Anthony Ruiz (20-10) has the biggest fight of his career coming up on Friday, June 26 at Strikeforce: "Melendez vs Thomson" as he looks to defeat Bobby Southworth for the second time. This time , however, it's for the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship.
With 30 professional fights to his creidt, "El Toro" has proven his dedication to mixed martial arts. He's worked extremely hard to get to where he's at in this sport and is ready for it to finally to pay off. Winning a world championship on an HDNet televised event would be the highlight of his career to date, but he doesn't plan on stopping there.
I caught up with the Team Voodoo member and talked a little bit with him about his upcoming title fight, his life as a California fire fighter, his hardcore training techniques, and his thoughts on some of the other top 205-pound fighters in the sport today, including his prediction on the UFC 86 main event between Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Forrest Griffin.
Let's get to it:
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): How's it going brother?
Anthony Ruiz: Oh, just sitting here waiting to fight.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): So how are you feeling a little more than 48 hours away from a world title fight?
Anthony Ruiz: I actually feel more prepared than I've ever felt going into a fight. My mind, I'm mentally there. I'm physically there. There's no way I could be more physically prepared. I think I've peaked perfect. After 30 fights I've learned to peak about perfect, and I'm mentally there, you know? So, I'm feeling good right now man. I just wish we could get the show on the road and get it over with.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): So your weight is good and there's no nagging injuries or anything like that?
Anthony Ruiz: Actually I walk around about 201 or 202 now. I think it has something to do with it being the summer time, and picking up the training, and getting my diet down. I've got a nutritionist now. Everything is just falling into place perfect. That just adds extra stress to a fight sometimes, having to make sure you make weight. And I'm injury free man, I have no injuries right now.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): I'm assuming this is the biggest fight of your carreer.
Anthony Ruiz: Yes, definitely the biggest fight of my career.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Talk a little bit about your training for this fight. I know you train with Team Voodoo, which is a local gym there in California. Who are some of the guys you train with there?
Anthony Ruiz: There's a guy on my team that has the Cage Combat belt. His name is Jeremiah Metcalf. He's fighting the same night. Having him fight on the same card has actually been perfect, because our peaking situation is perfect. So when it was time to step up the training and do it hard, we were able to do it together. He's pretty skilled on stand up and on the ground. He's one of my biggest training partners. We have about five other guys that aren't really well known that we get a lot of sparring time with.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): There's probably a lot of fans on the east coast who don't know much about you. Give our readers a little bit of a background on you, like what got you into fighting professional MMA.
Anthony Ruiz: Well, I know Ted Williams with Gladiator Challenge. Basically I never wrestled in college. I did wrestle in high school. I graduated in 1996, and that was about the time the sport started coming out. Then back in 2002 I got my first fight fighting in Gladiator Challenge. Ted Williams basically called me about two weeks out and said they needed a guy to fill a spot. I lost that fight, but I did really well. After that I came out and won five in a row. But basically I'm from central California. I live in a town called Coarsegold. I'm also a seasonal fireman. I work for Cal-fire. They're behind me 100 percent. It's actually kind of nice. At the station I get a lot of cardio work in. I can train up to three times a day there. I get the best food there, and I also get the best sleep there. I got two kids, one of them is about one year old, so he's kind of in our bed still, so I get to sleep good at the station. I work three days on and four days off, so I catch up on sleep when I go to the station believe it or not. Yeah, I traded a shift with a guy there and ended up getting 11 days off, which is the same time all the fires broke out in California, so I actually got kind of lucky.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): I'd say so. Those wildfires can be pretty brutal. That's actually pretty cool that you can do a lot of training while you're at the fire house, especially since, like you said, you guys are three days on and four days off.
Anthony Ruiz: Yeah man, we have a house that used to be the actual fire house, but they've upgraded and built a new one. So this old house is what we've made our gym out of. I actually have a wrestling mat in there, I have bags in there, a speed bag, a heavy bag, and so I've kind of set it up to where it's kind of my own gym. I've brought in all my own stuff from home.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Let's talk a little bit about your opponent, Bobby Southworth. You fought and beat him last November in a non-title fight. For some of our readers that didn't get a chance to see that fight, can you tell us a little bit about what happened that night?
Anthony Ruiz: Yeah, well we came out, I'm more or less of a ... it kind of takes me a round to get started sometimes. I think he's kind of the same way. The first round was kind of slow. He got me down on my back within probably the first 15 seconds, and then I ended up reversing it and I had him on his back for a while. He ended up getting out of it. I was able to connect two solid standing elbows with the clinch up against the cage. Both of them landed really well, and then the round was pretty much over with. He's not too known for his cardio and conditioning. Then the second round came out and I caught him with a four punch combo that split his left eye, and I kind of followed it with a take down and I had him up against the side of the cage and I was trying to finish him off, and meanwhile the ref stopped it because of the cut and there was blood everywhere, and then the doctor stopped it.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You mentioned that he was able to take you down within the first 15 seconds. I noticed on your record that you have eight losses by submission. Do you think that after Southworth kind of felt your power in the stand up last time, that he's going to try to take you down and make this a ground fight?
