It’s not every day that you get to speak with a legend like Duke Roufus. A decorated professional kickboxer, MMA coach for multiple talented fighters including UFC middleweight Alan Belcher and lightweight contender Anthony Pettis, and a promoter of one of the top MMA organizations in the Midwest … he’s pretty much done it all.
Roufus took time out of his schedule to talk with ProMMAnow.com about all of that and much more, including who he thinks would win a fight between him and his brother Rick Roufus, also a former kickboxing star. Below is an abbreviated transcript of the conversation.
ProMMAnow: First, I have to get this question out of the way…who would win a fight between you and your brother?
ProMMAnow: (laugh) And I guess he’d probably pick himself if I asked him the same question?
Roufus: Oh yeah.
ProMMAnow: All right, on to more important things. Obviously you were a great kickboxer and accomplished a lot in that sport. When did you first become interested in MMA and start teaching it?
Roufus: I’d dabbled with it for a long time. But in 2004, a lot of my younger students were getting interested in the UFC and they wanted to do MMA. Things really took off, though, when [The Ultimate Fighter Season One finalist] Stephan Bonnar walked through the doors and into our gym in 2005.
ProMMAnow: Let’s talk about your MMA promotion, North American Fighting Championship (NAFC). You have a good card coming up on Nov. 24 in Milwaukee and one of your fighters, Chico Camus, in the co-main event and some WEC veterans on the card. Obviously it’s good to keep your fighters busy, so does being a promoter help with that so you can get fights for your students?
Roufus: Yeah, but I’ve never been about using tomato can fighters and I’m not trying to get my guys easy fights. We want to challenge them. Sometimes you see guys from the Midwest with great looking records, but then you look at the guys they’ve fought and they haven’t really been tested. If they get to the WEC or UFC, they get maybe two fights and they’re done. That’s not what we’re looking to do.
Chico is basically a product of Anthony Pettis. Anthony helped him get out the gang banger lifestyle and straighten out his life and introduced him to being a professional fighter.
He’s already beaten two WEC veterans and we’re hoping he’ll make it a hat trick and that might get him a shot at the big show. But his opponent, Jameel Massouh, he’s really tough.
ProMMAnow: We’ve talked about Chico, obviously you have some WEC vets on the card like Massouh and Sherron Leggett. Who else should people keep an eye on for this card that maybe they haven’t heard of?
Roufus: There’s a guy from Wisconsin at another gym up here fighting Jason Guida, his name is Sam Alvey. His girlfriend was on America’s Top Model. It’s Brittany Sullivan, I think they’re engaged now. I’ve heard good things about him and he’s looking to get a win and try and get a shot at the big show.
And that’s what we’re trying to do. Tim Boetsch fought at our last even and basically headkicked his way back into the UFC. We’re not trying to compete with the biggest shows. We’re looking to be basically the AAA baseball of MMA, for up-and-comers and guys that have slipped down and looking to bounce back. [UFC matchamaker] Joe Silva and [WEC matchmaker] Sean Shelby, they’re going to see great fights here.
ProMMAnow: Another one of your fighters people are familiar with is Alan Belcher. I know he had eye surgery recently, can you talk about how he’s doing?
Roufus: Great. He can’t do too much contact stuff right now, but he’s been able to get back to strength and conditioning. He has more intestinal fortitude and will to win than just about anyone.
ProMMAnow: So training guys like Alan, Pettis, Erik Koch just picked up a big KO win, do you feel like your gym is up there with some of the other big name gyms like American Top Team and Greg Jackson’s team? Is there a pressure to compete and promote your group to get the school’s name out there?
Roufus: If you pay any attention to who I am, I do everything I can to keep my fat face off the camera. I’m not doing this to be famous; I already had my time as a fighter. For me, it’s all about these guys and helping them. But on the inside I do enjoy watching them succeed.
All the guys work hard everywhere, but Alan, Erik, and Anthony especially are true 50-50 fighters. Their goal is to beat you in any aspect of the game.
ProMMAnow: As far as your coaching style, you had a great kickboxing career, but I’m sure you know there are things you can do in a kickboxing match that you can’t do in an MMA fight. So how have you adjust your striking techniques for MMA?
Roufus: It’s just like how [Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor] Eddie Bravo has perfected his own style with the rubber guard. I don’t believe Muay Thai even exists anymore, at least in the MMA realm. I’m not saying that to be disrespectful or upset anyone, but it’s not Muay Thai, it’s kickboxing for MMA. I have been training with MMA fighters for a long time and that’s helped.
I do a lot of grappling too. I won my division at the Arnold’s last year. I just try to put myself in position to learn more about the sport. Even punching standing up, it’s completely different than punching on the ground. It uses a completely different muscle group.
It’s hard for me, but I make it a point not to watch any Muay Thai or K-1 anymore. Once in awhile, my guilty pleasure is I’ll maybe watch something like the K-1 Max Finals. But I purposely don’t watch it because I don’t want to accidentally pick up anything, any technique that isn’t suited for MMA.
ProMMAnow: It’s interesting that you bring that up. There are quite a few fighters that go to Thailand, for instance, to specifically work on their Muay Thai. Obviously I can’t say whether they’re training in a way that might or might not translate to MMA, and I’m sure it’s a huge help in a lot of ways, but is there a downside to practicing a discipline like that separately?
Roufus: I just had a huge debate about this on [The Underground forum]. Here’s the problem. In Thailand, they’re training, hitting the mits, the heavybag, and it’s about sharpening up for a fight. What happens though, when these guys go to Thailand, their technique gets really wicked but they aren’t any good at getting hit. That’s like me going to the Jiu Jitsu guys and learning every collar choke in the book.
ProMMAnow: Another guy you train, Danny Downes, and he fights Tiequan Zhang at WEC 53 on Dec. 16. He took his first WEC fight against Chris Horodecki on only a few days notice and had to cut a lot of weight in a short period. He went the distance, but how happy are you for him to get another chance and really show the WEC what he’s capable of with a full training camp?
Roufus: I’m close with all of my fighters, but he’s a great kid. All you saw in that fight was heart and nuts.
Now, for this fight … He’s 100 percent Irish. His physique, he looks completely different from his last fight. We’ve been joking asking him, “Are you on performance enhancing potatoes?” He’s got a lot of skill people haven’t seen yet.
The guy he’s fighting, the “Mongolian Wolf,” he’s got very good striking. But we’ve got a Chinese kickboxing expert, [UFC heavyweight] Pat Barry. He knows a lot about San Shou and he’s helped us plan some strategy.
ProMMAnow: Also on WEC 53, Pettis will take on Ben Henderson for the WEC lightweight title. Of course, with the WEC-UFC merger news, a big thing that came out of that is the winner of this fight gets a shot at the UFC belt. So this fight became that much bigger. Is it hard to keep him focused just on the fight with so much at stake?
Roufus: All it did was up the stakes and focus him even more. The day he heard, he was on the way home from a hard training session, and he tried to come back to the gym to train some more. That’s how fired up he is.
He comes from a very tough upbringing, but he avoided all the trappings of that and kept from becoming a statistic. So all this did was make him hungrier. There’s no problem focusing him. I’m bringing in great wrestlers for him to wrestler with, great grapplers for him to grapple with … and he’s eating them all for breakfast.
For more information about the NAFC Nov. 24 event, go to www.nafc.tv
For information on Roufus’s MMA academy, go to www.milwaukeemma.com