A Rude Awakening with Gabriel "Godzilla" Ruediger
By Stacey Naito, AMAM
AMAM: Hi Gabe, how are you? I've got some questions for you...
GR: Fine. I've got some answers. (Laughs)
AMAM: What first inspired you to begin martial arts training & how old were you when you started?
GR: The first time I got involved in martial arts was when I was very young, I got into Karate I think when I was maybe six or seven. And, I remember all I wanted to do was learn weapons, but they wouldn't allow me to initially learn weapons, so I quit. I wanted to play with swords and nun-chucks, but apparantly you had to be there for at least a year first to do that, so...I quit.
I was always interested in martial arts because of the movies with Bruce Lee, and...when I was a kid the "Karate Kid" was huge movie.
I started in Kung Fu when I was in high school. I thought I'd studied the deadliest fighting-styles of all time and I really genuinely thought my hands could kill somebody! Then, I learned that wasn't the case and I started learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I'd seen UFC-3 on PPV and knew about the Gracie's, but didn't know much about what Jiu-Jitsu really entailed.
AMAM: Early on, you trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Ralph Gracie in San Francisco, please tell your fans what motivated you to seek him out at that time.
GR: I went in to get my very first tattoo and the artist had this cool torn Gracie BJJ gi in his studio. He said he trained with Ralph Gracie and he invited me to come check it out. So, I went to my very first class. I remember it went by how much you trained was how much you paid. I could barely pay for more than one day a week, so that's what I paid for then. But I would come in three or four days a week and just sit and watch because I was so enamoured by it.
Eventually, Ralph said, "Look, if you're going to be here you might as well be on the mat." That was my introduction into becoming involved with this martial art.
AMAM: Later, after training in Brazil, you returned to the USA to study Muay-Thai with Fairtex. Please describe how this method of cross-training benefitted you.
GR: That was 1999-2000. In Brazil I was competing and enjoying the ground-fighting. But, there's no striking in Jiu-Jitsu and I started to realize this wasn't all there was. And, I wanted to learn all that.
It just so happens that Fairtex was in the same city, and Fairtex is a world reknowned Muay-Thai gym. So, I went in there and started training in Muay-Thai as well.
It wasn't because I wanted to be a fighter, I just found it and really enjoyed being able to rise to the occasion and test myself. I'd kinda fallen to the wayside with martial arts that weren't so useful, I just wanted to take in as much (realistic) combat arts as possible.
AMAM: Around that time you made an extended visit to Japan, what was your main goal while you were there?
GR: Wow...well, I'd lost my job and I had some money saved. I think I'd been doing Jiu-Jitsu for over three years and I'd been doing Muay-Thai for about seven months, and I'd competed in Jiu-Jitsu and done some Muay-Thai fights.
At the time, there was no real Mixed-Martial Arts fights around, there were only some that were unsanctioned.
The only place it was truly thriving in was Japan. So, I went to Japan with enough cash to train at all the top gyms out there. I also got to see some live MMA fights out there as well.
At that time, in Japan the sport was already huge! Big stadiums were filled up all the time out there, I think a record of 95,000 fans filled an arena there.
AMAM: Eventually, you relocated to Southern California to continue your MMA training...what did you gain by moving here, where did it take you?
GR: I was actually working the front desk at Fairtex and I was a bouncer at a niteclub when the place I was living in got sold by the guy that owned it and my girlfriend broke up with me, all within a two week span. That's when a friend down south asked me if I wanted to become a live-in instructor at a gym down there. I thought...hey, why not? What else do I have going on for me...? So, I relocated to Southern California and I moved into Millennia MMA Gym.
I lived in a rat-infested, roach filled apartment with other fighters. Absolutely the most disgusting thing! If my mom had seen what I was living in she probably woulda convinced me to move back home. (Laughs) I can't even explain it...it was just disgusting!
So, I came down but I just didn't have a clear direction. I didn't wanna go back to working a legitimate job and I didn't know what to do next. That's what really happened, that's where I was then. And...now here I am eight or nine years later doing this as a professional.
AMAM: What ran thru your mind during your exciting battle with Olef Alfonso for the coveted WEC Lightweight Championship, in which you managed to choke him out?
GR: Olef was a very intense individual and I'm sure he still is. At the time, he had some really intense fights where he'd taken a real beating, I mean his nose was smashed and pushed to the side yet he'd keep on fighting, I mean a real animal!
I'd had so many fights to get to that point and I was fighting for the WEC Title first and foremost. Not for the money...I musta only got $500.00 for winning. I mean, I woulda been happy enough to leave there just with some extra food stuffed in my pockets! (Laughs)
Prior to our bout, he pulled some weird shit on me...he said if he lost his friends were gonna bring me into the desert and bury me! I thought, "What am I getting myself in to?" He was very intense and crazy! At the time, because he had the big beard, they called him "Meth Jesus". (Laughs)
I ended up taking him down, got on his back and choked him out, putting him to sleep. It was pretty amazing because I broke my hand on his face the first punch that I threw. After the jubilation withdrew, I was in alot of pain! But, I'd just won a World Title, had some exciting fights...obviously, it was a good experience.
