This is number thirty-one in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature veteran kickboxer, MMA fighter, and coach, Duane “Bang” Ludwig. Jack recently had the opportunity to speak with Duane and get his thoughts on his long and successful career as a fighter and his current role as a coach at Team Alpha Male. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What were your early experiences with martial arts when you were young?
Duane Ludwig: My first experience with martial arts was I took Kyokushin Karate when I was eight years old with Joko Ninomiya, the Sabaki Challenge creator who was one of the founders of Kyokushin Karate in Colorado. It was a pretty solid base, but I only did it for a couple months. And then I went back to martial arts when I was fifteen and I took Tae Kwon Do. I think I boxed a couple times too, but I got into Tae Kwon Do and did that for a couple months, and then a Thai boxing coach came in and did a seminar and I was amazed by that. The guy's name was James Tigrett, and he started teaching at the Tae Kwon DO school and so I started training Thai boxing from when I was fifteen on. I trained with James Tigrett for about two years solid, and from day one he taught me to be a fighter. It was definitely because of him. He helped me progress to where I am at today for sure, him and Bas Rutten
JB: I recently interviewed Bas Rutten, and he spoke of training you when you were a teenager. How did Bas impact you as a fighter and as a young man?
DL: As a young man, it was cool to see someone with such star power, who was such a star in my eyes, be so down to earth. He was one of the first guys I came across who was really a true, honest person and down to earth, no matter what his status was in the martial arts world. And I actually first met him in "97, when I was out at K1 Vegas, and it was the first time K1 had a show in Vegas, and I drove up there with my dad. I had seen Bas in the hallway, at the Mirage I think it was, and I got a picture with Bas. My dad took the photo, and then my dad took off and walked off somewhere. It was just me, and Bas was there also. Then Peter Aerts came down, and I wanted to get a picture with Peter Aerts and nobody else was around. So Bas took the camera. I didn't even have to ask him. He took the camera and took a photo of Peter Aerts and me. That one moment right there stuck in my brain forever, and I remember thinking that he was such a cool guy. Just for him taking that simple photo meant so much to me. It made me want to use him as an idol and as a role model to make sure that I am always as down to earth as Bas is and go out of my way to make sure the fans are taken care of.
JB: You were a champion kickboxer. What were the highlights of your kickboxing career?
DL: The highlight of my kickboxing career would be winning the I.S.K.A. World Muay Thai Title against Malaipet Sitprapom. That's because there's a story behind that. I fought for the world title against Alex Gong on a pretty short notice deal, and I lost a split decision that many people thought I won and that I thought I won as well. So Alex got to keep the belt, and then he ended up passing away and the belt became vacant. So I think it was about two or three years after we fought that I fought for the belt again against Malaipet Sitprapom. That was my most memorable fight for sure.
JB: What do you recall about your professional MMA debut and fighting in the early days of KOTC?
DL: My first MMA fight actually was when I went to a local “smoker” in Colorado just to watch the fights, and the promoter of the show, or the owner of the gym, Tommy Johnson, asked me if I wanted to fight, and I said, “Sure.” I was already wrestling a little bit and rolling a little bit. I had no idea what I was really doing. I was already Thai boxing at the time of course. And I took the fight and ended up knocking him out with a jab. But he ended up taking me down and I reversed, got up and then I was able to finish him with some hands. So that was my first MMA bout. And the second one was King of the Cage. That was my first official fight because I had to weigh in, and I flew to California and had to stay with Bas for a week and actually train for that one. It was an expected fight. The first fight was just a short notice deal. I didn't expect to fight at all. I ended up fighting and winning and that led me to King of the Cage through Bas Rutten.
JB: You made your UFC debut with a unanimous decision win over Genki Sudo, at UFC 42, back in 2003. What was that experience like at the time?
DL: My fight with Genki was an experience. That was crazy. It was still a bit early in my career and I didn't really understand what was going on. Sometimes I'm still not sure if I do. Being such an enigmatic fighter and just being all over the place and just being crazy, I just wanted to make sure I stayed away from his ground work. Just hit and move basically. He'd just come in with this weird things that just threw me off. I'd never experienced fighting or sparring with somebody that crazy. It was my UFC debut, and that's when I just fought Jens Pulver, actually, for the world title, and so I had a little bit of steam behind me and a little bit of pressure. It was just a crazy scenario and it was just a crazy night, for sure. I barely won and I'm glad for that.
JB: You've had a long MMA career, with multiple stints in the UFC and fights in Strikeforce and other promotions. What have been your most satisfying performances thus far?
DL: I'd say my most complete performance was against Jens Pulver, just because it was such a long training camp and it was for the world title. At the time, he was the pound-for-pound number one fighter in the world. That meant a lot. I had a lot going into it emotionally. I trained for it very hard and it had got postponed once or twice. It was just a long story. For the bout to finally take place, and for me to win like I did, and I didn't get it, it was a cool setup, a cool story.
JB: Of your many MMA fights, who were the opponents that you were most impressed by and who would you have liked to rematch?
DL: I'd definitely like to rematch Hardy, Dan Hardy. I'd definitely like to rematch Gomi as well. But I couldn't make 155 again. I'm about 210 right now.
JB: You're now coaching the fighters at Team Alpha Male. What has that experience been like and what do you think your strengths are as a coach?
DL: The experience has been wonderful. The guys, they show up and they put in the work. I don't have to babysit anybody. They know what they're there for. They train hard. They're world class athletes. They just pick up things daily. I can't believe how quick they pick things up. They definitely have impressed me. It's kind of expected, but still it's just fun to see. So overall the experience has just been wonderful.
What I bring to the table for them is obviously a solid striking background. I'm a great coach because I can game-plan and tailor practices per individual, per fighter. There's a lot of that that goes into it. You can't just lay out a class for everybody to do the same thing. That's one of the main hurdles I have when I have a room full of top athletes. You got to make sure that you’re doing specific drills for not every person, but for the guys that have fights coming up. You got to work on things in class specifically for those fighters, whether it be on their weaknesses or their strengths, or something about their opponent as well. I do a great job with that. I don't think, I know, I'm a good team leader, a good motivator, with some solid technique and a good push. I think all the way around, I'm the perfect guy for the job.
JB: You've had a number of very serious injuries, but you're still a dangerous and exciting fighter. What's next for you in your fighting career?
DL: I don't really see much more of a fighting career. I'll be 100% healthy in September and at that point I'll make a decision whether I'm going to fight again or not. Of course it would be nice to go out with a win, but I don't really have the heart or desire to fight again. I'm kind of happy with what I have now, just coaching the guys and relaxing a bit and enjoying my family time. It's kind of nice not being so selfish.
JB: Last question, Duane, and thank you so much for doing this. You're a young man with a young family. What beyond fighting and coaching do you plan or hope to do in the future?
DL: With my Bang Muay Thai affiliate system, I have a kickboxing affiliate system, that's the next step for me, to make sure I spread good Muay Thai across the globe. I send out a weekly detailed video curriculum that's basically a turnkey operation. I send out videos per round, from warm-ups to cool-downs, showing exactly what drills and combinations to do. So I'm pretty proud of that, the affiliate system. Other than coaching people, to be boastful or whatever, I know too much not to teach. It's definitely fun. I definitely know how to do it. It's showing in the room and in the fights that the guys are retaining the information and making it work when the bell rings. So that's always a plus and makes me sound good, but also I'm working with these extreme athletes, and these last fights that they've all been winning, they would have won without me, to be honest. I'm getting more credit than I feel I deserve, but I definitely deserve some of the credit.
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