If you're trying to adapt to mixed martial arts (MMA) as a wrestler or as a striker, there's perhaps no better mentor today than Duke Roufus.
The former Super Heavyweight World Champion kickboxer brought his talents to Milwaukee and has set up one of the most successful gyms in all of MMA today, with star pupils like Anthony Pettis, Sergio Pettis, Erik Koch, Alan Belcher and Ben Askren.
Roufus also has begun to dip back into the world of kickboxing, recently teaming up with the Glory promotion to help push kickboxing in the United States with some events hosted in his backyard of Milwaukee.
The elite trainer spoke to MMAmania.com during a guest appearance on The Verbal Submission about his role in the growth of kickboxing, the rise of talent in his gym and why he thinks Anthony Pettis could be the next Anderson Silva in part one of this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): With several of your top fighters in title contention, Anthony Pettis being number one contender in two divisions and breaking back into the kickboxing world, it's got to be a pretty good time to be Duke Roufus right now, correct?
Duke Roufus: That's why I like it. I've always been one to want to prosper. This is what I've dreamed of since I was a small child. I started in martial arts when I was four and my dad was my first coach. Sometimes I just pinch myself because this is crazy, like "Wow, dreams are really coming true." I just try to give 101 percent. This is all I do and I love what I do. I still teach regular classes at our academy because that's how I find some of these next big stars.
A lot of people don't realize that Anthony Pettis started in taikwondo. He came into my academy to get his graduate degree in martial arts and he wanted to get into kickboxing. I saw a lot of potential in him and started training him. That's why guys like Anthony have had so much success. I get a lot of wrestlers as well and we teach them in reverse. It's pretty cool with what I've got going on. Not only am I involved in mixed martial arts but I'm making a comeback of sorts in the kickboxing world. I'm involved with the Glory kickboxing promotion and we're gonna put on a huge card over here.
UFC of course is always going to be the biggest sport. They've got the global market and that's everything but because of the UFC, people want to watch kickboxing as a supplement for their MMA.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Glory has taken an interest in getting kickboxing going again in the United States. Are you going to be an instrumental part of that due to your kickboxing history and the talent you have at your disposal?
Duke Roufus: For sure, it is what made me and who I am in MMA. People aren't going, "Wow, the Duke Roufus guy is going to submit him." They're looking for an incredible knockout or some amazing stand-up displays. I love MMA. I do jiu-jitsu tournaments myself and I did wrestle a bit but my first love was wanting to be a kickboxing champion. Without a doubt it's going to be awesome. I think they're going to sign a deal with a bigger network. I don't see it as UFC vs Glory. I just see it as another option for combat sports entertainment. The best pound for pound fighter in the world, Anderson Silva, what's the name of his academy? It's the Muay Thai college.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Who do you think has the best Muay Thai that's applicable to MMA today?
Duke Roufus: Oh for sure it's Anderson Silva. I have huge respect for Anderson Silva. He's the best all around striker in mixed martial arts. For sure he's got a good fluid style and he uses the Thai clinch well. This is going to sound arrogant but I think in a few short years, you're going to see Anthony Pettis looking like Anderson Silva.
Anthony is a huge student. He really digs into my mind. He wants to know my old heroes I studied. He wants to know the new school fighters. I just watched a kickboxing event in Cambodia and there's a 12 hour difference in Thailand and I watch the fights. That's how much of a combat sports nerd I am. I watch Glory this past weekend, Lion Fights, everything. With the internet I can watch this stuff right away compared to before when I had to trade tapes with my buddies around the world. I can stay on top of all the information and media.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Sergio has always talked about wanting to take that next step on his own terms. How close do you think he is to being ready for that next step?
Duke Roufus: We're going to take it fight by fight. Sergio and Anthony are like my sons. I'm really close with him. I know the ups and downs, the strengths and weaknesses, what we need to work on. There's no need to rush. He's an incredibly talented, gifted and hard-working athlete. He pushes himself so hard and that being said, it's all about experience at this point. Everyone wants him in the UFC. I want him to be in the UFC and be very successful. I want to give him all the opportunities to build so when he gets to the big show he can handle the pressure of the UFC.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of guys building up towards the big show, one of your fighters Rick Glenn had a tremendous come-from-behind performance at World Series of Fighting a while ago. He's one of your better prospects and he had a tough first two rounds, comes back and gets the big knockout. It was an amazing display. Can I get your thoughts on him rising to the occasion when he absolutely had to?
Duke Roufus: Oh, I was very happy with him. He fought a very good jiu-jitsu fighter and he was able to weather the storm and come back and do what he needed to do. Rick's a special kid. He's a closer. He looks so unassuming but he's the next big thing out of Roufusport MMA. Again, he's one of the kids who moved up here. He's a hard worker. You're not gonna get anywhere if you're not a hard worker.
I grew up training under my father and he was such a hard coach. My grandfather was from Greece, was a seargent in World War II and Vietnam. My dad has five brothers, I have five brothers so I grew up in a paramilitary environment. The holy trinity in my house was Vince Lombardi, Patton and MacArthur. Training wasn't something you do, it was a religion. That's how my family got really good at martial arts. I've kind of taken this whole Dan Gable approach to this thing but that's how you make champions.
I'm not training guys who don't want to be champions. Rick Glenn wants to be a champion and the crazy thing is we only saw a small taste of the potential of Rick Glenn. The oldest fighter on our roster is 28 years old. Ben Askren. Anthony is the next oldest at 26. Erik Koch is 24, Rick is 23. We have just a wealth of young kids in our gym right now who want it and are very hungry and great students. I'm very excited to see what World Series of Fighting has to offer for Rick's next fight. They gave us a real generous deal and I'm real happy. My relationship with Ray Sefo is awesome. He's an old friend from the K-1 days and I think they have a place to carve out for themselves in the MMA landscape.
Stay tuned for part two of our interview with Duke Roufus tomorrow, talking defensive tendencies of fighters, preparing for Jose Aldo and much, much more!