There are only a few college wrestlers who can boast a more impressive resume than former Penn State standout Ed Ruth, who was a three-time national champion and four-time All-American during his years as a Nittany Lion.
Ruth was so good he often made it look effortless with the way he would swoop in and take an opponent down to the mat or absolutely maul someone with fluid motion and unbelievable control. His accomplishments and abilities have landed Ruth as the No. 1-ranked wrestler at 86kg going into the 2016 Olympic wrestling season.
Ruth was such a prodigy when it came to his wrestling that UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones brought him into camp as he prepared to face Daniel Cormier earlier this year at UFC 182.
Working with Jones not only gave the Pennsylvania native an inside look at what it was like to train with the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport of MMA, but it also gave him inspiration to pursue the sport himself.
"It was something I had in my head for a long time, but just going out there and seeing how far along I could be or how good I could be made me believe it," Ruth told FOX Sports. "This is coming from the greatest guy in the sport, and (Jon) was telling me, ‘If you can do this or you could do that, if you take a couple years at this, you could be really good at this sport.’
"It got me thinking and watching the videos and paying attention to the smaller things they were doing in the ring; I started to think, ‘I could actually do this thing.’"
(Jon Jones) was telling me ‘if you can do this or you could do that, if you take a couple years at this, you could be really good at this sport’. I started to think ‘I could actually do this thing’.”
— Ed Ruth
Jones may have been preparing for the biggest fight of his professional career, but it didn’t stop him from helping Ruth as much as he was there to help the champion. Jones imparted wisdom to the future Olympic hopeful, and it sparked his final decision to commit to mixed martial arts after the 2016 games in Brazil are completed.
"Wrestling with him, I saw that in his style there were some similarities to mine," Ruth said about Jones. "He was kind of funky, explosive, and he was telling me, ‘Wow, your style, your level changes are going to take you off the map with these guys.’ He just kept telling me all the different things from here or there that I was doing right and how that’s what guys should be doing in this sport."
Ruth has already worked with a who’s who of top fighters from the UFC including Jones, middleweight champion Chris Weidman and names such as Ryan Bader, C.B. Dollaway and Aaron Simpson at Power MMA & Fitness.
He’s excited to test himself in the sport of MMA, but first he has one more goal to accomplish before he finally leaves his shoes on the mat one last time to conclude his wrestling career.
"The Olympics are just around the corner, so I was thinking I could be an Olympian and then go into the UFC," Ruth said. "That would be even better for me; it would just add to my accolades. I’ve been doing this sport for half my life, and I figure as soon as I graduated from college, the Olympics were right around the corner.
"If it was like three years away, I would have a little bit more on my mind about time-wise on doing this sport, but I’m still wrestling, I’m still healthy, I’ve got to take this shot while I still can — because once I leave, I can’t come back to it."
While Ruth admits MMA is something that’s been on his mind for some time now, it was actually another wrestler who ultimately inspired him to make the move from being an Olympic-level athlete to becoming one of the top fighters in the sport. Ironically enough, it was the same person he was helping Jones get ready to beat when they were training together last year.
"One of the guys that really inspired me, I’d honestly have to say Daniel Cormier," Ruth said. "Because he’s somebody who got to the level where I’m at now; he was competing on the Olympic level, and then he went to MMA. It didn’t seem like he slowed down at all. You’ve just got to see one person do it, and it makes it seem so possible."
Ruth is focusing most of his attention on the 2016 Olympic games, so he’s wrestling more than anything else right now. But when time permits, he’s still learning the art of kickboxing and practicing his jiu-jitsu whenever he can.
While his full-time commitment to MMA won’t likely happen for more than another year, Ruth has already settled in his mind the team and the coach he hopes will get him to the next level and one day compete in the UFC.
"I kind of already settled on Greg Jackson’s gym," Ruth said. "That’s the way I’m leaning right now. It’s not just because Jon Jones is out there, but I met all the guys and I talked with them, and then talking about other people about them, nobody has a bad thing to say about them."
It’s no secret wrestling has been the best base for fighting since almost the inception of the sport, and currently five champions in the UFC came from a wrestling background.
None of them, however, has accomplished anything close to what Ruth did as an amateur wrestler. And if he brings home a medal from the Olympics, it only adds to the expectations that will be heaped on his shoulders.
And Ruth wouldn’t have it any other way.
"I enjoy it a lot, just because I enjoy the training; I’m a guy who loves to train. Everybody keeps hyping you up, and then when go into the gym you feel like you need to live up to something, and it builds you up even more," Ruth said.
"Having all this hype makes me feel like I’m doing something right, and it makes me work even harder to live up to it."