CAGEPOTATO.COM: What would you say your role with Glory is, Duke? We hear and see you doing color commentary during events but when you were in Chicago last fall, you also had a big presence in all sorts of other pre-event activities.
DUKE ROUFUS: Well, about ten years ago they had me do color commentary for K-1 on pay-per-view broadcasts. This was really a natural progression when they came back with Glory. My role is that of a color commentator but Iím also just a huge kickboxing enthusiast. I love the sport. Iím just as big a fan as a participant.
Weíve always heard Joe Rogan talk about ďK-1 level strikingĒ in certain UFC fighters ó meaning that a particular guy had great striking, so much so that he could survive in K-1, which was recognized as the top kickboxing promotion in the world. Has Glory replaced K-1 in that role?
Yeah, for sure. K-1 just struggled internally. Japanese kickboxing and MMA have had some internal issues. The guys from Glory have really stepped up. They are also huge kickboxing enthusiasts. Now, all the best fighters are fighting for Glory. We also did something similar to what MMA did with unified rules, and weíve tried to set that up for kickboxing. We want to make it a fan-friendly fight. The fans can really tune in and enjoy the fights. We created a rule set that makes it fun for the fan.
As an expert kickboxer and one who knows Muay Thai so well, donít you think that the Glory rules could be better, though? You have many fighters who have trained and competed under full Muay Thai rules ó using elbows, using the clinch, using sweeps ó and now they get to this point and theyíre not allowed to use these effective weapons.
Well, with those things allowed, the tournaments would have a different outcome, thatís for sure. There would be more cuts from elbows and so more guys wouldnít be able to move on in the tournament. And clinching is how you defend not getting elbowed.
The uneducated fan boos when the clinch happens. Uneducated MMA fans do the same thing when Jiu Jitsu happens in a fight. I understand clinching and the art of it. I understand trips and dumps. Unfortunately here in America, people want to see big punches and big kicks. It can be difficult to understand Muay Thai. Even the scoring is a little difficult to follow. Kickboxing is very similar to boxing. That makes it easy to follow.
At the end of the day people donít care how stylistic a fighter is sometimes. They donít care about his background in Muay Thai. They just want to see two people put on an incredible show. Itís not about education, itís about entertaining.
Thatís why I moved back into K-1 to fight. Muay Thai is a hard sport to make it in. You struggle financially. Itís like saying, ďHey we gotta go back to the old UFC.Ē As a purist, yeah thatís cool. But at the end of the day we want mass audiences. Itís why thereís a shot clock in basketball, even college. Dean Smith used to have his Tar Heels get up by ten points and then run the four corners offense to run out the clock.
How did you start getting so involved in MMA?
I always tell people that I wasnít a big fan of old-school UFC. It was more about finding out who the best street fighter was. And the best street fighter is who can react best to getting hit and doesnít get knocked out. Street fighting is so far away from real prize-fighting.
But there were a few different things that pulled me towards MMA. In 2002, Duane Ludwig had me help him out for a training camp in Vegas. ďBangĒ fought Genki Sudo and I havenít missed a fight show since then.
I also had old friends like Mirko Cro Cop and Mark Hunt from K-1 who got involved in MMA. To see them do great in Pride, I couldnít help but watch. Chute Boxe was also a big influence. Seeing their success in MMA with a striking background caught my attention.
In 2004 I started having some young students who would get into MMA and in 2005 we brought Stephan Bonnar to the gym, and a week after a little Anthony Pettis joined.
Striking for MMA and for kickboxing can be very different. Did transitioning to coaching striking for MMA come easy, or was it challenging?
I purposely pulled myself out of the kickboxing world to be able to coach for MMA. If I were an actor, I would be a method actor. I started sparring with these guys a lot. I actually did wrestle in high school a little bit. Thatís not saying Iím very good but I never wimped out when it hit the mat. Iím a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu now. Iíve won the Grapplers Quest at the [UFC] Fan Expo and won the Arnoldís. Iím comfortable on the ground.
