Bas Rutten, a champion UFC fighter, has described his journey to the Catholic faith in a video posted on YouTube.
Rutten, who grew up in the Netherlands but now lives in the United States, was a champion mixed martial artist in the 1990s who went on to become heavyweight champion in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). He was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2015.
In a video made by Anthem Philly, a project of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, he describes being bullied in childhood because of his extreme eczema. Other children called him a leper, he said. The itching was fierce – he would alleviate it by repeatedly punching a tile he kept by his bed. He was expelled from several schools.
Aged 12, he went to see Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon in the cinema and, inspired, he persuaded his parents to allow him to train in taekwondo. The bullying ended, he said, when he broke a bully’s nose.
He was baptised and confirmed as a child but, when he was about 12, his family stopped going to church. He was not interested enough to go on his own, he said. “As a kid going to church is a kind of intimidating thing – there are all these crazy statues there looking at you and nobody’s happy.”
He returned to the faith after working with Catholic actor Kevin James in the wrestling comedy Here Comes the Boom. James invited Catholic speakers on set, and Rutten went along to a talk. “I got sucked in – that was it, it changed my life.” He started listening to an audio version of the Bible and reading it at the same time.
The first time the Bible really changed him, he said, was when he realised he was “enslaved to drinking”. He explained: “I was a heavy drinker – it stopped me from drinking. Now I’ve got moderation, something I never had in my life.”
He was fascinated to relearn about the faith. “As soon as you start learning about [Catholicism], relearning it, you’re hooked,” he said.
“My question that I would always ask my students is how do you want to be remembered. Apply this to fighting: how do you want to be remembered? As a good fighter, a guy who never gave up,” he said.
“It’s not about getting the championship belt – it’s getting the recognition from your peers. If that is very important to me, why do I not want to get the recognition from God and be the ultimate good guy? Be a badass, but on top of that be a very good person? I think there’s nothing more important.”