UFC Hall of Famers Randy Couture and Bas Rutten were at yesterday’s Professional Fighters League meet and greet. The duo were joined by another legend in the sport of mixed martial arts, Yves Edwards. I had the opportunity to ask each of the three a variety of questions before Thursday night’s historic PFL first season kicks off at Madison Square Garden in New York.
What was your first reaction when you found about the PFL?
Randy Couture: “Well, I’m good friends with Ray Sefo, he’s the president of the organization, of what used to be the World Series of Fighting and he approached me about doing some commentary last year when they were in the process of rebranding the company as the PFL. It was there that I kinda got to look at the notebook at the new idea, of the new season, the postseason and their whole plan. It was an interesting concept, it was immediately intriguing, as a fighter you’re like, man, it’s certainly that carrot at the end of the rainbow, a million dollars is pretty significant. The support through our regular season and keeping our regular season and keeping a tally of criteria and how you compete in the regular season which gives you a birth in the post season to compete for a million dollars. It’s something new in the sport and anything new in the sport sounds good to me.”
Bas Rutten: “Well you know it was the company the World Series of Fighting right, I worked for them since the beginning then they said we’re going to switch everything around, and a guy came in and he made a real nice explanation he told me about the whole season and a million dollars at the end, I go dude, no one ever did that before, if you can pull that off, I truly believe they could be a really good thing because fighters right now, we all know, they need more pay You know, they need to live, and although they are going to get paid for all these fights here as well, the final one will be a million dollars in the bank, that’s pretty cool for a fighter.”
Yves Edwards: “My first reaction, I heard of the PFL before, but when I heard they were doing this league and changing the format, initially I was like, I kinda remembered, like it was a combination of what the IFL did but it’s not teams its individuals. But it was tournaments like Bellator, then again there’s a regular season that you have to earn your way into it. This was similar but very different. The difference, I like that because it’s a merit base system, everything is merit based, the only part of it that isn’t necessarily falling under that rule is that you made it to the regular season.“
“Once you’re in there, you have to fight, you have to win, you have to score points, you have to be one of the guys that makes it to the top eight and then you have your opportunity. It doesn’t matter if you’re number eight, we’ve seen crazy upsets in this sport, we’ve seen guys grow through things individual things like this, where maybe you are the underdog two or three times until they can’t deny you anymore. I believe we’ll see some of that this season. I’m really excited to see that because that’s when we really see guys grow.”
If you were entered in this tournament, what would your strategy be?
Couture: “Each and every guy poses a different problem, it’s our job as mixed martial artists to figure out how to solve that problem in the most efficient way possible. You gotta be rationale about your own strengths and weaknesses, how those strengths and weaknesses match up with your opponent and try and put yourself in the best position to win. Obviously in a season like this you want to sustain as little damage as possible but at the same time you gotta do what you gotta do to win. So there is the rub, but that is the case in MMA regardless, there is no difference in a regular season or post season than there would be otherwise.”
Rutten: “Personally if I would do it, I would go in for the kill. I would try and finish the fight.”
“The thing is with this is in the beginning you always think if you go too hard you’re going to run out of gas, but if you put pressure on your opponent he will run out of gas as well. If you keep pushing, pushing, pushing, so both of you. Maybe you spend a little bit more energy but if you just make sure you are in incredible energy and incredible shape, you go for first round finishes. You want the three points, because once you get the three points well, you’re one step closer to the million bucks.”
Edwards: “For me, I don’t believe you really change anything, you have to do what you do that got you there. But in doing that, I didn’t take a lot of damage in fights, you have to prepare for the best guy at all times. I believe that is the best thing to do in this situation is, prepare for the best guy at all times. Yes you know what the guy across from you does, you know what his tendencies are, you know what his stregnths are, you prepare for that but you prepare for that from the best guy, someone even better than him. If his strengths are jiu jitsu, you prepare for the best jiu jitsu but you still prepare for the best kickboxer. Because you never know, you stuff his takedown, you get a little sloppy on your feet because you’re comfortable, because this guy is a jiu jitsu guy and you get kicked and knocked out or you take too many leg kicks and now you can’t train properly to prepare for the next round even though you won this fight.
“There are all these little variables and you have to stay on point. But to do that you just prepare for the best in every situation.”
What type of strategies do you think we’ll see in this tournament?
Couture: “MMA is an action/reaction sport, I don’t think we have time to calculate that, I think you have to react and do what you need to do to be successful, to win.”
Rutten: “That’s a hard question because some of them will, as a fighter if you want to play it safe right, you play it safe and maybe you don’t get a finish but you play it safe and keep on winning and they may think if I win five fights in a row, yes some others they might try to go for the first round finish but then again, you’re flipping a coin, you can get caught as well, so they might lose.”
