Friday, March 16, 2007

Marco Ruas: 10 Years after becoming a myth.

By Susumu Nagao

Up until the seventh Ultimate Fighting Championship, carried out in September of 1995, the world of MMA had been completely overwhelmed by Royce Gracie, the skinny Brazilian that used ground-fighting techniques to defeat giants. That was when a compatriot of Gracie entered the octagon. About 15 kilos heavier than Royce, he wore black swim-trunks (he was a classic rival to the gi crowd) and was as prepared to fight on the ground as he was on his feet.

His name was Marco Ruas, he was 34 years old at the time, and managed to earn the title of UFC champion, by shin-kicking, foot-stomping and round-house-kicking his opponents, besides typical Jiu-Jitsu chokes, like the rear-naked choke. The Ruas brand was spreading, as was the now popular cross-training.

“I am pleased that all types of fighting are being valued, like I said they should be in 1995,” Ruas analyses, straight from the gym he opened in Laguna Niguel, in California, USA, the country where he has lived for around six years. Visibly moved, Pedro Rizzo’s master says he is very happy: “Today [this interview was first taken on January 22nd, 2005, the eve of Ruas’ 44th birthday] I complete the chemotherapy treatment for the disease that’s kept me from the rings since 2001. I feel that life is starting over again for me with the end of this health problem.” Coming up next, our interviewee speaks about this disease, comments on Renatu Babalu and Gustavo Ximu's leaving Ruas Vale-Tudo and tells us who he would like to have his next fight with, to end his career as a fighter.

What has changed in MMA over the last ten years?

I am content with the fact that something I have been saying for the last decade came to fruition: the striker has proven his worth, as has the combination striker and ground fighter. All types of fighting styles are being valued these days, like I said they would in 1995, when I first fought in the UFC. At that time, the standing fight had been discredited. But folks learned to defend the Jiu-Jitsu takedown and everyone was obliged to learn to fight on their feet. Besides, all fights start standing. The fighter has to have some background on their feet, a notion of distance, how to take a punch, how to throw a punch, how to take down... Otherwise you might as well just sit on the mat in the ring at the bell and invite your opponent to get in your guard... What I've seen over these ten years has been the development of the seed that I helped plant: cross-training.

There are a lot of palm trees there, in California… Are you still training the way you did in the 80s, when you used to kick coconut trees at the Arpoador, in Rio de Janeiro?

[Laughing] Those days are gone, I’m not doing that anymore…

Training overall has become a lot more professional, don’t you think? Before, it was all quite amateur, but there was a lot more heart involved in training, do you agree?

MMA has evolved a lot, become professional and is growing all the time. I kicked coconut trees out of my excitement for wanting to improve, to get closer to perfection. I did all kinds of crazy things… I would run in the water, go up staircases with Pedro Rizzo on my back… And after training I would show up with a broom stick in my hand and say to the gang: “Let’s strengthen our shins…” [laughs]. It was totally strenuous. It was all very useful to me, but everybody knows their own limit. I can’t recommend that every student “kick a coconut tree” here in the United States. Somebody might get an inflamed leg and decide to sue me... These days there are even folks that complain about kicking the sand bag...

Has the fact that you have been in the USA stunted the growth of your gym, Ruas Vale-Tudo, here in Brazil?

It has certainly gotten in the way. I had to leave Brazil to improve conditions for my family. As much as I like the country and love training my students, I didn't make any money teaching. Take, for example, Royler, who teaches tons of classes. He works hard but, after all that, he has to go fight in Japan. You can’t make a living teaching in Brazil.

So you understand, for example, Renato Babalu and Gustavo Ximu leaving Ruas Vale-Tudo to go to Gracie Barra Combat Team?

I can understand it from their point of view. I just think they forgot all I did for them. When I came to the USA, I told my students, representing the gym in Brazil, that I, in the United States, was going to negotiate fights for them abroad. Here in the USA, contact with other countries is much easier. Promoters are always here and welcome us differently.

So I ask: who was it that got Gustavo and Babalu fights in Japan and the USA? How much were the purses I got for them? You can’t even compare them to the pittance they’re making today… They are lazy, they don’t want to work, don’t try to make things happen, want to live off their piddling sponsorship… If they had at least called me and said “Shucks, Marcos, don’t take it badly, thanks for everything, but I want to switch teams,” I would understand.

I would be bummed out, but I'd understand, these days it's a professional business. At least they could have given me an explanation, they could have done it like men. But they didn't have the guts to give me a call. I put the guys up in my house, fed them, my wife cooked for them, I kicked my daughters out of their room to make space for those guys to sleep… They forgot all that. They forgot about our friendship.

My life goes on and I don’t believe in those folks… I think they will all end up frustrated, they won't get anywhere in life. I doubt they will achieve half what I achieved. Someone without character will never get anywhere; I don’t ever want to cross paths with those guys again. These days the team is where it was in the beginning: me and Pedro Rizzo. That's where we are and where we will be.

You haven’t stepped in the ring since November of 2001. Do you ever think of fighting again?

On this very day [January 22] I finish the chemotherapy treatment that’s been going on for a year. I got hepatitis and couldn’t fight until the problem was solved. I had to have this treatment, the toughest battle of my life... Now I am clean. Today life begins for me. I am relieved.

At 44 years of age, you must be thinking of a farewell fight. Who would it be against?

I’d like to fight someone with a name. If they give me some nobody, there wouldn’t be any charm to it. Someone good from my day is Ken Shamrock. He is very popular here in the USA, a national icon. It would be a good fight.

And what about Rickson, Marco?

I think this rivalry with Rickson is from another time. I was immature. People were trying to influence me to be against him. I have nothing against Rickson. These days I have a bone to pick with those guys that were stirring things up to try to get me to fight Rickson. They would say Rickson said this, Rickson said that… It was just malicious.

If some promoter really wants this fight, it would be a great honor for me. But with so many non-Brazilians out there, I would rather fight someone that wasn’t Brazilian. I don’t think the way I used to anymore, my ideas about the rivalry with Jiu-Jitsu were from a time when vale-tudo existed only in Rio. Now it’s all over the world..


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