind,
and featured early MMA names Frank Shamrock, Vernon White, Maurice Smith, Ken Shamrock and Guy Mezger.
Rutten dominated his first two fights in Pancrase, winning each by KO Rutten's first knockout was so brutal that his opponent Tyushi Yanagisawa (then the #4 ranked fighter in Japan) was carried from the ring and spent 2 days in a hospital. Rutten's striking was so powerful that, according to Frank Shamrock, it often intimidated other fighters. Frank Shamrock said, "His kickboxing was devastating. It was something everybody
feared. The other thing he had was a basic understanding of real
fighting...Bas had that street fighter mentality."
However, his lack (at that time) of ground-fighting experience led to
a loss to the extraordinarily skilled Masakatsu Funaki. Rutten,
realizing the importance of ground fighting, went to train with the
master shoot wrestler Funaki. The training paid off, as Rutten knocked out previously undefeated Minoru Suzuki with a liver shot from his knee. Rutten later said that this win was one of the happiest moments of his life.
Just 20 days later, Rutten faced another steep test, fighting future UFC Hall of Famer, Ken Shamrock, who was then one of the best Pancrase fighters. Rutten turned in a hard effort but ultimately lost the fight via a rear naked choke. Rutten bounced back after the loss to Shamrock with a submission win over Jason DeLucia.
Rutten then participated in one of the biggest events in mixed martial arts history to date, the King of Pancrase Tournament. The winner of this tournament would be crowned the first champion of Pancrase. He was one of the four #1 seeds in the tournament and his first fight was against MMA newcomer (and future UFC champion) Frank Shamrock.
Rutten lost a close (and somewhat controversial) decision in a fight
considered a large upset, considering Rutten was a #1 seed in the
tournament and Shamrock was then unknown and making his MMA debut.
Rutten found a measure of redemption after the upset loss in the
first round of the King of Pancrase Tournament by choking out expert
grappler and King of Pancrase Tournament Finalist Manabu Yamada in his next fight. With such an impressive showing against the
tournament finalist, Rutten then received a rematch and a title shot
against tournament winner and then current King of Pancrase Ken Shamrock
for the King of Pancrase title, but lost early in the fight via
submission due to a Kneebar.
After his second loss to Shamrock, Rutten focused on grappling even
harder than before and started training 2 to 3 times a day solely on
submissions. Rutten won 7 out of his next 8 fights by submission. He put
together a series of wins against future UFC champions Frank Shamrock and Maurice Smith and eventually challenged King of Pancrase, Minoru Suzuki, for the title. Rutten beat Suzuki for the second time, winning his
first King of Pancrase title. After putting his title defenses on hold
due to an injury, Rutten returned to the ring and beat interim King of
Pancrase Frank Shamrock for the undisputed King of Pancrase title.
Rutten then avenged his loss to MMA legend Masakatsu Funaki in 1996
in what is considered to be one of the greatest fights in Pancrase
history. Rutten described the war with Funaki in an interview:
the fight when he came to me, he made that thumb over the neck, throat
slashing motion like I was going to go down. I turned to my manager and
said, "Okay, now I'm going to kill this guy, you watch". My game plan
was to keep the fight going for 15 minutes...Funaki had never fought
above 15 minutes. But then, like 12 minutes into it, while I'm still on
my knees he kicks me in the head. I block, but for me that was an
illegal thing to do. So right away I start, BANG, BANG, BANG, and he
goes down. From that moment on, I totally destroyed him. You got to see
the fight; it was a massacre. My palms were black from hitting him so
hard. He had the gods on his side or something, because he stood up
every time. I hit his face back on the mat and you hear it slam into the
mat. His nose is all the way to the side, broke, they have to
straighten it out. I go, "Oh my God, this guy can take a shot!" I kneed
him so hard in the head. He went down four times. But the last knee I
gave to him was like everything I had. I grabbed him by the head and
kneed him. It was really like a Rocky movie. I'm standing there and I fall backwards, and I'm totally out of
breath. I get up and the referee holds my hand up. Then he lets my hand
go and I drop again, BOOM! I was exhausted, I gave everything I had; I
really wanted to destroy him. I broke his cheekbones and broke his nose,
just because he said he was going to kill me. Oh, I was so angry at
him. But afterwards, friends again...what a crazy sport this is, huh?"