So if you have a fighter who thinks like that, and says, you know what, I’m going to just take it easy and be very strategical and I don’t go for a finish, if I get a finish its ok, but if I don’t get a finish it’s going to be ok as well, as long as I win a fight. I think it’s a risk that you’re taking.”
“Most of the time when you look at the guys that give their all, it’s a gunslinger, there’s a good chance you get rocked as well. I think I would go for it.”
Edwards: We’ll definitely see some unique strategy. I spoke with some of the guys throughout this past couple of weeks and some guys have different strategies for different scenarios that they may be put in. We’ll see some of those things and we’ll see some of them be successful and we’ll see some of them fail. That’s where the drama is going to come in to it. I’m really excited to see how it plays out. You have a game plan and you have to adjust, that’s really who’s going to win this tournament, the guy that can adjust through the fights and through the season.”
“Let’s just talk about the quarters and the semi-finals. You have to play the rules, but at the same time you have to fight. In the quarters, there’s a two round fight and if it goes to a draw, it’s the guy who wins the first round, wins the fight. Well what that does, if you know you lost the first round and you recognize the guy is trying to run in the early part of the second round, then what are you going to be able to do? Are you going to be able to cut off the cage? Are you going to put him in a box and beat him out? And then on top of that ou’ve gotta score some points. So he’s wininig, but now you’ve pushed the pace and you’ve made him feel like it’s a 10-8 round and there is still a minute and a half/two minutes go so now his strategy has to change and he has to adjust. Something like that I’m looking for that as soon we hit the playoffs.”
“But also before that, scoring these points in the regular season, when someone is trying to get six points and their opponent makes it through the first round so they’re pushing the pace trying to get as many points as they can so they can kinda ensure their position when the playoffs start.”
If you were one of the fighters, how closely would you look at what other fighters are doing in your division? Would you pay attention if someone got a finish or a decision because of the point system and if so, would that change your strategy at all?
Couture: “Well, if I’m matched up against that guy in the next show, for the PFL, that’s going to be one of the fights I look at in how I decide where this person’s strengths and weaknesses are and fashion how I approach him. If he’s a knockout guy and this isn’t obviously his first knockout, I’ve gotta look at, where he seems to score, where he doesn’t like to be and where I fit into that. Where can I expect to be ok and reasonably safe and where do I have to be very attentive and on point, how can I take this guy out of that area of strength and put him in my area of strength. It’s about imposing your will on somebody else. So yea seeing another guy knocking somebody out is certainty going to weigh on how I approach it if I’m the next guy stepping in there with him.”
Edwards: “That definitely depends, I don’t think I should be too concerned about that on the first night of the regular season because then that kinda gets in your head. Take that back home with you and worry about that the next round because when you go out there to fight you’re going out there to win. Virtually every guy that I know is going out there to finish you as soon as they can. Jon Fitch goes out there to finish guys as soon as he can, his style just doesn’t lend to that.
“When you start doing that you start to get outside of yourself and that’s going to put you behind. I wouldn’t recommend it, but definitely some guys are going to do that. I believe that is the wrong way to go about it.”
What fight are you most looking forward to on Thursday?
Couture: “I think this is a whole new thing, whole new format, a lot of these guys have never seen each other before so there’s a lot of variables and a lot of unknown and that’s what I think is exciting.”
Rutten: “There are so many good fighters, Huen always leaves it in there, Timur Valiev, I’m a really big fan of his because of the way he moves, he kicks and punches, everything is different and he’s good on the ground as well. Lance Palmer, there’s so many great fighters this Thursday.”
“Personally, I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of distances, I think there’s going to be a lot of finishes.”
Edwards: “I like a lot of the fights, but of course, Andre Harrison, he’s just been on a tear. But that’s the main event, that’s kinda easy, that’s a gimmie.”
“Lance Palmer and Magomedov, the only problem I see there, I like (Bekbulat) Magomedov, he’s Dagestani, all those Dagestani guys can wrestle so that doesn’t necessarily mean Palmer is going to win the wrestling exchanges with his All-American status. Magomedov is coming up from bantamweight so he’s going to be giving up a lot of size. “
“I really want to see Josh Copeland but I don’t know much about Jack May. I know a little bit but I haven’t seen him fight.”
