By Joseph Wilhelm
Photos courtesy of Landry Major and Paul de Leon/Bas Rutten's Elite MMA

'El Guapo' himself, Bas Rutten.

'El Guapo' himself, Bas Rutten.

When he walks into the gym, the dull murmur of conversation evaporates. People drop what they’re doing to say hello, to shake his hand, addressing him as “sir” or even “the legend.”

You probably know him as Bas Rutten, the former UFC heavyweight champion who finished his fabled career with 21 victories in his last 22 matches (the one anomaly being a draw in 1995).

You may even recognize him as a YouTube sensation, or the man who once famously came close to tangling with Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Tito Ortiz once referred to the Dutch-born fighter as “my idol.”

But now, in the year 2013, Rutten has turned to the task of molding the champions of tomorrow.

“I always wanted a gym, one that’s close to my home. I didn’t want a gym where I wasn’t teaching, just putting my name on the gym and never being there. I know a lot of guys who do that, and I never wanted to be a guy like that,” Rutten said.

Bas Rutten’s Elite MMA, located in Westlake Village, is a full-service MMA gym that offers training programs for fighters ranging from newcomers to seasoned professionals. The gym, founded in 2010, is the brainchild of not only Rutten but also fellow co-owners Ken Lawson and Randy Khatami. Lawson, a business entrepreneur and MMA enthusiast, partnered with Rutten and Khatami, an auditor for the LAPD by day and renowned striking instructor by night.

With the responsibility of ownership divided among three men, it would be easy for Rutten to be one of “those guys” who brand their name to a gym only to sell memberships. Rutten, who wanted to take-on an active role in the operation of the gym, chose a location close to home in an effort to avoid the nightmarish commute into Los Angeles.

“A lot of people don't realize how much I was away the first eleven years of my career. I missed all of the birthdays and Christmases, even the birth of my youngest daughter. Now, I want to spend a little bit more time at home.”

Whether the motivation is self-defense or fitness, classes at Bas Rutten's Elite MMA cater to everybody's needs.

Whether the motivation is self-defense or fitness, classes at Bas Rutten's Elite MMA cater to everybody's needs.

Even when Rutten isn’t in the gym, his presence can be felt.

When you walk into the building, your eyes are immediately drawn to a video montage of Rutten’s devastating knockouts, serving as inspiration and telling evidence of the commitment required to achieve greatness.

Rutten will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t uphold this standard alone.

“Everybody's on the same page here. We have a great team. There's no animosity. Everybody likes each other, and they all hang out together. I think that's very good for the gym. And you can see it with the students. They're doing really well,” Rutten said.

True to its namesake, the gym boasts a collection of elite MMA instructors. The staff includes Khatami, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion Rodrigo Carvalho, Muay Thai expert Carlo Dekkers and MMA professional Jamie “The Ghost” Toney.

Coach Randy Kahtami looks on as Jamie Toney (black headgear) and Jens Grau go at it.

Coach Randy Kahtami looks on as Jamie Toney (black headgear) and Jens Grau go at it.

The bruises and cuts shared between Toney and sparring partner Jens Grau stand as evidence of the all-out approach that “The Ghost” brings to his training; embodying the blue-collar work-ethic that he developed as a native of Huntington, West Virginia.

Toney can usually tell whether or not a fighter is serious about sharpening their mind and body into a weapon.

“Not everybody is mentally built the same way. A lot of people want to fight. A lot of people want to walk around saying they want to fight. They don’t really, but they do it for some reason. Whatever that reason may be,” Toney said.

In a sport popularized by the highlight-reel knockout, Bas Rutten’s staff emphasizes the development of a fighter’s awareness and intellect. It’s one thing to be a physical specimen. The MMA world is filled with such athletes. It’s another matter, entirely, to find someone who can couple world-class physical tools with the ability to process and adapt under immense pressure.

“Fighting is 100% mental. It's all about learning how to control your mind.  When you can do that, you can move mountains. Most people say their number one fear is public speaking. I tell those same people to try taking punches and kicks,” Rutten said.

Rutten and his staff have assembled a formidable team of amateur fighters with promising professional potential. Competitors such as Casey Greene, Chris Bonilla and Grau, all veterans of the U of MMA, have demonstrated the benefits this cerebral approach to their craft.

“When you keep getting hit, it can be really frustrating. That’s when you need to step back and think, work on your game. I think that that really applies to anything. And when you find something that’s good, that works, you have to do it, practice it. I strongly believe that if you can visualize something in your head, you can take that image and apply it to your body,” Grau said.

Members of the Elite MMA fight team, including coaches Jamie 'The Ghost' Toney and Randy Kahtami (second and third from left, respectively), JJ Mortimer (center), and Alyson Bloom (far right)

Members of the Elite MMA fight team, including coaches Jamie 'The Ghost' Toney and Randy Kahtami (second and third from left, respectively), JJ Mortimer (center), Alyson Bloom, and Ryan Lilley (far right)

Rutten’s team will be put to the test on March 3rd, when Grau, along with JJ Mortimer and Ryan Lilley will step into the cage of LA Live’s Club Nokia to participate in the recently rebranded “University of MMA: Fight Night.”

And though he’s walked the same path many-a-time, Rutten admits that he experiences pre-fight jitters when his fighters’ preparation is finally put to the test.

“I pray for them before a fight. They will never see it. I want them to win, but I don't really ask for that. I want them to come out unharmed. There are times when I say, 'okay, I know I never ask for them to win, but this would be a really good time for that to happen,' because I know they really need it in that moment,” Rutten said.

To reach that moment, these three fighters will continue to be pushed and tested within the walls of their gym. Time will tell if they too will forge their own legacies in America’s fastest-growing sport.

“As long as they really fight their hearts out, they can never really lose in my book, they really can't. If it goes to a decision, it was a freaking war, and I'm proud of that,” Rutten said.

Bas Rutten’s Elite MMA Training Center is located at 880 Hampshire Road in Westlake Village. For more info, call (805) 496-4472 or visit

Your Comments

1 comment

  1. mma amateur says:

    Bas is also my idol. He inspired me to do this project, you can train with boxing bag in your home; check it if you want: