Duke Roufus: 'Genius' Ben Askren is 'the best wrestler in MMA'

Bellator MMA

In part two of MMAmania.com's exclusive interview with renowned combat sports coach Duke Roufus, we get his thoughts on Ben Askren's chances in UFC, Sergio Pettis' debut at UFC 167, and Anthony Pettis' timetable to return from knee surgery.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis will be sidelined for eight months following knee surgery (details). His younger brother Sergio, made his Octagon debut by defeating Will Campuzano at UFC 167 back on Nov. 16, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

And former Bellator Welterweight Champion Ben Askren may -- or may not -- sign with UFC.

What do all three of those top talents have in common? They all train under the expertise of world-renowned mixed martial arts (MMA) coach Duke Roufus. In part two of our exclusive interview, the former kickboxing champion talks about his transition into coaching MMA, reveals the timetable for "Showtime's" UFC return and gives his thoughts on how "Funky" would fare in ZUFFA's stacked 170-pound division.

Check it out.

Steve Borchardt: How did the transition come about to where you started coaching MMA as well as kickboxing?

Duke Roufus: What happened is all my young students really wanted to get involved with MMA, so I decided to change with my youngsters. I was a huge PRIDE fan at the time as well.

What really put us over the edge was Stephan Bonnar and I had a mutual friend. A week after The Ultimate Fighter finale, Stephan walked into my academy in Milwaukee and we spent the next three years training together. So at the time we really put a lot of effort into MMA, trying to master how to strike in MMA as opposed to kickboxing.

Right about that time Anthony Pettis started training with me and here we are today. Ironically, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Anthony in the front row after [his brother] Sergio's fight on Saturday [at UFC 167] and Stephan Bonnar was two seats away. For me it couldn't be any more fitting to be around those two guys because Stephan is the guy I first went to the UFC with and Anthony was the first guy that I helped win a championship. So, they're two special people in my life.

Borchardt: Speaking of Anthony Pettis, he recently went down with a PCL injury. Can you tell us how the injury occurred and give us an idea of when he may be returning to UFC to defend his belt?

Roufus: The injury occurred in the title fight in Milwaukee against Benson Henderson. Anthony checked a low kick and the kick slid up and popped his knee. He did some rehab and recovery after the fight, and it looked like that was going to be enough and he was on pace to recover. Unfortunately he took another kick [in practice] in that same position and it really started bothering him.

Dana White flew him out to Las Vegas to get checked out. He just left Los Angeles yesterday and he's going to be out six months. He's going to be getting patella surgery December 12.

Borchardt: Is that six months until he can resume training or six months until he can fight again?

Roufus: It will be three months until we can get active doing certain things. I would say safely, an eight month window until he can fight.

Borchardt: Anthony's brother Sergio Pettis made his UFC debut last weekend at UFC 167 with a win over Will Campuzano. As a coach how did you feel about Sergio's performance in that fight?

Roufus: As a coach you always want more. In the corner I'm pushing him, because that's what I do. But after the fight I was super proud of him, considering he's twenty years old and switched opponents about 10 days before the fight. I think he handled the hype of being Anthony Pettis' brother and fighting at the twentieth anniversary of the UFC where every major UFC star and celebrity was in the house.

But even with a fight like Anthony's fight against Henderson [at UFC 164], I thought he could do better. That's why my guys love me. I want them to be the greatest of all time. That's why my guys love me -- I'm gonna push them.

I'm definitely very proud of Sergio. He showed maturity beyond his years. I straight up told Anthony and Sergio -- we had some good moments together after the fight -- I said, "Guys, just for the record: I may be four time world champion, but at age twenty I would have folded like a cheap lawn chair if I were put in Sergio's shoes."

I think he has a very bright future. His upside is huge in this sport.

Borchardt: I wanted to ask you a little bit about Ben Askren. He's been in the news recently with his release from Bellator and Dana White seeming hesitant to sign him. However, his people are said to be meeting with UFC this weekend to discuss a deal. How do you see Askren doing in the UFC, and is there anyone there who can stop his takedown?

Roufus: No, there isn't. Ben Askren is the best wrestler in MMA. The guy's a genius. I won't say who he's trained with in UFC because I don't want to make them look [bad], but they're all like, "I can't stop his takedown." Ben has an incredibly unique skill set that can beat anyone. He's just that good.

One thing he's really embraced is defense -- not getting hit -- and that makes it easy for him to get takedowns. His submission game is improving.

Borchardt: Johny Hendricks beat Askren in wrestling back in 2002. Do you think he'd be able impose his game on Hendricks here in 2013?

Roufus: Definitely. Ben was out with us in Arizona when Anthony Pettis fought Benson Henderson the first time. He was just coaching wrestling and he went to one of the biggest tournaments, the Midlands, and beat one of the top guys. He just beat another guy, giving up two weight classes and with barely any training, in straight up wrestling. He's got a special skillset and knack for wrestling in MMA.

Borchardt: Real quick on the Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks welterweight title fight at UFC 167: who did you have winning that?

Roufus: It was awfully close. One mistake I think Hendricks made was not trying to put a stamp on it at the end. If I were him would have just gone for broke. I think Johny fought a great fight, I think Georges fought a great fight. I have respect for both guys. I personally like them both a lot.

I sat in the front row and didn't really score it. I was super entertained seeing these two guys do battle. It was a special fight.

Borchardt: One last question on Askren: you're known as one of the best striking coaches in the game, yet with Askren he wants to take people down and pound them out. Is he making marked improvements in his stand-up, or is it one of those things where he wants to keep sticking with the wrestling that brought him to the dance in the first place?

Roufus: He is improving, but at the end of the day, Ben is just so good at what he does. For instance, if he was practicing triangles, it would be like, "Why are we dicking around with this when he's way better at other stuff?" You just gotta know what butters your bread if that makes sense.

Borchardt: Can I get your thoughts on being a coach versus being an active competitor? Do you still get the same rush from competing when you're in your athletes' corner giving instruction?

Roufus: It's more intense coaching, man. For me, I don't have any cares in there like I do when I'm coaching. I have a very strong paternal feeling like these are my kids. Especially young Sergio on Saturday. That was probably the most nervous I've been for a fight in my whole career. I mean I've known him since he was a little kid. You have a lot of confidence in them, but still it's the "what if" factor. Anything can happen in a fight and it's just scary.

To hear more from Roufus, be sure to check out part one of our interview, including an in-depth conversation about the future of GLORY World Series, by clicking here.

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