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In an attempt to bring the mixed martial arts and medical communities together, fightmedicine.net has sought out professional fighters to share their experiences with injuries, training, and other medicine-related issues
Our first installment is with non-other than the 3-time King of Pancrase Champion, UFC Heavweight Champion, and owner of a twenty-two fight win streak, “El Guapo” Bas Rutten.
FightMedicine.net: What would you say was the biggest injury you have sustained during training or fighting and how did you deal with it?
Bas Rutten: I would say my knees and tendonitis that I have in both arms. When I hit a bag too hard, or I have to use a lot of power to defend an “arm submission”, then there was always the chance the tendonitis would start, and when it did, training would be a nightmare every day, very painful.
What was your doctor’s role, if any, in treating your injury?
The doctor would say “No training”, but of course that would not be a possibility. I would train around the arm (sometimes arms), and just kick and do sprinting drills. I tried ultrasound, laser, anything they had out there. Rest would be the best.
How did you rehab from your injury and do you feel any lingering effects?
I never rehabbed from it. It goes away when you don’t train, and since I cannot train anymore (well, very gentle) I don’t see it coming back. Nowadays I can’t train as much because of my knees. No cartilage on both knee caps (ZERO) is very painful with standing, sitting, walking up and down stairs. Also had neck surgery December 2010 and still lost 70% of my power in my neck/shoulder.
Have you ever had any surgeries related to your fighting career?
Cracked sternum. They simply pushed it back forward. It was inward.
What would you say is the most common, but not mentioned training injury?
Not mentioned? Stupid mat burns on your feet and knees. Bad ones that are big and because you have a fight coming up, can’t heal since you re-open them every workout again. Very annoying!
Do you have any advice on preventing mat burns?
Mat burn prevention? I went through a lot of socks that I taped around the ankle. Take black socks, because white ones look dirty, even when you wash them and people will look weird at you, haha.
I heard Dennis Hallman had a patent (is what he told me) on “grappling socks”, but I never heard anything about it. I told him it was a VERY good idea since I was doing that when I was training myself.
Other fighters say “Use shoes”, but shoes are the problem with all the injuries, especially shoes on Judo mats. Too much traction when you plant your foot and go for a “twisting takedown”. Then there is a high possibility that you blow out your knee. That’s why I never wrestled with shoes. I believe that NO fighter should do that, but that’s me. Ask any fighter how they blew their knee out, 80% will say “Wrestling with shoes”.
What do you see as the doctor’s role in helping an MMA fighter and how can the medical community improve their role in MMA?
Talk to them about steroids, and telling them you don’t need it. And of course making sure the athlete doesn’t “over train”. Keep an eye on their heart rate, blood pressure, so you can “see it coming”. Talk to them about hydration and food, how important that is.
Do you have any advice on preventing injuries in MMA or training?
Stretch a lot, before and after training. If you had a “night out” the day before, don’t go crazy the day after, because the body is not healed yet, and you will mess it up when you train too hard. When you spar, pay attention to your protecting gear. If it gets old, buy NEW gear! Take your time to “pack yourself up”. You don’t wanna go to a fight with an injury.
How has the training for fights evolved over the course of your career and do you see this as increasing the rate of fighter injuries?
I always trained like a maniac. What I never focused on was wrestling because of the fact that we simply didn’t have that in Holland. I think that because of that reason, I always stayed away from bad injuries. Most injuries come from wrestling: ACL, meniscus, etc. I think it’s the same as when it was in the past. I hear guys who spar only one time a week, maybe two. We did two times a day, and HARD, but then again, not wrestling. Trained a lot of ground and striking a little less because I knew that already. It’s all about how hard people train.
Do you have any thoughts on testosterone replacement therapy (TRT)? It seems to be a hot topic right now.
It’s cheating now that I think about it. Listen, a guy like Quinton Jackson, who was injured (really injured, not like other excuses), and he used it to heal faster, I am OK with that. But at that time I also was in the understanding that people just stayed under the level of a regular person. Later I found out you can get 6 times that level of a regular person. I don’t think that’s good. In that particular case, Quinton did it a long time before his fight and just for his knee. Later he didn’t do it. Other guys just do it to get an edge. I don’t like that. In general I would say right now, “NO”.
Do you think the UFC or MMA in general is a safer place to fight than it was when it/you first started? This would include Pancrase.
Pancrase was safe. The early UFC was not. Once the referee is prohibited to interfere, that’s not good. When I get KO’d, I would like to have a guy there who makes sure I don’t get hit 5 extra times, because there are a lot of nutcases out there. Right now, I think MMA is very safe
Do you think MMA athletes are driven to overtrain and thus injure themselves in training or come into fights less than 100%?
The guys who don’t run out of gas, the ones that shine, like Benson Henderson, Frankie Edgar, Cain Velasquez, etc, those guys train really, really hard and know how to train, so they take rest. Many other guys STILL don’t really push it. If you get tired in a fight, you could have trained harder, that’s what I think. I overtrained myself a long time ago, was three months out of commission. Had 4% body fat. I was very dumb. Nobody told me I needed rest in order to get stronger. So I trained 7 days a week, two times a day, FULL out. Needles to say, I collapsed one day. After that I saw what happened when I took a day off. I got even stronger. I was amazed. Nowadays everybody knows what to eat and how much to rest. I was stupid; trained on beer, steak and pizza, haha. The last fight I had I was the heaviest I ever was, 218 pounds, but that was because a person told me what to eat, 6 to 7 times a day. I felt SUPER. I thought I was gonna make a comeback, but then my injuries came back…..
How many different significant injuries have you had and can you recall them?
Knee hyper-extended from Ken Shamrock’s knee bar (my last loss); broke my hand on somebody’s head, the first punch I threw. That was fun. Broke my hand in training, the right and middle finger bone in the hand (the back of your hand). The rest is because of my body, no cartilage on my knee caps and tendonitis
Are you concerned about fighter’s well-being in the long run, either mentally or physically?
Just watch out in training, “spare the head”, and you should be OK
What is your most memorable experience in the ring or octagon?
Beating Funaki in a rematch, and becoming the three times King of Pancrase with that. Winning the UFC belt was cool, but there was controversy. It went to a decision (one of the only 3 in my 28 wins). I felt I won for sure. I looked beat up though, haha. But winning by split decision always raises questions.
Well, if Bas has shown fightmedicine.net and MMA fans anything, it’s that there are no split decisions when it comes to who is the man! We appreciate Bas’ contribution to the medical and MMA communities and we hope to hear from him more in the future. Thanks, Bas!
Jonathan Gelber, M.D. is licensed to practice medicine in the State of California
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