So, back to when I started coaching for MMA, what I did was I started sparring a lot. I got used to trying to strike while being taken down.
Another collaborator and good friend of mine is Pat Miletich. Early on, I spent a lot of time at MFS with him. Heís an old, good and dear friend of mine. We have a lot of same philosophies and mindset when it comes to fighting and training.
Now, itís funny because things are kind of going backwards. Iíve got a lot of amateur students catching the Glory bug. So, I teach a different curriculum depending on what they are preparing for. Itís just like if you were getting ready for the gi world championships youíd train differently if you were preparing for MMA or even Metamoris.
I enjoy that, though. Iíve been training since I was four and doing competitions since I was six. I enjoy the process of figuring out what it takes to win. One of my favorite compliments that Iíve ever gotten came from Ben Askren. He told me that I have good takedown defense. That was just about the best thing anyone could tell me, considering that heís a world class wrestler.
I like to get in there with the guys and play around. All that helps me be able to work with Askren. What I teach Ben is anti-striking. We reverse engineer striking in every little nuance. I teach him how to punch hard, about weight distribution so that he can read the keys and cues. Thatís why he doesnít get hit. People say they want to see Askren go in there and stand and bang. Thatís silly. Thatís like saying,Ēwe want to see Roufus wrestle.Ē No one cares to see my old fat ass wrestle.
If thatís the way you feel, why are you fighting MMA? Ben said it best after he beat [Douglas] Lima, right to the crowd when he told them ďif you want to watch two guys stand and fight all night thereís a sport called boxing.Ē
Philosophically, is being a striking coach any different than being a grappling coach?
Itís harder teaching striking to people. In wrestling, in Jiu Jitsu, you get to practice killing people every day. You pin, you tap them out; itís practice killing. If we try and kill each other in striking in practice every day, we would die.
Striking is a very chaotic art. I could grapple all day for the next five years and I could never submit our BJJ instructor, Daniel Wanderley. Itís the same thing with wrestling. I would never be able to pin Askren.
In striking anyone can knock anyone out. Iíd have to hit Askren with a shovel to pin him. Iíd have to roofie Daniel to get a submission on him. Thatís the weird thing about striking. Itís very dangerous.
Look at the fight between Diego [Sanchez] and Gilbert [Melendez]. Everyone says they loved it. It reminded me of the Gatti/Ward fights. I love watching them but I donít want to be in them.
You gotta realize whatís working in striking for your guys and youíve got to give some options to them. People want to see Pettis fight stand-up every fight for five rounds. You canít do that all the time, youíd wreck your body. Thatís why he mixes it up. He can take you down, submit you or kick you.
I remember when I started coaching Stephan and he was going to fight James Irvin. Right before we went out there, I told Stephan that if he threw a left hook at him, to duck under and take him down. Stephan said, ďyouíre my striking coach and youíre telling me to go to the ground?Ē
I told him, ďIím your winning coach.Ē He got a Kimura on Irvin and won the fight. Fighters are a little misled sometimes.
So, it isnít about making a point that you can turn grapplers into slick strikers? You just want to make sure they win?
I try to stay out of the spotlight. Thatís why I fought; I had my own lilí moment to shine. Now, I live vicariously through these athletes.
Like with Anthony arm-barring Ben Henderson. Before the fight I said that he can beat him any way he wants. People said, ďYeah, yeah, right.Ē Anthony is the prototype for the future of MMA.
Speaking of Pettis, how frustrating is it to have him injured and not be able to keep the ball rolling?
Itís the sport. He also fought five times in the WEC in one year at one point. Anthony wishes he could fight more than anyone else. Heís got a great new contract and it makes him want to fight even more (laughs).
Anthonyís younger brother Sergio just made a successful UFC debut. How happy are you with his performance?
Sergio is doing great. He looked great in that fight against an excellent fighter and he can do even better. He was nervous but he handled it very well.