Duke Roufus is one of the most well known and respected coaches in all combat sports. The former kickboxer owns and operates Roufusport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he currently trains fighters such as Anthony and Sergio Pettis. Tony Reid of MyMMANews.com speaks with Roufus about his legendary career, growth of the Pettis brothers, and family friend, Chuck Norris.
Tony Reid – With your rich history in the sport, being a four time world champion, you have more titles than I have time to list here. What is the most memorable moment from your storied combat sports career?
Duke Roufus – “I have won some big fights and lost some big fights. I actually enjoy coaching more than fighting believe it or not. I went out and fought a little bit just to validate my coaching career. The biggest fight I won was when I knocked out Stan Longinidis . I knocked him out when he was at the peak of the sport. He had just beaten Branko Cikatić . The timing was right and it was cool but that time is well behind me. Now I am so focused as a coach.”
TR – I noticed a post you made online after watching Ronda Rousey’s mom on TUF. You said that it reminded you of your father, who was your very first coach. Can you talk about his influence?
DR – “A lot of people don’t realize I grew up in martial arts and my dad coached my brothers and I. My dad has five brothers and I have five brothers. We grew up doing this. I took butt kickings to get better and stronger from my younger uncles, my cousins and my brothers! My dad was also a promoter back in the day. I literally grew up around the fights. I had the opportunity to be on Walker Texas Ranger and all kinds of other cool things growing up in the martial arts.
“As far as my heritage, my grandfather is from Greece and he was a sergeant major from World War II to Vietnam. So the Holy Trinity in my family was Patton, MacArthur and Vince Lombardi. So yeah Ronda Rousey’s mother reminds me of the exact mindset my father gave us. I don’t regret it one bit. Only the strong survive in life.”
TR – Let’s talk about Roufusport. From the initial concept, the growth and the future. What is your vision now?
DR – “Years ago I started a gym, I was living with my now wife and we were living in a warehouse loft and I had my gym in the warehouse. More and more people started to show up to train and it’s like that Bruce Lee movie. It was like “Wow I think we have a gym now!” It was pretty cool. It just evolved. We have been there through all the stages of the sport. We changed the name when we made the jump to MMA.
“My biggest thing is getting guys at a young age. We got Anthony Pettis at a very young age, we got Sergio Pettis at a young age, and he was fighting and beating grown men when he was 13 years old. I have a few younger kids right now, if they stick with me have the potential to be great.”
TR – You have taken the Pettis brothers from young boys to the highest organization in the land in the UFC. How proud are you of their development and accomplishments?
DR – “The mindset I have coaching is that I am a coach but I am also very close to the athletes and I have a paternal responsibility. I have to train these boys to be successful if they choose this sport as their profession but I also have to train them to be able to protect themselves. Firstly, I want to teach them how to protect themselves and secondly to have something for themselves when their career is over.
“It’s cool seeing kids succeed. I have a lot of young guys. Martial arts changes lives, man. You see it with Anthony and Sergio Pettis whose father was brutally murdered. They grew up in a bad neighborhood. I’m proud that they also brought kids from the neighborhood into the gym. We have two former gang members that are now very successful in the fight business. They brought them to the gym and showed them a positive was to live. It is like a family. I laugh with them, I cry with them. Some days we are happy with each other, some days we don’t like each other. Family is not perfect but family is love and family is there.”
TR – So what is the average day in the life of Duke Roufus like?
DR – “Well, I have a young daughter and she is my everything. I know my “why” My “why” is my family. My wife and my daughter. My wife lived with me in my crappy gym when I was nobody. We had nothing. Now we have a wonderful daughter. I spend every morning with my daughter and do daddy things. We have our team practice every day at 2pm. I usually start text, phone, and email around 8am. I get up around 6:30am and have meetings. I train jiu jitsu every day at noon. The practice starts at 2pm with our professionals. Its two hours. I then run a few errands and things that need done around the gym. We are opening a second location, so I like putting a lot of food on my plate. I also still teach a lot of my normal classes. If you come to Roufusport you get me teaching you. I teach many of my classes. That’s where I find people. That’s where I found Anthony Pettis. He came to class to be a better martial artist, not a fighter. I saw the potential. That’s just how it goes. Between classes I hold pads for some of the guys, then I work technique. I get out of the gym around 9pm on an early night. I go home and hang out with my wife, she goes to sleep and I stay up watching fight film, study kickboxing, muay thai and jiu jitsu and go to bed around 1am and start all over again. A good night of sleep for me is six hours.”
TR – So what was the experience like being on Walker Texas Ranger and hanging out with Chuck Norris?
DR – “Chuck Norris is a longtime family friend. With my dad being in martial arts his whole life, I happen to know Chuck. He is a great guy. Being on the show with him was fun. I also did a huge charity event with him here in the 90’s in Chicago. The first fight I ever saw, I was five years old and it was in Milwaukee, Benny “the Jet” Uriquez fought in the main event, Chuck was there and I believe he was promoting his first movie. I still have a picture from that somewhere. I will have to do a Throwback Thursday with it. He loves kickboxing and he is a huge supporter of the sport.
“It was crazy the way I grew up. I’m in my forties now and it all seems to have evaporated. It has been a wonderful ride. It’s a dream come true to have the sport I love so much (kickboxing) get recognition here in the US. (GLORY) Kickboxing has truly been my life and it is time for it to blossom here in the States. It is fast food fighting. The knockout ratio in our sport is really high. Even with skilled fighters the best get beat in our sport, just like in MMA. What these guys are going to do (in kickboxing) for three minutes at a time is plant their feet, they aren’t going to get on their bicycle, they are coming out two guns blazing, kicking ass, taking names, stealing girlfriends and they are going for the gusto. People talk about career longevity and playing it safe. I tell my guys, if you want career longevity end the fight as quickly as possible! Less mileage on the vehicle. You don’t get paid for overtime. If you fight ten seconds or ten minutes you get the same amount of money. That’s the fight you want to watch, people get kicked upside the head, kneed in the face and punched out, that’s it.”