Jeff "Duke" Roufus is widely-considered one of mixed martial arts' finest trainers.
The Milwaukee-based coach has evolved throughout his career from childhood martial artist to world champion kickboxer to now, the owner of one of the fastest-rising mixed martial arts gyms in America.
Today, he'll talk about the his unique training methods and the rest of his talented stable of fighters.
Check it out.
Duke Roufus: Absolutely. It’s been a wonderful wave. There are still guys out there that don’t take us seriously because we’re in Milwaukee. I like that. I like being the underdog, it works. We just recently got a house now where guys can rent, come in and stay and train. We’ve had a huge influx of people wanting to come train at our gym which is a really cool honor.
At the end of the day. My guys have just been with me, the whole program for a while now. This isn’t something that just picked up short term. It’s a long term program. Look at Erik Koch. When he lost to Chad Mendes, he wasn’t training here full time but once he made the move here, he was able to adapt to the philosophies we teach and he’s been unstoppable since then.
Brian Hemminger (MMAMania.com): Anthony’s kick wasn’t the first time a Duke Roufus-trained fighter has used the cage as a springboard to launch an attack. Alan Belcher pushed off the cage for a superman punch at UFC 100 against Akiyama. Can you talk a little bit about seeing the cage as a tool of attack and maybe why your fighters are more successful at utilizing it than others?
Duke Roufus: Maybe I have ADD with striking? Something a lot of people don’t realize is I do a lot of boxing. I was a pro boxer. My older brother was managed by Ray Leonard and my amateur boxing coach was the USA Olympic boxing coach in 2000. I’ve always kind of explored different arts of the sport that have been mastered. I went to Holland and trained, I trained in Thailand, I trained in Japan.
The cage in MMA was just a new way for me to find a way not to be bored. Stuff started coming up. I love the movie Ong-Bak and the next thing you know, we have all these new techniques. It was fun. I have a very cavalier, fun group of guys. Kinda like the old school Chute Box, these guys really go at it when they train. I think the reason the top guys are the best, like boxing, Manny Paquiao, he practices fighting before he fights. In MMA, you gotta get in the gym and, while not killing each other, if you’re going soft on your opponent, you’re not practicing to win. If your opponent has to go soft on you, that means your defense sucks. If you can’t defend yourself, you get your ass kicked. It’s that simple.
At our gym, because the guys throw so hard, they’re so relaxed that they just don’t care. They try new things in the gym. Especially the way our academy is set up, the fighter training room is 64x22 feet so most of the time, you'll have two walls surrounding you and the guys are kicking, punching, kneeing. They’re using the walls for defense. That’s why my guys are so good defending takedowns too, because they’re always on walls and cages defending. Even Anthony when he fought Shane Roller, he did a mount escape by using the cage.
Brian Hemminger (MMAMania.com): One of the most fun-loving guys in your group is Matt Mitrione. I spoke with Matt and he said the key to the originality of the fighters from your gym is not that you promote thinking outside the box, it’s that you don’t stifle creativity. Can you talk a little bit about your training process?
Duke Roufus: Each guy has his own way. The one thing that I love about Thailand is the discipline, the heart and the courage but sometimes what I hated about Thailand was they forced the fighters to fight the exact same style as everyone else.
Each fighter has different trick, a different skill, a different asset that he brings to the arena and that’s what I try and do ... Some guys have flashier stuff and some guys are going to have more subtle differences. It’s the subtle differences that win fights, honestly.
Fighting is a game spades and inches. Another thing our fighters are good at if you noticed is, to the untrained eye, you see all the striking these guys do. When do you see my guys get beat up? I work a lot of defense, a lot of head movement and footwork. Great basics, leads to great innovation. It’s like "Pistol" Pete Maravich in basketball. The way he could move that basketball and the way he could move his feet with the ball made him where he could shoot from anywhere and pass from anywhere. Same thing in fighting. If you can’t move on the ground, can’t move on your feet, you can’t reposition yourself and you can’t take the big shots.
