Into the Time Machine: Smith vs. Ruas II
In the summer of 1999, two former UFC champions fought in an event
billed "Return of the Champions." The title was apt since UFC 21
featured Maurice Smith
(Pictures) and Marco Ruas (Pictures), each winners of separate UFC
The two offered the possibility of an epic battle between very
distinctly different styles: The vaunted kickboxer versus the
Neither man has seen action since 2001, but as coaches in the
International Fight League they have the opportunity to finish what
they started in 1999, when Marco's corner threw in the towel early
in the match due to a knee injury.
OK, so both men are in their mid-40s and half of the guys they
coach were probably still reading "Of Mice and Men" in high school
last time they fought, but none of that will really matter tonight
at the Sears Centre in the suburbs of Chicago, Ill.
Couture, Shamrock and Frye are all in their 40s too, and it doesn't
matter at the end of the day: a fight's a fight. To put it in real
perspective, both men had their professional fighting debuts in the
early ‘80s, when most of today's top fighters were wearing OshKosh
Smith racked up kickboxing titles and almost went undefeated for a
decade. Marco was off in Brazil putting scars and knots on people's
heads until they both found MMA salvation in the mid-90s. This
means that these two men have seen and experienced the entire
modern MMA evolution, from before its inception to current day.
Back then, Maurice was like "Cro Cop" is today, a devastating
striker who, despite being one-dimensional, was still able to wreak
havoc on the budding ground-and-pound community. At that time it
looked as though wrestlers were about to take over MMA for good.
"Mo" halted that theory by defeating Mark Coleman (Pictures) to win UFC 14.
Sure we have all been taught that you simply must train in every
aspect of MMA to be successful, but it's also clear that when you
are deadly on your feet, you're always deadly.
Marco Ruas (Pictures) was a walking legend at that time
as well -- the term "Vale Tudo" was introduced to the American
consciousness upon his arrival. Marco was one of the first
well-rounded MMA fighters and after winning UFC 7 by beating three
men in one night, he went on to defeat the likes of Gary Goodridge (Pictures) and Patrick Smith. He then showed some
ill will towards America when he unleashed his student Pedro Rizzo (Pictures) on our people, with catastrophic
Earlier this week Sherdog.com ran an interview with Ruas and he
mentioned that he was looking forward to getting revenge on Maurice
for their fight in ‘99. I'm sure that fight has weighed on his mind
over the years and I wondered if it had done the same to Maurice. I
asked Maurice if he was anxious or excited to get back in the ring
with Marco after so much time off.
"It's just another fight," he said. "For me it's all about my
So much for thinking that there was going to be some epic battle
within his mind to get back in the ring. It's still no secret that
Marco will want to get Maurice off his feet for this match, so I
asked Mr. Smith if there was anything that he might have picked up
in the last five or so years that he thinks he could use on
"I've been working on my wrestling strongly for the last four
months and if I'm in danger I'll work to get out of it," he said,
pointing out that IFL rules won't allow for Ruas to smother him and
lay-and-pray like their last bout.
"The game has changed," the head coach of the Seattle Tigersharks
said. "For me the closed guard is a dumb situation: it keeps the
guy there in front of you."
Smith believes that alternative guards like the butterfly or spider
will be better suited in MMA's future because it can create
openings for the man that's underneath. The game has changed.
Here's an elite kick boxer talking favorably about the spider
Next we discussed the fact that Ruas was training for this fight
with his old training buddies, which at first glance would suggest
that he would be sticking with his original game plan from ‘99.
Smith admitted that he was doing the same.
"It's no big secret," he said, "keep it on the feet, that's it. …
If my game is strong and I keep this on our feet, no one is going
to beat me striking for striking."
And what does Smith expect from his Brazilian opponent?
"He'll probably hold me and try to trip me to the ground. I'll be
surprised if he shoots in," he said. Smith expects Marco to try to
get in close, hold on and look for a trip or another takedown.
"If you have a good striking game and it doesn't go to the bottom,
you're probably going to win that fight. A lot of guys in MMA still
lack in striking ability. I mean look in the case of ‘Cro Cop,'
he's a decent striker (by the way, only a world class kickboxer
gets to call Cro Cop's skills, "decent") and he got out-struck by a
wrestler. To me that's embarrassing."
In comparison to his fight with Coleman, Smith said "some things
should never happen."
Maurice has said before that this rematch should have happened
before. When asked about this, he went further, saying that it
wasn't for a lack of want but rather a result of being cast aside
by the people that currently run the UFC.
I asked Smith if maybe that is what is adding to the IFL charm, the
fact that they have embraced UFC legends by not only having them
coach tomorrow's stars but by also showcasing their skills by
having them fight each other. He answered by saying that not only
did the IFL embrace them but that they also stood by their
fighters, offering a story of how one of his fighters got cut but
still received his purse, per diem, airfare and flight money
despite not fighting.
"That showed me a lot right there about how the IFL looks after
their athletes," said Smith "In the UFC you're hot today, gone
"The UFC treated me bad as well as Frank [Shamrock], [Murilo]
Bustamante, [Jens] Pulver," he continued. "They got Jens Pulver (Pictures) back finally, but in the end they
treated us like crap and that's wrong you know? Guys work their
butt off to go in there and help these companies grow and the
companies sometimes don't show their appreciation. The IFL has
shown their appreciation to me and the other coaches. They made Bas
the spokesman; it's a great company. … We don't want to have
monopoly, we want to have Strikeforce, WFA -- when they were around
-- and Bodog, EliteXC and whoever else."
Ruas mentioned in his interview that Saturday might be the last
time he steps into the ring. Will Friday's result determine Smith's
fighting future as well, or does he have other plans?
"Actually the way I feel, I'd like to fight one or two this year
and one or two next year then retire. … I want to say goodbye to
the fans; that's something that I never got the opportunity to do
in kickboxing. I didn't get a chance to do it in MMA. If the IFL
will allow me and I do well, I'll fight this year and next year
then I'm done. I have nothing to prove to anybody. I'm fighting
because I love it and when I give to people in terms of excitement
win or lose."
Asked whom he'd like to fight in those last few matches, Smith went
right to fellow IFL coach Renzo
Gracie (Pictures), whom he lost to via quick
submission in 1999.
Adding to the pressure for Ruas will be the responsibility of
coaching his team, the Southern California Condors, against the
(Pictures)-led San Jose
Smith-Ruas will seem like time travel for some, back to a day when
mixed martial arts was floundering, a sport lost in the wilderness.
The veteran heavyweights could be the best representation of the
bridge between present day fighters and the past.
While this fight might not have the significance of GSP versus
Matt Hughes (Pictures), it's a reminder of how far the
sport has come and that no matter what changes, the apple doesn't
fall far from the tree.
It doesn't matter if it's been three years, five years, or 20 years
… Maurice Smith
(Pictures) is still going to try and
knock Marco Ruas (Pictures)'s head off; Ruas will still try
and impose his will on the ground.
While we'd love to think that this game started in 1993, it's
really been going on since the day man balled up his fists.
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