Back in the day, when Gabe Ruediger was kicking it around Grass Valley, either cruising his skateboard or strumming his guitar, few would have expected him to find himself smack dab in the middle of a smackdown as a professional fighter.
Of course, that was before he became known as “Godzilla.”
Those who might find it hard to believe that the well-spoken Ruediger makes a living with his fists – whether old friends or, perhaps, former schoolyard bullies – need only tune their televisions to Spike TV at 10 p.m. today.
There, Ruediger will be found with 15 other fighters, living in the same house while training and fighting with each other for the same title of “The Ultimate Fighter 5” as part of the reality TV show.
The fifth-season of the series, which was filmed over a six-week period in January and February, debuts tonight.
And although he knows the outcome, Ruediger isn’t about to give away the ending. He says he signed a $5 million nondisclosure contract that keeps him from sharing his story.
“Yeah, I don’t really want to go there,” Ruediger said with a laugh during a phone interview Tuesday. “Basically, it’s sixteen of us in a 5-bedroom house in Vegas. There’s no contact with family or friends. There’s no books, music, TV or the Internet. It’s just us going from the house to training, two sessions a day.
“There was a pool table and chess board. But after you play 400 or 500 games of chess or pool, or countless games of air hockey – which I really don’t like – it really starts to get on your nerves.”
Ruediger, a 5-foot, 10-inch, 155-pound lightweight fighter, was chosen for the show shortly after making a full-time commitment to one of fastest growing sports in the country.
After graduating from Nevada Union in 1995 and leaving Grass Valley for the Coast Guard, for which he was stationed in Vallejo, Ruediger says he decided to take the kung fu he had studied while growing up to another level.
“While I was doing search and rescue, I also did some law enforcement things, which defensive tactics were always a part of,” he said. “So it helped there.”
Ruediger continued to delve deeper in the martial arts world, including the Brazilian jiu-jitsu that he studied and trained for two months in Rio De Janeiro. He later added kickboxing to the mix while training in San Francisco.
According to his Web site, http://www.gabegodzilla.com, after beginning a Mixed Martial Arts career, he later took his fight to Southern California, where he served as head instructor of martial arts programs at Claremont College.
It was during that stretch that he claimed the WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) Lightweight Championship. He owns a 10-3 professional record, with three wins by knockout, six by submission (when an opponent surrenders) and one by decision.
Now 29 years old and living in Rancho Cucamonga, Ruediger has taken his skills to the elite level in joining the UFC – Ultimate Fighting Championship.
“It’s only been a year that I’ve been doing this full-time,” he said. “A year ago is when I thought it was realistic. As a semi-pro, I always had another job and fought on the side.
“It just came down to either I’m going to do this 100 percent or maybe should I find something else to do.”
That decision – to step away from his job with a health and fitness consulting firm – has paid dividends so far, leading to bigger fights inside larger venues and, consequentially, resulting in more revenue.
How much more?
“Millions, man, millions,” Ruediger said before busting into laughter. “No, just kidding … It’s enough to be comfortable. This next year I won’t be worried about cash. But it’s definitely not in the millions.”
The fact that he’s been fighting for several years has afforded the opportunity not only to see his skills grow but also the sport in general.
“I remember when I initially fought, there was no sanctioning in California. So we had to do most fights on reservations,” he said. “There’d be like 2,000 people at a casino’s bingo hall.
“Then to fight at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, with 17,000 people … it’s a huge difference. That was pretty intense.”
“Intense” is one word that describes the sport in which he competes. For many viewers “brutal” might be another.
But Ruediger says – without laughing – it’s actually not as bad as it looks.
Don’t get him wrong.
When a kneecap is driven into your nose, or a flurry of fists find your forehead, or your body is contorted into a position that has you begging for mercy, he said it does hurt.
He’s just not sure “brutal” is an apt description.
“There’s this perception that we do is more brutal than boxing,” he said. “In all actuality, we typically only sustain soft-tissue damage like cuts.
“Boxers get worse. Consecutive punches to the head cause brain damage. Because of all the ways to win in our sport, you don’t take as much punishment as in boxing.
“Look. I might get cuts. I might break my nose, but I can still talk to you right now and I’ve been fighting as a semi-pro for five years now. Most boxers, because of the damage they endure, have speech impediments due to all the blows to the head.”
Ruediger said he also is aware of the perception that his sport is a return to the days of the gladiator, with two men doing battle while fans fill the arena seats shouting for their blood.
“If football isn’t considered a gladiator-type sport, then ours isn’t either,” Ruediger said. “Obviously, the intent isn’t to kill someone. It’s man versus man, but that’s about as far as it goes in being close to a gladiator-type of thing.”
He said what many people don’t understand is the level of training that goes into the sport. “Street fighters, guys like that, wouldn’t last 30 seconds,” he said.
And it’s not about causing injury to another human being or working out any pent-up anger inside him, he added.
“For me, it’s not about the ego or exorcising any demons,” he said. “I really like the challenge. It’s my chance to rise to the occasion. It’s just a test.
“I have nothing to prove to anyone. Most people who meet me, don’t even know I fight. I don’t tend to tell them.”
If anyone back home didn’t know this is the career he’s chasing, they should have a pretty good understanding of what he’s doing by the time “The Ultimate Fighter 5” wraps up the season.
“There are 16 of us, so you have to win three bouts to get into the final, which is June 23,” he said. “Other than that, I can’t talk about any outcomes.”
Over Thanksgiving last year, Ruediger returned to Grass Valley, where his mother, Linda Stanley, his sister, Malerie Stanley and his grandmother, Sandra Stanley, still reside.
“I remember in my freshman year (at NU), I wanted to go out for wrestling,” Ruediger said. “But my friends gave me a hard time saying ‘Oh you want to be all gay and roll around with guys.’ So I didn’t. In retrospect, it definitely was a mistake. I should have done it.
“I went out while I was there (at Thanksgiving) and few people said ‘I heard what you do.’ I guess it definitely wasn’t the career choice expected of me. I’m not sure what was, but it certainly wasn’t fighting. I knew that much.”
To contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 477-4240.
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