KH: D’Juan, thanks for taking the time to speak with us man as you’re preparing to do battle on Saturday night. We go way back, and I’m sure our readers remember your video training blogs back in the day when you were first coming up as an amateur. It has been a pleasure to follow your career to this point. You’ll be headlining the Next Level Fight Club 4 event that will take place in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday. This will be your first fight in the Raleigh/Durham area since 2012 I believe, so talk to us a little about what it means to come back and fight in an area where you started your foundation in MMA?
DO: To say fighting in front of my friends and family means everything to me is an understatement. I’m almost ALWAYS fighting in the main event in someone else’s backyard. I love winning the crowd over, but I’m excited about feeling the positive energy from a crowd of supporters from the onset.
KH: You’ve been on an absolute tear since 2014 winning your last three bouts in impressive fashion. You had three wins via submission recently. What has been the difference for you in your last three bouts?
DO: I think the major contributing factor in my most recent success is my training under Rick McCoy at the MMA Institute. I’ve gone 6-1 in MMA since I began training there full time. Rick really added some crucial pieces to my game skill set. My wrestling and cage work have improved a lot, and more importantly the blurred spaces between striking and grappling. Also understanding the reality of how close I am to the big show has lit a fire in me.
KH: You took home Virginia’s “Submission of the Year” award for the second year in a row in 2015. You were thought to be a striker earlier in your career and I know you’ve always worked on your wrestling and submission game. Besides you putting in the work, who has helped you sharpen up the wrestling and submission aspects of your game?
DO: I’ve always felt I had an underrated ground game but I can only blame myself for that because I was taking a singular approach in my fights. I thought of my grappling mainly as a defensive tool instead of using it as a weapon. I came up in a strong Jiu Jitsu Academy called Triangle Jiu Jitsu, so my proficiency isn’t as new as my change in mindset. If I could sum up my approach in one word I would say “efficiency”.
KH: Makes sense. Now, you had three fight winning streak against some UFC and Strikeforce veterans in 2014 and then suffered a loss. I remember you saying you began to ‘feel yourself’ a little too much and paid the price with a loss. What have you done leading up to this fight to ensure that won’t happen this time out?
DO: Yeah, 2014 was a great year in my career. I had another good streak against a string of high-caliber opponents on big shows. As you said though, your boy was definitely feeling himself a little too much. I started thinking all I had to do was show up. I lost a decision last January and I definitely wasn’t in peak condition. I was focusing on a lot of other things in my life and I felt like winning was automatic. That was a hard lesson, and I learned that I’m winning not just because I’m skilled, or because I’m passionate about the sport, but because I put the work in. As much as it hurt, I’m glad I got that last lesson before I stepped on the biggest stage.
KH: Right on. Man, I remember speaking with you after an early loss in your professional career against a wrestler named George Hickman in 2011. You were contemplating if you really had the time to develop the skills to become a legitimate professional fighter. Most of the time we learn way more from losses than wins. Had you decided to give up fighting, what do you think you would be doing almost five years later?
DO: I remember that conversation, and I definitely remember that fight. I started training MMA as an adult, and I had no martial arts or even athletic background. I knew I had to improve at a faster rate than everyone else, and fortunately I stuck with it. If I had decided to hang the gloves up I’m positive I would’ve been teaching middle school children or high school children somewhere. I remember your words of encouragement, so if I never thanked you for that, I’m saying it now. Thank you.
KH: Ha! Man, you’re the one that put in the work so congrats to you. You’ve traveled the world fighting over the past 5 years. You’ve fought in Peru, Russia, North Carolina, Virginia, Rhode Island, and been on TV a couple of times. Talk to us about those experiences and how they have molded you into the fighter you are today?
DO: Man I could write a dissertation on this question. To keep it short, I’ll say that my confidence comes from my training, and fighting experience. Because of this experience, I know I can compete at the highest level of the sport against any opponent in my weight class and win.
KH: I know a big goal of yours in 2016 is to make it to the UFC. I know you stay in shape all the time and if Sean Shelby or Joe Silva called to take a fight on short notice you’d by ready to throw them thangs as you say! What separates you from the other guys in your situation, those hungry fighters looking for their shot on the big stage?
DO: I think fighters on the cusp of the UFC try to avoid each other for the most part, but I’m willing to fight anyone to get my spot. I also don’t care what style of opponent I fight. Of course there are stylistic match ups that are easier to deal with, but at this point I believe I’m well-rounded enough to take them all out. Plus, I look better than these guys doing it. Regardless of how skilled my opponent is I always go for the finish, and I always put on a show. ALWAYS.
KH: You’ve fought 8 times in the last two years going (6-2). Do you plan to stay that active in 2016, or do you plan to be more selective about who and when you fight to make sure you get that big show opportunity?
DO: I realized I’m at my best when I stay active. I love training, and I love fighting…..but I HATE dieting. Keeping a consistent fight schedule gives me incentive to keep my weight low. I don’t take damage in fights like a lot of fighters so I rarely need time off before hopping back in the gym. Oh, and one of this losses was a modified MMA rules bout in Russia that I STILL thought I won, but that’s another story. It was three 3 min rounds instead of three 5 minute rounds, no elbows, and only 30 seconds on the mat before an automatic ref stand up. I know……I was crazy.
KH: LOL, yea that’s interesting to say the least. I know you mentioned that you allowed your emotions to have too much of an effect in your last bout. How do you plan to keep those in check fighting in your own backyard?
DO: I was reckless in my last fight, and I was fighting with a lot of emotion because of an illegal knee that I felt my opponent threw purposely. Fortunately we got the win but it wasn’t looking good before I got the finish, and that’s another lesson learned. Every time I fight it makes it that much harder for the next guy. Without giving too much away, I’ll be taking a more measured approached in future bouts. I really want to display how big of a skill discrepancy there is between these guys and myself.
KH: Right on. Do you have anyone/sponsors you’d like to thank and final words before we let you get back to fight preparations?
DO: I want say much love, respect, and thanks to my coaches and training partners at the MMA Institute, and my Team Royce family for the countless hours of work we put in for this, and every other fight! PHAT shout-out to Cageside MMA, Toro BJJ, the Hip-Hop Chess Federation, and Tapestry 360. My United Front family, we’re building! And to my friends, family, and supporters…..THIS IS OUR YEAR!!! #UFCBOUND
Tickets for the Next Level Fight Club 4 event can be purchased here. Ticket prices range from $30 general admission, $80 ringside, and $600 VIP. Supporters of D’Juan can enter the promo code: OWENS