Known worldwide as “The King of the Streets,” Marco Ruas (pronounced Hu’as) is one of the best “vale-tudo” (everything goes competition) fighters in the world. Born in Brazil, he has been involved in the martial arts for more than 20 years. He holds black belts in many different styles of martial arts, which he then integrated to create his own system, called “Ruas Vale-Tudo.” Ruas is considered by many to be a “complete fighter” with equally balanced stand-up and grappling skills. A one-time winner of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and three-time victor of the World Vale-Tudo Championship, he has never yet lost a fight, even against his compatriots from Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Such is his popularity that he has appeared on the covers of the best martial arts magazines in many countries throughout the world. This is his introduction to German readers. Interview by André Alex Lima.
Q: When and why did you begin to practice martial arts?
Marco Ruas: I was about 13 or 14 years of age, and I liked martial arts. I used to watch an American TV series with David Carradine [entitled “Kung Fu” in Brazil and the U.S.]. At that time in Rio de Janeiro, where I was born, martial arts were not very popular, except for taekwondo, which was enjoying big success. I was a very aggressive boy who showed interest in martial arts, so my father took me to practice with one of my cousins, Vinícius Ruas, a judo instructor. With him I practiced only a few months, for, influenced by some friends, I switched to boxing. I joined the Flamengo club, which was already very famous for its soccer team. In addition, I started practicing taekwondo with Korean master Woo Jae Lee, and also with [an] instructor [named] Rodney. Being a very dedicated athlete, I soon started competing in boxing and became the Rio de Janeiro State Champion. In taekwondo, I eventually got the black belt. As years went by, I continued learning other kinds of martial arts. I returned to judo, got to black belt, and competed [in it] with big success. I practiced capoeira [a martial art created by Africans in Brazil during the time of slavery] for five years, getting to an excellent level of skill. However, I was not allowed to get the title of “master.” To be a master in capoeira, one must be an “artist”; [that means] one has to play its typical musical instruments and sing its typical songs as well as learn fighting. I dedicated myself only to fighting; I could not sing and did not learn the instruments.
Q: So you are predominantly a stand-up fighter, a fighter who uses punches and kicks?
Ruas: Punches and kicks are what I like the most, but I have also practiced judo, luta livre, which is similar to American wrestling and to Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling, and jiu-jitsu, which is very popular nowadays. I consider myself a complete fighter. I prefer the stand-up fight and think it is more beautiful; nevertheless, I also like to fight on the ground.
Q: Have you trained in any other martial arts?
Ruas: For the past ten years I have completely dedicated myself to Muay Thai boxing, from Thailand. Today, it is the style I like to practice the most. It’s a very efficient martial art. Before I moved to the U.S., I was teaching at the Muay Thai school I own in Rio, which is open and running today even with me away from it.
Q: Why are you known worldwide as “The King of Streets,” a title first introduced in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) VII?
Ruas: The fact is, my last name — Ruas — means “streets” in Portuguese, the language we speak in Brazil. When I first came to the U.S. to fight in the UFC, my manager explained that to the event organizers of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. At the time, I was in Brazil dedicating myself to the training of vale tudo and Thai boxing, and competing in Muay Thai. Vale tudo existed only inside Brazil, until the time when the Gracies launched the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the U.S. Royce Gracie won the first ones and was a big success. At that same time, the entrepreneur, Frederico LaPenda, heard about me, went to Brazil, and offered to take me to fight in the U.S. I accepted and fought in the UFC VII (7) and won. Everybody was impressed with my way of fighting, not only standing up, but also on the ground, and all of a sudden I became famous worldwide. That’s how my international career got started.
Q: In the UFC VII, why did you say your style was “Ruas Vale Tudo” and not just vale tudo and Muay Thai, the arts at which you were training in Brazil at the time?
Ruas: After having learned so many styles of fighting — such as boxing, jiu-jitsu, taekwondo, judo, etc. — I didn’t think it was fair for me to participate to the UFC under the label of just one, or even two, of them. In reality, my technique is a mixture of many styles I have practiced for many years. That’s why, at the last minute, I said Ruas Vale Tudo, which is indeed my personal way of fighting. I have patented it as my own style, and today I give classes of Ruas Vale Tudo.
Q: What’s your opinion of Royce Gracie’s fighting skills in the UFC?
Ruas: I think Royce fought very well. He did more than what I expected from someone of his body size fighting against people almost twice his weight. He got really tough. I also liked [the fact] that he won because it opened a very big door for other Brazilian fighters, including myself. His victory helped us Brazilian martial artists be respected and be allowed to show the world our technique.
Q: Describe your fights after the UFC VII?
Ruas: I did some vale tudo in Japan and two in Sao Paulo, Brazil. They all had a good international level [of competition], with participants from all over the planet. I won all my fights, and they were not difficult.
Q: Is there any difference between the vale tudo practiced in Brazil and the one practiced in the U.S. nowadays?
Ruas: Well, at the beginning there was very little, but now there is a lot. The main difference is that, here, more and more rules and restrictions are being imposed. I understand that’s the only way for these types of competitions to take place; that’s the only way to avoid their prohibition. On the other hand, realism is being taken away from the fight itself. Here, if a fighter is bleeding even a little bit, the referee stops the match. In Brazil, the referee would never do so; bleeding is not a reason to terminate a fight. There, the fight gets stopped only if one of the fighters is really in no condition to continue; sometimes a fighter takes two or three punches to the face, bleeds a lot, but does not give up. Also, here, fights are limited to a short amount of time. In Brazil, some fights have no time limit while others are limited to long rounds: 10, 20 or 30 minutes each. Nevertheless, even with these regulations and constraints, I think the level of the American fighters today is very good.