“The fight I’m most excited about when I look at the lineup is Alexandre de Almeida and Lee Coville. Coville has a lot of Muay Thai and kickboxing experience. That’s how he beat Lance Palmer the first time, with his striking. H e was able to defend the takedowns and get back to his feet when he needed to and then just out strike Lance Palmer. So, I want to see how this game plays, usually a guy like that when he’s a better striker he’s going to play that game but if he’s the better grappler he has to play that game. But the fight with Lee Coville, and Lee Coville being from Europe, Europeans aren’t known for their wrestling, especially the English. But neither are the Brazilians, is Almeida going to be able to take him down and make this a grappling match and does he need to. That’s the fight I’m most concerned with, that’s the fight I’m most questioning.”
Is there someone people are overlooking this season?
Couture: “No, I don’t think so, I think everyone is getting a fair shake I think everybody in this sport has a chance, and Thursday night we’re going to see who shakes out and who imposes their will and gets their way.”
Rutten: “I don’t, I think we’re trying to give everybody (an opportunity). Andre Harrison, if you look at him, he’s 17-0, the guy is a stud, he’s an unbelievable fighter. Do they really have an idea of how good this guy is? We’re going to find out on Thursday.
“I think everybody gets their fair share, so it should be good.”
Edwards: “I don’t think anyone is being over looked because it’s merit based. When you perform you get rewarded. So I don’t think anyone can be over looked. Guys may over look their next opponent in their next bout, they think they have an easy win. But that happens all the time. As far as the entirety of the league, I don’t think anyone is really being over looked. I think guys are considering their strengths verse their potential opponents maybe thinking, yea if I fight this guy, his striking good but his ground is horrible so that’s why I asked to take that fight and once I take it to the ground it’s over for him.
“As far as overlooking guy as that guy is an easy win for everyone in the division, I don’t think there is one guy like that.”
Do you think the possibility of winning a life-changing amount of money adds extra pressure to the fights?
Couture: “I think most of these fighters are pretty experienced, we’ve got no rookies coming in here. They’ve been in this sport they understand this sport, it’s really early in the season to be thinking of the end of the rainbow. I think they’re very focused on Thursday night and they’re not looking past that if they’re smart, and that’s how most of these guys are.”
Rutten: “It will add more pressure but adds also more fire, right. More fire in training, more fire in competing. The way they’ve structured everything I mean, you get three points if you have a finish in the first round, two points in the second round, one point in the last round. Everyone wants to go for finishes in the first needless to say.”
“I was kinda hoping, especially the first show, PFL 1, right. Give them a bunch of bonuses, give everybody a bonus if they finish somebody, give them an extra 5K you know for the heck of it and see what happens that would be a really great thing as well. But then you go, yea there are already fight of the night bonuses, submission of the night bonuses, knockout of the night and a million dollars at the end of it. It will be enough, trust me.”
Edwards: “From my experience, that only affects it when you are worried about little things. But, these guys are getting paid for each fight. And you know you’re going out there to perform and you know you’re going to get paid so that’s not too big of a deal. So I don’t think anyone is going to be concerned with that.”
“Once the fight, starts, all the other concerns go out the window, they’re outside the cage and they don’t really enter. If they enter the cage then some guys with experience can see it and take advantage of that. It’s one of those things, when you’re fighting you can’t be concerned if you paid the light bill. You just gotta deal with what’s in front of you and I think all of these guys are professionals. So I don’t believe that’s going to play a part. It may matter when they are thinking about it beforehand, even maybe in the locker room but once the door closes to the cage, all those things are out the window and you can’t even focus on that. Nobody is thinking about their show and win money when their fight starts.”
A Bas Rutten Extra:
“What I want to say to the fighters is don’t do anything crazy in between. If you’re winning, don’t go motor crossing, don’t go crazy waterskiing, skiing, snowboarding, whatever, even indoors, you never know with these crazy guys. Don’t take any chances, imagine you win three fights, you go on a crazy bike ride in the forest and you crash, that’s it, you’ll lose the million bucks. So don’t take any risks besides training. This is a very important thing, it’s a very hard thing for a fighter to do because we like to push everything, if we go with speed, we try to see how fast we can go. We do everything dangerous, that’s how we are wired and sometimes that can get you in trouble.”
“I did trick skiing always, it’s really good for your grip. It’s a trick ski so it’s on the water, you can jump, you can land again, even if you fall you can keep the ski on you can step back on the water, it’s a special turn called the tumble-turn. You don’t crash as hard and it’s really good for your grip strength.”
“There’s a cable ski, they go around, its like a half mile around, it’s like a half a mile long, you get pulled by a cable but they go fast, sixty miles an hour, really fast, you can water ski or bare feet. But what I used to do, I would just hold that thing and it would drag you around. The record here, just holding/dragging through the water was four rounds, I did 11. So I have good grip. I came by after the fourth round holding with one arm and I waved at the people. It was very funny.”