Anthony Ruiz: Well, I threw a kick and he caught it, and then threw an overhand right at the same time. So, me trying to move away from his overhand right kind of set up the takedown for him. So no, I've actually heard that he's been working on his stand up, so I think that he's going to want to bang with me. I think that he thinks that I'm confident enough now to stand up, so thats why he's been working on that. I think we're going to get out there and bang.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You've won 11 of your last 13 fights. It's hard enough to get one win in MMA today. What do you think has been the biggest factor in you being so successful over the last couple years?
Anthony Ruiz: I do some hardcore training. I try to put my body through things that make the fight easier. I pull a sled for two miles with two 45 pound plates on asphalt. I'll do it in the dead of heat. In the hottest part of the day, with sweats on, just to put my body through abuse. I'll go on hikes carrying a log over my back. It almost sounds crazy.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Rocky IV style.
Anthony Ruiz: Exactly. Most people aren't doing that, and I live in the mountains, so I'm in high elevation. These hardcore things that you can't do in the gym have just slowly built my body to be tough. I would say I'm tougher than most because of that. I also think growing up, my parents made me work my ass off. We had a farm. My parents made me put in the time. They taught me that hard work pays off. Third would be my heart. I fight with all heart. Sometimes that can be a downfall, I'm working on my mind. You got to have both. You have to out smart the guy and have heart. So, basically I can take a punch and just keep coming. They'll hit me and drop me and I'll just keep coming and coming. It eventually frustrates my opponents. So, I have a lot of heart and I'm just mentally tough.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You've fought in a ton of different organizations. This is your third fight with Strikeforce. What's your contract status with them, and if you become the champ are you going to be more exclusively fighting with them?
Anthony Ruiz: I'm on a six fight contract right now. This will be the first of those six. So, no matter what I'm pretty exclusive with them. Winning this fight will bump up my pay a little bit each time. If I lose it stays the same.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Are there any other 205 pounders in Strikeforce you've got your eye on fighting if you win the belt?
Anthony Ruiz: I don't know of too many. The last time I did an interview with you guys, they were talking like they had Babalu and Vitor Belfort. I feel like I match up well with those guys. Babalu isn't as mentally tough as I am. Like I said, my cardio and conditioning are always a step up, so that's what I rely on to win. Some of these other guys like Babalu are good on the ground, Vitor Belfort are good standing up, so they rely on those things to win. I rely on conditioning. So now I can take a punch and eventually wear my opponent out. They get mentally drained and physically drained because they keep hitting me, but nothing is happening. So I think I have an advantage there. Both of those fights are ones I would love to take. I'm relentless. I just keep it coming and I wear you out. My biggest thing is just getting you on your back up against the cage and just slowly taking the life out of you.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): You were supposed to fight David Heath at UFC 81 back in February. What happened there?
Anthony Ruiz: Well, UFC offered a four fight contract with the first one being with David Heath. Strikeforce offered a six fight contract with the first one being for the belt. And then the fifth and sixth fight would be more than $30,000 a fight, which is a lot of money for me, not for some people, but for me it is. So, that's kind of why I went with Strikeforce. One for the belt, and two the two extra fights. And I think Strikeforce will help me grow a little bit more rather than just put me in there and feed me to the wolves and use me as a stepping stone for someone else. For Strikeforce, they'll let me be their golden boy almost.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): When you say Strikeforce will help you grow, does that mean you want to test the waters in the UFC one day?
Anthony Ruiz: Sure, exactly. Yeah, just because I didn't accept their offer this time doesn't mean I will never go there, you know? I'm taking it slow and being patient and working my way up as necessary. The UFC is where everyone wants to be. It was a really hard decision, but I think Strikeforce is better for me right now.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Who are you taking out of Forrest and Rampage?
Anthony Ruiz: I think Rampage is gonna kill Forrest. I've trained with Rampage before in Irvine. He's pretty relentless. He hits hard, he trains hard, he prepares hard. Three months before the fight, he's not touching a drop of alcohol. The guy is just a professional, and he's gonna have the belt for a long time.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Interesting. El Toro is a pretty cool nickname. What's the story behind that?
Anthony Ruiz: Well, right when I started I would more or less just come out and charge people. I've grown out of that now, but the name has stuck. Being young, as a fighter, as soon as you get in the cage you have a one track mind, you know? You're just straight ahead. That's where that came from. Now it's a mental game as well. That was because I would just come out and charge a guy and take him down and ground and pound him.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Before I let you out of here, do you want to make a prediction for the fight on Friday?
Anthony Ruiz: Well, yeah, I think it's gonna end pretty much the same way, without the cut. Second round ground and pound.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Right on man. Anybody you want to thank or any sponsors you want to plug?
Anthony Ruiz: Yeah man. I've got Toe2Toe, Cageside MMA, RESPEK Fightwear, House of Pain, Diamond MMA, KO Dynasty, and my Team Voodoo.
James Iannotti (MMAmania.com): Thank you so much for your time bro. Good luck to you Friday and in the future.
Anthony Ruiz: Right on, thanks man.