DULUTH - Bernard Rutherford stands at the doorway of the locker room at Wild Bill's patiently waiting for his mixed martial arts fight.
His dreadlocks sway back and forth underneath his toboggan as he steps from side to side, trying to stay loose.
His eyes are closed, but you can hardly tell from the knit scullcap that is pulled down to his brow. He throws an occasional punch in the air, but mostly he stays quiet.
Rutherford is taking his mind to what he describes as a dark, scary place to prepare himself for his fight.
The fight before him has gone unusually long. The first eight fights of Friday night, July 20, at Fight Night 10 have ended in the first round or early in the round. The ninth fight has made it to a surprising third round, and after an injury delay, the 39-year-old Rutherford has spent nearly 20 minutes standing at the doorway.
The fight finally ends, which means it's time for Rutherford to put on a show in the main event.
"It's time to party now baby, it's time to party," he says.
Rutherford makes his way to the entrance stage. His opponent, Rob Wince, a former bull rider from Ohio, has already been introduced.
Rutherford's intro music blares through the speakers at the cavernous Duluth club. The screen rises, and Rutherford is standing with a gas can in his hand. He takes a big drink and spews the contents (Gatorade, not gas) on the stage, receiving a big roar from the 3,000 fans in attendance. Rutherford makes his way down the ramp to the ring with one thing on his mind - the National Fighting Championship Eastern Heavyweight title belt.
Bernard Rutherford has always had a knack for thrills and excitement. When he was 8 years old growing up in Barnesville, he built a ramp in front of his driveway for his big wheel. He rode his big wheel down the hill by his house and jumped the ramp.
"I thought that wasn't exciting enough," Rutherford said.
He went inside his house, grabbed a skullcap and put it over his eyes so he couldn't see. He went down the hill again, jumped the ramp - only this time when he landed he got hit by a car.
"I get up off the ground, and I'm dizzy," Rutherford said.
But that was just the beginning.
After graduating from Lamar County High School, Rutherford enlisted in the Marine Corps. He occasionally dodged gunfire, but nothing ever really serious.
After serving his time in the Marines, he got a job with the Department of Corrections where he worked as a prison guard on death row in Jackson.
"You almost see it all. You think you see everything, but there's so much behind the doors that you don't get a chance to see," Rutherford said.
"Just seeing guys sit up in cells and just waste away. You'll see a guy come in and 10 months down the line just literally waste away. And it's like they say sometimes that we go back to our physical nature of where we came from, being barbarians or whatever. You literally see people turn back to savages in prison."
While at a club in southwest Atlanta in the early 1990s, Rutherford earned his nickname "Ruffneck," which he still goes by today in fights.
He was at the bar when he was attacked by a group of men. During the melee Rutherford was stabbed in the arm and leg.
But that didn't stop him.
"I choked one of them, pinned the other one against the bar and hit him with a beer bottle," Rutherford said. "I tried to get the other one, but he ran away."
Rutherford left his prison guard job on death row to work for the governor's drug task force, but in the mid-90s, his mother became terminally ill and he left the force to be with her until her death in 2000.
To add to an already full lifetime of excitement, Rutherford also has survived a dangerous motorcycle crash. In the accident, he broke his upper left arm in two places, destroyed his left knee and broke his leg is four places, which required the insertion of four screws and a metal rod in his leg.
Welcome to MMA
It wasn't until 2003 that Rutherford started to train in mixed martial arts. He had been involved in martial arts for years, participating in karate tournaments that usually involved point fighting.
He spent all his time training, but when it came to tournaments, he could barely touch his opponent.
"I wanted to participate in a sport that what you learn, you can actually use, you know," Rutherford said. "I started doing Muay Thai, kickboxing and stuff like that. After that, I found out about MMA. I felt at home kind of doing that, so that's what sparked it for me."
He trained for about a year before his first MMA fight, in which he knocked his opponent out in the first 28 seconds in August 2004.
"Oh, man, I was hooked ever since then," Rutherford said. "The adrenaline, the rush, everything that goes along with it. I was hooked ever since then."
Rutherford had compiled a 7-2 record leading up to his fight with Wince.
His first loss came when his opponent grabbed a handful of his dreadlocks and held him down has he performed a chokehold. Rutherford tried to tell the referee, but he didn't have a clear view, leaving Rutherford with two choices.
"It was either tap or let him choke me and pass out," Rutherford said.
He tapped out and was given his first loss of his career as a pile of his hair lay in the ring.
Fortunately, that's been his only serious injury - other than a broken jaw he got in the first five seconds of a fight. He went on to win the fight, so that helped ease the pain.
Injuries are part of the sport, which mixes jujitsu, judo, karate, boxing, kickboxing and wrestling to form mixed martial arts.
Some fighters are left with black eyes, broken jaws, cut eyes and a lot of bruised egos.
"We all want to go out there and finish and be as healthy as we can," Rutherford said. "But you know sometimes things don't turn out that way and you get injured. I've been very fortunate that I've never had to get stitches or anything like that. But who's to say it might happen? That's why you train. You train for the worst."
Pipeline from Wild Bill's
Fight Night at Wild Bill's began as the creation of fight promoters David Oblas and Steve Mutter.
Mutter held five fights at Wild Bill's called Full Throttle Fight Night in 2005. About the same time, Oblas was in his third year of promoting fights in Atlanta. The two figured they could put on bigger and better shows together, so they formed Fight Night at Wild Bill's.
The first Fight Night was held in March 2006, and, since then, each show has gotten better and better.
"There are a lot of other fight nights in Atlanta that go on, but with the crowds at Wild Bill's, it has allowed us to bring in better fighters and better shows," Oblas said.
