Duke Roufus: Fighting since he was four
This is number forty-six in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature legendary kickboxing champion and MMA striking coach, Duke Roufus. Roufus comes from a family of accomplished kickboxers, and in recent years he has brought his striking acumen to the world of MMA. Many of his students, including UFC featherweight and lightweight contender, Anthony Pettis, have been building a testament to Roufusport and the team’s head coach, Duke Roufus. Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: You and your older brother, Rick, are two of the most accomplished and famous kickboxers ever. What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Duke Roufus: I started martial arts when I was 4, and I was in my first tournament when I was 6. Later on, I started teaching when I was 16. The martial arts and fighting have always been a way of life for my family. My father was my first coach, and he coached me until I was 22. My dad owned the school and he also owned the PKA kickboxing promotion. So I got to meet and be around a lot of the luminaries in kickboxing at the time. Of course, I was also trying to follow in my big brother’s footsteps as well. My father instilled a champion mindset in us at an early age. I am living the life I wanted since I was a little boy.
JB: I recently heard that your brother is still fighting and that he wants to take on Evander Holyfield. What do you think about that?
DR: Rick is a fighter. He’ll be a fighter until the day he dies. He’s like Maurice Smith. My brother is one of the greatest of all time. Rick is a gamer, and he was always extremely gifted as well.
JB: You were a world champion kickboxer many times. Looking back on all the fights you’ve had, what were your most satisfying performances?
DR: I had a lot of them. They all mean a lot to me, even the losses. But a really special one was my first big title victory. My opponent, Stan Longinidis, was a great fighter, and considered the best pound-for-pound, best heavyweight kickboxer then when I beat him. There were a couple comebacks I had in Milwaukee too. Fighting in Milwaukee was always special for me! And my first fight, August 19th, 1988, I remember it like it was yesterday. Being respected by the greats all over the world, and especially by Thai trainers, is very meaningful for me.
JB: While Rick did eventually compete in MMA, you did not. Were you ever tempted to compete?
DR: I was actually supposed to have an MMA fight in the fall of 2007, with Cage Fury Fighting Championships in Atlantic City. I was supposed to fight Derrick Panza, and Tank Abbott was supposed to fight Kimbo Slice in the main event. The whole event fell through though. But I still do occasional Jiu-jitsu tournaments. I won the Arnold’s and Grapplers Quest at the UFC Fan Expo in Jiu-Jitsu. But the whole thing is that I don’t compete unless I train. And I’m actually going to start rolling again in the gi tomorrow, but I do not have time to train to be the best anymore. I think about fighting all the time, but my life isn’t about fighting anymore. People want to see me coach.
JB: You have been the striking coach for many of the former and current greats in MMA. Who are just a few that you have really enjoyed working with and helping develop?
DR: There are a lot. Right now, certainly, there’s Anthony Pettis, Eric Koch, Sergio Pettis, Ben Askren, Pascal Krauss, Rick Glenn, Mike Rhodes. I didn’t train Alan Belcher for his last fight, but I’ve worked with him a lot over the years. Alan is great guy and I have always enjoyed training with him. That UFC 100 off-the-cage superman punch will always be in my mind! I had a great relationship working with Stephan Bonnar. He was a lot of fun! I enjoy creating a new style of striking mindset for MMA, and I am thankful for great students with such open minds!
JB: Anthony Pettis, who you just mentioned, will be challenging Jose Aldo for the UFC featherweight title this summer. What do you think of that matchup?
DR: Aldo is just awesome. As a fight fan, I love watching Aldo fight. I think it’s going to be the greatest striking fight that the UFC has ever had. And Anthony is ready. He’s beaten the lightweight champ, Benson Henderson, and he wants to beat the featherweight champ now. Anthony wants to be up there with Aldo and Anderson Silva in the top fighters in the UFC. If you want to be the king of the jungle, you got to take out the lion.
JB: Who are the other trainers and coaches in MMA that you respect and admire and that have influenced you?
DR: A big mentor of mine has been Pat Miletich. He’s a dear friend and a great champion, and we have the same mindset. He’s been a big influence on me. Shawn Tompkins was another guy who convinced me to get involved with coaching MMA. He said, “Come on over, Bro.” And Maurice Smith told me back in the 90s that I should be getting involved in this MMA thing. Also, watching Mark Hunt and Mirko making the jump from kickboxing and having success in PRIDE and the UFC, and the whole Chute Boxe scene, that has all been a big influence on me and my coaching in MMA.
JB: What are the issues in the sport of MMA that you are particularly concerned about at the moment?
DR: The gloves. For me, it’s all about fighters’ safety. There’s a really good glove out there that would stop all the eye-poking. Twins makes a pre-curved glove with an enclosed thumb. I’m a gear nerd. Great gear is so important in fighter safety and Twins has a great design.
JB: What else do you enjoy outside of training and coaching?
DR: Living in Wisconsin, I’m actually not into winter sports. I like getting out on the lakes when it’s warm and getting on the boat or on jet-skis, chilling in the North Woods, spending time with family. I also like to cook. I’m a movie junkie too. And I love music. In the gym, we listen to music that gets us going, so I like to mellow out at home. I’m a huge Bob Marley fan. At home, I listen to the Marley Family, Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Sinatra, Coltrane, Miles Davis, U2, Johnny Cash, just to name a few. In general, I just love to be home. I love the art of doing nothing, as they say in Italy. I have traveled a lot since I was young.
JB: Last question, Duke, and thanks for taking the time to do this. You’ve accomplished a lot in your life thus far, but what goals or plans do you have for the future?
DR: To be super happy and raise my daughter and enjoy being with my wife. I don’t think any accomplishment amounts to much if you’re not happy in your personal life. If you’re not happy, any other accomplishment is empty. My wife and I enjoy being together and raising our eight month old daughter. My wife really understands me because, though we haven’t been married a long time, we’ve been together many years and she has been there for me. She has been my biggest supporter in the toughest of times for me. She even lived at our old gym with me, a Spartan woman!
I also want to have some UFC champions of course. And I want to continue teaching and spreading our striking techniques. I still teach a lot of our classes myself and I’m still very involved in the amateur side and recreational side of things at Roufusport. Anthony Pettis started in our beginner class, and I enjoy teaching everyone. We’ve got hundreds of students now through the Roufusport Kickboxing Association affiliates and things are taking off on the internet. I’m blown away that some of my old instructional clips posted on YouTube have had over a million views. I have a new online university coming out on www.Roufusport.com soon! I am looking forward to the future!
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