Ed Ruth couldn’t ask for a better breakthrough opportunity.
Selected as one of eight fighters to compete in the upcoming Bellator welterweight world grand prix, the three-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion finds himself in a field with the current 170-pound title holder Rory MacDonald, as well as former champions Douglas Lima and Andrey Koreshkov, and longtime contenders like Paul Daley and Jon Fitch.
Making the competition even more intriguing is that MacDonald’s Bellator championship will be on the line in every bout he’s involved in, meaning whoever defeats him will advance in the tournament with gold around their waist.
In the first round, Ruth is matched up with fellow unbeaten welterweight Neiman Gracie, with the winner of that bout moving on to face the winner of a championship matchup between MacDonald and Fitch in the semifinals.
On Monday, The MMA Hour host Luke Thomas asked Ruth if he realizes how close he is to winning a major title after starting his pro MMA career in 2016 — going 6-0 thus far — and the 27-year-old prospect is excited about the possibility.
“If anything, I’m so happy it’s there,” Ruth said. “That was the biggest reason why anybody wanted to be in this Grand Prix. And the fact that I get to fight for it the second match, that part alone, if I don’t think about it I’m fine, but sometimes when I do think about it, it just blows my mind.”
MacDonald, widely regarded as one of the top welterweights in the world due to his recent Bellator title win and past victories over the likes of Tyron Woodley, Demian Maia, and Nate Diaz, will presumably be the favorite in every Grand Prix matchup along the way, but that doesn’t bother Ruth in the slightest.
In fact, Ruth would prefer that he get a shot at the current champion rather than see Fitch pull off the upset.
“I hope it is [MacDonald],” Ruth said. “I’m not running from anybody. If anything, if you take the title, you better take it from the champion if you want to see yourself as the champion.”
As for how he sees the other half of the bracket going, Ruth shied away from picking proven veterans Daley, Lima, and Koreshkov from making it to the finals, instead favoring the popular — but relatively unproven — Michael “Venom” Page.
“I gotta go with MVP,” Ruth said of Page’s opening round matchup with rival Paul Daley. “His striking, it just seems like he’s hard to get in on. Daley, it doesn’t seem like he has that pinpoint accuracy like MVP does.”
Ruth could not choose between Lima and Koreshkov, who meet for a third time after splitting a pair of championship bouts, but when the option of Lima-Page was proposed, Ruth still thinks “MVP” has what it takes to punch his way to the finals.
“It can go either way, but I’m gonna go with MVP on this one just because he’s a striker,” Ruth said. “Just because he’s fast and he’s a striker. I’ve seen people who move and they don’t like getting touched. Usually they’re good at avoiding damage and that’s just what I’ve seen.”
It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out how Ruth expects the tournament to conclude: Ruth entering the finals with a Bellator championship won from MacDonald, and Page as the challenger on the other side of the cage.
The fight would pit two of the promotion’s most intriguing prospects against one another, with someone’s perfect record going out the window. It’s a vision that Ruth expects to turn into a reality.
“In a dream world, which I’m trying to make possible, yes,” Ruth said. “That would be it.”