Wild Bill's has become one of the premier MMA venues in Georgia and the Southeast. It can seat up to 3,500 and routinely draws more than 3,000 fans at Fight Night.
Some of the biggest stars from the Ultimate Fighting Championship - the premier league in MMA - have made appearances or fought at Wild Bill's. Fan favorite Forrest Griffin, winner of the Spike TV reality series The Ultimate Fighter, routinely has made guest appearances at Fight Night. So has former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski. UFC fighters Kevin Jordan, Marcus Davis and Rory Singer have fought at Wild Bill's. Singer owns a MMA gym in Athens with his brother Adam, The Hardcore Gym, and fighters from the gym are usually the top competitors at Fight Night.
Guys like Brian Bowles and Stephen Ledbetter, who have fought several times at Wild Bill's, are now in the World Extreme Cagefighting league, which is owned by the UFC.
Rutherford is just the next in a line of fighters who have fought at Wild Bill's and are moving onto professional leagues. Rutherford was a reserve on the Razorclaws of the International Fight League last season and is expected to compete for a starting spot next season.
His coach will be former UFC middleweight champion Frank Shamrock, the brother of UFC Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock. Which is why Rutherford's fight with Wince is more than just picking up a prize check. It likely is his last fight before he flies to San Jose next month for training camp with the Razorclaws, and likely is his last chance to build his confidence with another win before earning a spot in the five-man lineup.
"I'm sure Frank is looking for the best 205-(pound)er he can get," Rutherford said. "That's why I've been working my (butt) off, staying in shape, setting up good fights like this that will show him I'm definitely the primary man he needs to put in the 205 slot."
A long time waiting
It's been nearly five months since Rutherford's last fight, a loss he attributes to returning too soon from an injury.
This time he plans to be ready.
He's been training since April. A personal trainer for 13 years, Rutherford is always in the gym. For this fight he worked out six days a week, anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours a day.
"I have a pretty intense regimen," Rutherford said. "I know if the average person watched it they would be, 'Oh, my God.'"
He works on his MMA at Knuckle Up Fitness in Duluth. The gym is actually less than a quarter of a mile from Wild Bill's, but for Rutherford it's an hour drive each day from his home in Alpharetta.
His workout routine for this fight consisted of setting the treadmill at a 10-degree incline and the speed at 8.5. He would sprint for 30 seconds, get off the treadmill and then do bench press for a minute. He would go back to the treadmill and sprint again and then get off and do biceps curls. He continued the process until he's worked out each body part.
The day of the fight, he ate dinner at 5 p.m. His meal was filled with high protein foods like salmon, crab cakes, pasta salad, and lots of water. Since he won't be fighting until almost midnight, Rutherford brought some fruit with him to keep the hunger away.
He arrived at Wild Bill's at 6:30 p.m., nearly 41⁄2 hours before his fight. There's a fighters meeting at 7:30 p.m. Rutherford sat nearly four feet away from his opponent, Rob Wince, but by the way the two acted, you would have thought they were sitting by themselves.
For the next 20 minutes, as the officials explained the basic rules of the night's fights and how they would enter the stage, neither fighter ever took one look at the other.
"I don't make it a habit to talk to them, but I spoke to him at weigh-ins," Rutherford said. "Definitely, before the fight I don't talk to anybody.
"That's like developing camaraderie and then your supposed to turn around and kick someone's (butt)."
Rutherford returned to the locker room, where he stayed for the next four hours with other fighters that use the same corner. He put on his headphones and kept to himself until the fights began at approximately 9 p.m.
"Some guys want to talk about the girls here or what they did last weekend," Rutherford said. "That takes you out of your mind-set. I try not to be a jerk and just put on my headphones and listen to music."
A kick to the head ended the first fight, a punch to the head ended the second fight. It took less than two minutes for two fights to be over.
With the possibility of him fighting sooner than 11:30 p.m., Rutherford did some stretching and got his hands taped.
"They're all going too fast," Rutherford says after the seventh fight.
One of the few guys Rutherford does talk to, Frank Milsap, tells Rutherford that his fight, the one before Rutherford's, will go three rounds. It does and a little bit longer because Milsap is briefly injured and the fight is postponed.
Instead of 11:30, Rutherford's fight comes close to the latest it's allowed to start - 11:59 p.m.
But the time finally comes.
After three long months of training and four hours of sitting in a locker room the night of the fight, it's finally time for what Rutherford came to do.
That was quick
Bernard "Ruffneck" Rutherford slowly gets up off of Rob Wince. The crowd a little unsure of what was going on, Rutherford thrusts both of his arms in the air in triumph.
Just like that, the fight is over. What a surprise.
"First thing, it was a psychological warfare. I just stared him down, I could look in his eyes and he wouldn't keep eye contact with me," Rutherford said after the fight. "He was jittery, he wouldn't be still. I said, 'He's worried.' So that's why I went right in to him."
Rutherford struck first, quickly taking down Wince in the ropes. A restart from the ground in the middle of the ring followed. Rutherford delivered several blows as Wince tried different moves from his bottom position.
From Rutherford's corner Clint Coronel, who fights for the Razorclaws, yelled out, "Get busy, get busy."
Rutherford began to deliver blows with his elbows, a few to the sternum, a few to the face, before Wince taps. The elbows broke the former bull rider's jaw.
Months of hard work led up to this night, but the main event ended in just 2 minutes, 42 seconds and a nice pay check for Rutherford. (He got a $1,000 for the fight and an additional $1,500 for the win.)
"When (Coronel) said, 'Get busy,' I came over the top," Rutherford said. "I caught him in the face and he looked stunned. That's when I hit him again and he said, 'My jaw broke, my jaw broke.'"
All that time leading up to the fight felt like an eternity.
"It was forever."
But it was well worth the wait.