Q: What gives you that opinion?
Ruas: I am very impressed with the commitment Americans are showing, and with the number of them interested in the cross-training and in learning Brazilian techniques. It’s incredible! I believe Americans are going to dominate this style of fighting worldwide for several reasons. First, the best Brazilian athletes of this [type of] fighting are here in the U.S. teaching it. Second, Americans generally have big and strong bodies, are very dedicated, and show up for practice in big numbers. Third, they already have the mentality of training in stand-up as well as ground techniques. In other places [in the world] there is the idea of being “loyal” to the first martial art one practices in life. I see very clearly that in the near future, there will appear fighters of extraordinary potential.
Q: About your career, did you have to overcome many obstacles to get where you are today?
Ruas: Yes, many. My life in Brazil was very hard. I always trained the hardest way, but always trained with joy. I did not have the best conditions [in which] to train, but that did not stop me. I trained on Sundays, Saturdays, when it was raining, alone — whatever it took. I even used to repeatedly run up and down the stairs of the building in which I used to live just to exercise my legs. In fact, in the last couple of years nobody wanted to fight against me. I tried to organize a match here and there, but in the end no one wanted to fight. The opportunity to fight in the UFC VII was like a prize for me, for all my years of work and dedication.
Q: Since Muay Thai is a big passion of yours, do you have any plans to compete exclusively in this style of fighting?
Ruas: I have been invited to fight in the K1 of Japan, the biggest event of Muay Thai on the planet. Ishi, the event’s promoter, invited me. I would like to accept, but I can’t right now. For me, to go there to fight I first of all have to change my schedule of training. Nowadays, my training is completely focused on vale tudo; half are stand-up techniques, half are ground. For me, to get ready to fight at K1, I would have to spend six months in the Netherlands, where some of the best Muay Thai fighters live, in order to condition myself again to this style of fighting. The possibilities are good, but I don’t know how and when I could do it.
Q: How do you train today, specifically?
Ruas: I usually divide my training in two daily sections: one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. In the morning, I generally practice punches, kicks, hit the bag, do boxing training, and practice some positions on the ground. In the afternoon, I do the actual fighting part — sparring. I practice stand-up as well as ground fighting.
I also do other things, for I am more of an athlete than just a fighter. I enjoy doing weight-lifting, running and swimming. I train almost every day at a regular pace, which I increase when a tournament is getting close. Besides all that, I work on my stretching, usually before my morning practice.
Q: Do you follow any kind of special diet?
Ruas: No, I don’t follow any specific diet. I eat any kind of food, even red meat. Of course, I avoid excesses, especially of fat and sugar. But I don’t deprive myself of anything. I train a lot and very hard, so my body absorbs it all.
Q: What advice would you give to the fighters who want to get ready to participate in vale tudo tournaments today?
Ruas: I think one must be a “complete” fighter: one must know how to punch, how to kick, and how to fight on the ground. If you just knew one of these skills, forget it! The fighting skill level today is very good and is getting even better very fast. The fighter of the future is a cross-training one: a complete fighter on the ground, standing up, anywhere.
Even the jiu-jitsu people, who started this kind of competition, are practicing boxing today. It is getting more and more difficult for them since the typical stand-up fighters are learning ground techniques, which gives them a great advantage over the ones who only practice ground styles. Again, one must be a complete fighter.
Q: Do you plan to stay in the U.S. for good?
Ruas: Well, I have been here for almost two years, and I already have my green card. Even though I love Rio and miss it a lot, I intend to stay here for a long time. For my career, it is necessary that I live here. At the beginning, it was very difficult [to adjust] and I wasn’t adapting very well, but now I have many friends and I’m very happy here with my family. Another thing new and a strange thing for me here in this country — which, in fact, I like a lot — is that after winning televised fights, I am sometimes recognized on the streets, at parties, and at martial art events. People come up to me to talk, they ask for my autograph, and ask me to pose for photos with them. In Brazil, it is not like this, even though I am well-known. Here [in the U.S.], fighters are treated like famous actors. I really have no interest in the film business, but I feel like a movie star. People talk to me as if they have known me for a while. They are very friendly and give me much attention. That’s the American way, and I enjoy it immensely. This kind of treatment gives me a lot of energy and motivates me even more to do my best. Nevertheless, I don’t know if I can be here forever. To stay away from the beaches of Rio is a very hard thing to do.
Q: What are your plans for the future? What is Marco Ruas’ next step?
Ruas: Very soon I will be fighting in the UFC again; we are negotiating my return right now. Secondly, I am dedicating a lot of my time to my students here in the U.S., for I want to prepare athletes of a high level for competition. Another goal of mine — which I take as a challenge — is to improve and perfect my English. Mostly, I want to continue training hard and doing well in my fights.
About the author:
Andre Lima is a Los Angeles, California-based international journalist who writes for martial arts magazines throughout the world. Lima, a 9th degree blackbelt, also operates two Los Angeles Taekwondo schools.
The interview with Marco Ruas was conducted and published in 1997.