Some people don't understand the time-frame, it still wasn't popular here. You see, sure I'd won a championship...but, who was I gonna show my Belt to? If I tried explaining it, people might say, "I don't know what that means?" They was no clear concept of it back then. I didn't get any widespread accolades, but again...it wasn't really about all that to me.
AMAM: After defending your WEC Title, you experienced a disappointment in your UFC debut...how did this Loss change your training regimen?
GR: Absolutely! Ya know, the UFC was just starting to garner alot more attention and it was gaining momentum. I never dreamed in a million years that I'd become involved. Like I said, my first introduction to MMA was watching UFC-3 on PPV...so back then, I didn't know how to train properly. I didn't know anything about strength-conditioning, I knew nothing about a diet. I only learned as a result. So, I lost my first UFC bout and I went through a depression.
AMAM: Did the controversy over your foray on the Ultimate Fighter (Season 5) TV show upset you in any way, how did the experience affect you?
GR: My manager called me and told me they're doing an Ultimate Fighter reality show. He said the producers want to meet you and so I went to meet them in Santa Monica. After only about ten minutes, they told me I was on the show.
To be honest, I let being on the show go to my head a bit, I thought by being on TV I was going to be a star. And, while I was training, I wasn't training like I needed to be. It's weird, I trained with a lot of Olympic caliber guys and I still didn't know how to train properly. I went into the show and still didn't know what I was doing, I went in without a concept of what I really needed to do.
I was a little too full of myself even though I was given this huge opportunity.
I wound up injuring my neck. A disk popped in my neck that shut down my whole left-side. So, I had to have my neck repaired. I spent a year doing nothing during recovery. Sitting on my ass, I got to about 215 pounds, a big fat disgusting lump! (Laughs)
You know what though...immediately after recovering from my neck surgery, I made the decision to turn everything around and mix things up. I decided to work on those other aspects that I was deficient in. So, I came back after falling down a few times to get myself up out of that chair.
And...I went on a winning streak, all with finishes. That got me resigned by the UFC!
AMAM: Whom would you describe as your overall toughest opponent thus far?
GR: Ah. You know, I fought a lot of top tough guys, there's so many. I think I've fought at least 15 really high level dudes.
I think the one fight where, even though I managed to turn things around and win, one of the toughest was against Savant Young. Savant is really tough dude, he is the hardest I've ever been hit by. The second round I think was 10-7, he beat my ass! But, I came back to finish him in the third.
It was a very tough fight...that's the toughest I can think of.
AMAM: So, it does sound like you both really brought it into that fight. You always give your all.
GR: I was just talking about this the other day...I wish I had the sportsmenship of someone like George St. Pierre, cause he has a gameplan and he sticks to it the whole time. He doesn't stray no matter if he's winning or losing, he sticks to it. I'm not that guy. I'm there to fight, I'm there to win! It's like, I get into this mindset where I'm there for only one thing. If I fought more cautious and stuck to my gameplan, I'd probably have won more of my fights.
AMAM: Even so, you've made a lot of loyal fans along your journey!
GR: Well, maybe so. But, sometimes fans are only as loyal as your last win. (Laughs) This sport is very unforgiving and certain fans are not forgiving. The people that have supported me through the lows and highs on this crazy ride are great!
It's kinda weird for me because I don't think of those people as just fans. Ya know, I'm fairly exclusive with whom I call my friends and although I have no problems talking to anybody, it's hard to call them (Fans) that because without them there's no one to share it with, to appreciate it the way they do. I don't think of them as mere fans...they're associates.
I'm not one of those guys who thinks they're so above people that I cannot interact. I suppose if you're always mobbed like Anderson (Silva) you might feel more on guard? Regardless, you gotta realize you're human and not above anyone.
AMAM: With renewed hunger, a clear focus and a solid training camp, what can Gabriel "Godzilla" Ruediger promise now to all of his many loyal fans?
GR: Yes...that I will always fight with my heart and I will put all my effort into it. And, as long as they support me I will look forward to putting in whatever I can without holding back, and to give back as long as I physically can.
AMAM: Gabriel, at this point AMAM MAGAZINE wishes to express our total gratitude to you for taking this time out of your busy schedule to allow us this delightful interview.
We are fans of yours and sincerely wish you good luck with your fantastic career and with all of your future endeavors!
GR: Well, thank you. I really appreciate it too!
For more about Gabe Ruediger visit his website at http://www.gabegodzilla.com/