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Cool hand Duke: MMAmania.com interview exclusive with Jeff 'Duke' Roufus (Part one)

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Duke Roufus has quickly jumped into the spotlight as one of the most sought-after instructors in mixed martial arts (MMA).

The Wisconson-based MMA coach was given a major boost after his fighter, Anthony Pettis, pulled off the "Showtime kick" in the fifth round of his WEC 53 title fight against Ben Henderson. In his post-fight interview, Pettis gave his trainer all the credit in the world for helping him.

Roufus, a distinguished kickboxer, retired with a career record of 33-4-1. Duke won five major super heavyweight kickboxing titles during the 1990's.

The Muay Thai specialist began training mixed martial artists after stepping away from competition and, alongside Pettis, currently trains top UFC stars Alan Belcher, Erik Koch, Pat Barry and Matt Mitrione.

On top of training top MMA fighters full time, Duke also promotes for a smaller fighting league, North American Fighting Championship, which is based in his hometown of Milwaukee. He has an event this upcoming Friday (May 6, 2011) which is headlined by UFC fighter and Roufus-trainee, Danny Downes.

We caught up with Duke to discuss his upcoming event as well as Anthony Pettis and his fight with Clay Guida in part one of this exclusive interview with MMAMania.com.

Check it out.

Brian Hemminger (MMAMania.com): You've been a part of the North American Fighting Championship promotion for a while now. What's it like promoting an event that your own fighters commonly participate in?

Duke Roufus: It's one of those things. If you don't promote them, they're not going to get opportunities. The nice thing is we're regulated by the state, we have a matchmaker and things like that and I've always tried to match my fighters with top guys that will help them get to the UFC fast. If you don't fight anybody, you're not going to become anybody. I have a prospect that's 7-0 and he's fighting UFC veteran Sean Salmon in his eighth pro fight. I believe in always testing my guys. You want to find out right away where they're at, not later.

Brian Hemminger (MMAMania.com): One of those fighters is Danny Downes, who is coming off a big win against the Mongolian Wolf at WEC 53. Can you talk about how he's progressed since his WEC debut against Chris Horodecki and why he chose to take a fight outside of the UFC?

Duke Roufus: The roster, the lightweights are pretty swollen up right now and there's kind of a wait for fights and Danny's really putting hard work into getting better. He's actually a very good kickboxer but he's really been putting in the time with his jiu-jitsu and he just wanted to fight. He's looking to fight again in the fall. If he wins this fight, he'll be back in the UFC.

This isn't the first time we've done this with the UFC. When I first brought Red Schafer into the UFC, they gave me a chance to get a couple fights in other organizations because they liked him as a fighter. Dan reminds me a lot of Red. He's a witty guy, he's funny, he brings a lot to the table and he's a fun guy to watch. He's a guy that could potentially be a marquee guy in Ireland with his name.

Brian Hemminger (MMAMania.com)Rashad Evans has been completely down on his luck lately after choosing to wait nearly a year for a title shot. With hindsight 20/20, are you guys glad that Anthony Pettis decided to fight again against Clay Guida instead of sitting on the sidelines and waiting for a the Edgar/Maynard winner?

Duke Roufus: Oh yeah. You either believe you're the best or you're not. I push these guys hard and I push them so hard it gives them the confidence to fight anybody, anywhere, anytime, anyhow. I mean, Dan Downes took a fight with Chris Horodecki on four day's notice just because of that mindset. My ancestors are from Greece and I believe in the Spartan code. You're either a fighter or you're not a fighter. I hate to sound "Dana White-ish" but do you want to be a fighter or not? If you can't beat Clay Guida then don't fight Frankie or don't fight Gray Maynard. I'm really looking forward to the fight with Clay.

Brian Hemminger (MMAMania.com): Speaking of Pettis, Clay Guida will be the third consecutive tough wrestler that he's faced. What do you think it is about matching Anthony up with the strong grapplers?

Duke Roufus: That's all they got in the lightweight division. There's no one in the lightweight division that's purely a great striker. My favorite other strikers in the lightweight division are Edson Barboza and Anthony Njokuani. Other than that, there's a couple guys who can bang but the slickest, most athletic strikers in the division are those guys right now.

Everyone's talking about Clay Guida and how great of a wrestler he is. Well, is he better than Shane Roller and Benson Henderson at wrestling? I don't think so. Don't forget Danny Castillo. Four of Anthony's last five fights have been wrestler training camps.

We've got our secret weapon, Ben Askren as a coach down there and he's training with us tonight with Anthony. Anthony is regularly wrestling with high level guys and taking them down. I look forward to watching Clay get his ass kicked. It's funny when a wrestler gets taken down. That's the biggest insult. Anthony took Shane Roller down who wrestled at Oklahoma State.

I'm excited about the fight. I respect Clay. I think he's fights at high energy and he's a great guy but I think Anthony is better at every part of the game and more dynamic.

Brian Hemminger (MMAMania.com): The sport of MMA has been completely taken over by highly credentialed wrestlers that have made the transition. Your fighters are primarily known for their flashy striking and their submissions. How have you been able to compete with the top control grapplers and stay on top?

Duke Roufus: It takes one to know one. If you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em and then beat ‘em. We wrestle a lot. There's wrestlers in the corners everywhere. We have guys who wrestled at Oklahoma and we have a guy in our gym right now that wrestled at the Olympic training center. I've got guys stopping through left and right. Sergio Pettis, Anthony's younger brother, wrestled two years in Florida and I've got a gym full of kids. Most of my jiu-jitsu classes are full of wrestlers and it's just a really big sport here. I wrestled when I was a boy. It's a big sport here in Wisconsin.

Brian Hemminger (MMAMania.com): Guida utilized some absolutely ridiculous head movement in his last fight against Takanori Gomi. Do you think Anthony will have any problems keeping up with his movement and his pace?

Duke Roufus: The one thing that a lot of people don't realize about my students, three of them that are doing really well, Erik Koch, Alan Belcher and Anthony Pettis, they are childhood martial artists. People kind of freak out when I say this but in martial arts tournaments when I was a kid or even as a teenager, I had to fight like eight different styles in one day. They all move differently and they all did different things and you had to learn to adapt at a very fast speed to win these matches. That's what Anthony and Eric and Alan are very good at.

They're not your atypical orthodox fighters. I do bring a little bit of a philosophy of the Machidas of this sport too. I've been doing martial arts since I was four. Just because I was published in Muay Thai videos and I had some success in that genre, a lot of people don't realize that when you train martial arts, you're very adaptable. That's the one thing that I really focus on, learning to adapt to the opponent in front of you. Don't worry about what you do, worry about what they do and if they can't do what they do good then it's game over.

Remember to tune in tomorrow for part two of our exclusive interview with Duke Roufus where he'll discuss what exactly makes his training and his gym special.

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