Rutten then defended his title against both Frank Shamrock and the
last one was against Masakatsu Funaki which he talked about above, and
in so doing became a three-time King of Pancrase. In 1996, he
relinquished his title to be present for the birth of his second
Rutten returned to Pancrase, taking 8 more victories, bringing his unbeaten streak up to 19 straight fights.
Rutten left Pancrase as one of the most dominant fighters in the
history of the organization. MMA legend Ken Shamrock was the only
fighter Rutten did not avenge a loss to. In 2000, when Rutten was PRIDE
FC's color commentator, a third fight with Shamrock was entertained.
Rutten agreed to come out of retirement to fight Shamrock in PRIDE FC.
However, Shamrock stated that he already beat Rutten twice and that a
third time wasn't necessary. Later, in 2002, Rutten said that he would
not fight Shamrock again even if it was offered to him because of the
friendship they developed over the years, and that he could not put his
mind and heart into fighting Ken.
In 1998, Rutten signed with the UFC, the biggest MMA promotion in the
United States. Rutten entered the UFC with a massive amount of hype; he
was undefeated in his last 19 fights and was touted by the organization
as the greatest martial artist on the planet.
Rutten was originally scheduled to fight heavyweight champion Randy Couture in a title match for the UFC Heavyweight Championship in his first fight, but Couture had a contract dispute and left the UFC
to sign with a different promotion. The title was then stripped from
Couture and a tournament of sorts was set up to determine the next
Rutten's first fight in his quest for the UFC belt was against Tsuyoshi Kohsaka at UFC 18, which Rutten dramatically won by KO with just a minute left in overtime.
On May 7, 1999, at UFC 20, Rutten faced Kevin Randleman for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. The first four minutes consisted
of Rutten taking a lot of punishment from his guard. However, after the
fight was stood up to check Rutten's cut, Rutten landed a devastating
liver kick to Randleman's body to turn the tide of the fight.
Randleman's pace slowed down considerably after the liver kick, which
ultimately helped Rutten score judges' points by being the more active
fighter. Rutten pounded away at Randleman from inside his guard, using
elbow strikes to open up cuts on top of Randleman's head and punching
Randleman to the face. The fight went into overtime, with Rutten taking a
very close split decision victory to become the UFC Heavyweight
Champion. Judging at that point was not based on the current 10-point must system, but who the judges felt won the fight overall.
Rutten vacated the title later in the year, in order to drop down to middleweight (now known as light heavyweight) a weight closer to his natural weight, in a bid to try to become the first person to hold a UFC title in two weight classes.
While training for his next UFC fight in 1999, Rutten suffered
multiple serious injuries, including blowing out his knee (a long
running injury), tearing his biceps, and suffering a neck injury. He was
forced to retire from MMA competition for the time being, by doctors
During his MMA career he became known for two particular things: his fondness of liver shots and his habit of doing a jumping split after winning a fight.
Rutten talked about the origins of the "Rutten Jump" on his website:
"When I won my first fight in Pancrase, I was so hyped that I jumped up
in the splits to each side of the ring. Why? I don't know. But, it
became my trademark and I had to do it after every fight that I won."
Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Tito Ortiz has credited Rutten for inspiration during his early days. Ortiz said;
"I looked up to Bas Rutten. Bas was my idol. People were just so scared
of fighting him, he was like the man. I thought that was what I need to
do now. If I train as hard as he does then one day I'll be as good as
him and two years later look where I am, I'm on top of the world. I've
got to say thanks to him, (Bas) for helping me out by making me believe