Cael Sanderson Welcomes ‘An All-Time Favorite’ Ed Ruth Home
Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson’s first meeting with Ed Ruth set the stage for their relationship, Sanderson’s tenure as head coach of the sport’s greatest modern dynasty, and Ruth’s career…in a few different sports.
Shortly after he was hired, Sanderson met with Ruth, a prized recruit who had already signed to wrestle for former coach Troy Sunderland, and conducted a litmus test to see just what he was inheriting and potentially building his program around.
And, boy, did Ruth pass.
“When we recruit, I like to test the guys and wrestle them for a little bit to see if they’ll be competitive or fight back,” Sanderson said. “This was our first time meeting him though and he wrestled me for probably an hour. I had to say ‘Alright, Ed, I better get going home.’
“Ed has been and always will be one of my all-time favorite kids. He was so much fun to coach. He’s an incredible talent and the way he worked was always phenomenal. He was the type of guy that we actually had to tell to get out of the room.”
That first impression was a precursor to the drive Ruth would demonstrate over the next five years in the wrestling room and on the mat and the success it would bring.
While competing for Sanderson, Ruth wracked up a 136-3 record, four All-American finishes, and three NCAA titles. At one point, Ruth won 84 matches in a row, spanning from the NCAA Championships of his freshman year to the Southern Scuffle of his senior season when an up-and-coming freshman named Gabe Dean of Cornell upset him. (Penn State got its revenge three years later when Bo Nickal spoiled Dean’s senior season with a thrilling 4-3 win in the 184 lb. Final of the NCAA Championships.)
When he graduated Penn State as one of the most feared grapplers in the world, Ruth dabbled in freestyle wrestling before answering the call and finding his place in MMA. He signed with Bellator in 2015 and fights at 185 lbs., one pound north of his senior year weight . Fittingly, he’s quickly found success in the sport, going 3-0 to begin his new career, thanks to the same relentless work ethic and competitiveness that drove him to the top of the NCAA and onto the Worlds team roster only a year after many doubted if he even had the skillset to compete in freestyle.
“MMA has always been a passion of his,” Sanderson said. “We still have a punching back in the wrestling room that’s there because Ed brought it in.
“I was trying to get him to win [an Olympic] gold medal first and then go into MMA, because he had the ability to win one and still does. Not a lot of wrestlers have that potential, but I always thought he did. It’s great to see him do well, but it doesn’t surprise me. He’s extremely fast and has an unlimited gas tank and is extremely competitive. He plays it off as being cool, ‘Nothing Bothers Me Ed,’ but he wouldn’t have been able to do what he did in college wrestling if he weren’t a tremendous competitor.”
While he may’ve left the sport, Ruth will always have a home in Happy Valley, both with Sanderson’s relentless support and fans’ ceaseless admiration to one of the best ever to don the white-belt singlet. Expect to hear plenty of booming “RUUUUUUUUTH” cheers tonight as Ruth makes his return alongside fellow Harrisburg native and former Nittany Lion Phil Davis for a Bellator event at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“You’re talking about not only two of the best wrestlers in Penn State history but also two of the most well-liked,” Sanderson said. “It’ll be exciting to see them and what kind of homecoming they both get. If they ever came to one of our matches, they’d be signing autographs for hours.”