I’m the biggest guy about making my fighters go to jiu-jitsu and make them awesome at wrestling because once they’ve mastered those disciplines, they can throw crazy strikes because they don’t care about going to the ground and they can pull off the craziest moves. If a guy lacks at one thing, he won’t be able to camouflage it with the other. It’s hard to takeguys down if you don’t punch people a lot in the face. Everyone’s like, ‘GSP is an awesome wrestler!’ No, GSP is an awesome MMA wrestler. He punches you, gets you worried about getting punched and then you give up an easy takedown. He’s a true martial artist. He knows how to blend the techniques together.
Brian Hemminger (MMAMania.com): Ok, I’ve got a couple more questions for you about some of your other fighters. First is Erik Koch. He’s really been on a nice run with three straight first round stoppages in the featherweight division. How impressed have you been by his recent performances?
Duke Roufus: He’s really good. Another thing I love about my guys is that they’re great students. Each of these guys could run their own teams and be their own general. They’re really open minded and great disciplined students and willing to try their own things.
Erik is a phenom though. He loves this sport so much, he dropped out of high school to become a fighter. That’s straight-up crazy commitment. I’m not saying, "kids go run out, drop out of high school and become a fighter," but there’s a different type of drive in him that I’ve seen in a lot of other guys in the UFC.
He doesn’t have anything to fall back on. People always say, "you need something to fall back on" but I was the same way. At 18, I knew what I was gonna do. I wanted to be a fighter and be in the martial arts. I had this mind-set of "succeed or die." Like that 50 Cent movie, "Get Rich or Die Tryin," Erik is special in that way. He grew up in Iowa and wrestled. He has a very underrated jiu-jitsu game and obviously his striking his phenomenal.
He’s the youngest fighter on our team, but he’s the most mature fighter in that fighting doesn’t bother him at all. He’s not a nervous fighter, he’s just like , "oh yeah, I’m going to fight -- cool." He’s the most relaxed guy in the locker room because he’s got ice in his veins. Erik’s great but we were really able to maximize all of his tools. I really see him giving Jose Aldo a lot of problems.
Brian Hemminger (MMAMania.com): That's a bold statement.
Duke Roufus: If you don’t think you can win the championship then why are you fighting? I lived the first part of my adult life with no one thinking I’d ever amount to a hill of beans and now I’m four championships later. Actions, not words. It’s all about getting it done. That’s one thing I do. I train my guys hard so they go into their fights with the utmost confidence. If you want to be Muhammad Ali, the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) and you don’t believe you’re the greatest, then don’t play.
Brian Hemminger (MMAMania.com): Let's talk about Alan Belcher. I heard he was looking to get a fight this fall, do you have any updates on his condition and how he’s looking in his recovery?
Duke Roufus: He’s looking good, feeling good. The nice thing I’m really proud of him is, you talk about not having anything to fall back on but what he did was he turned lemons into lemonade. He really focused on developing his martial arts school well and the Alan Belcher MMA Club down in Milwaukee. He just moved into an incredible place. Alan is an incredible coach as well as a fantastic competitor. That’s why I’m really proud of all my guys. They’re great at seminars, they’re great at teaching people and they’re great role models. I’m always happy with my guys.
He’s doing phenomenal. He just loves fighting. You find out what guys are made of in the UFC. All these tough guys walking around, staring guys down but you sit them down in the locker room and they’re shaking like a leaf just like the movie "Gladiator" when the guy pisses on his leg. My guys are more like Maximius. They actually like to swing that sword.
Alan’s just very talented. Something people don’t realize is he’s a natural right hander but in his last two fights, he actually won them in his southpaw stance which was great. He’s actually beating guys in his weaker stance and knocking them out mind you. Here’s a guy that’s constantly trying to evolve his game.
Brian Hemminger (MMAMania.com): Lastly, the fans would kill me if I didn’t ask this. Without giving away anything in the gameplan, have you been working on anything mind-blowing for Anthony Pettis’ upcoming fight?
Duke Roufus: (laughs) Yup, I’ve got two of them. The "Showtime 2" and the "Showtime 3." My guys are always ready to try new things. Even in Pat Barry’s last fight with Joey Beltran, everyone missed Pat’s jump knee in there for single-leg defense. He did the Urijah Faber special. That’s really impressive for a big-ass dude and a lot of people missed that. You never know what to expect from my guys.