Duke Roufus is a four-time world champion in Muay Thai and kickboxing. He is based in Milwaukee and has a stable of fighters that includes Alan Belcher, Anthony Pettis and Eric Koch. All three of those are at the upper-end of their weight class and all of them are noted for their crisp striking, testament not only to Roufus’ knowledge base but also his coaching ability.
Belcher is a middleweight title hopeful and is coming off a huge win over Rousimar Palhares in May. Belcher astonished fans by happily engaging with Palhares on the floor, outworking him and then putting him on his back for a first-round TKO finish by way of ground and pound.
Fighters Only caught up with Roufus to get his thoughts on Belcher’s current position in the division, his thoughts on MMA strategy in general and his opinion on Michael Bisping, like Belcher a lead contender and only one fight away from a title shot - all he has to do is beat Brian Stann at UFC 152.
FO: Hey Duke, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Lets start with Belcher and Bisping - we’re told that Belcher actually contacted the UFC to say that he wanted to fight Bisping next?
Michael Bisping mentioned that he would like to fight with Brian Stann or Alan Belcher. So we sent word to Joe Silva to the effect that ‘Hey, Alan will definitely take that fight’. Michael is a great fighter and a professional. Those are the fights that Alan wants right now, guys at the top of the division who have big names. He wants to get his title shot and what better way than to fight somebody of Michael Bisping’s stature?
FO: A lot of people want to fight Bisping now, but I also think a lot of people underestimate him. He has good striking and a very underrated wrestling game. He’s a tough proposition and it would be a good fight with Belcher.
That’s a fight for the ages. The cloth that Alan is cut from, he wants to fight real fights and get in there and have step-up fights. What he did with Palhares on the ground, no one expected that. I think that, respectfully, Stann is one hell of a guy and popular because of his military service. But his grappling and jiu jitsu aren’t on the same level as Michael and Alan’s games. Those two are very similar fighters, very well rounded, and it would be a battle of wills and whoever could impose theirs would take the fight.
I have much respect for Michael Bisping and I want the fight to happen because I want Alan to fight great fighters. You can’t become the champion without fighting the best and you cant become a challenger without fighting the contenders. I think that Bisping isn’t liked by a lot of Americans but I respect him, he says what’s on his mind and he is a fighter.
If he doesn’t like you or you don’t like him he doesn’t give a damn. I respect fighters like that. The fighters I don’t like are the ones who are your best buddy to your first and then different away from you. You know where you stand with guys like Bisping and I like his moxy. He got where he is in the sport because he has balls. Its a tough fight but that’s the challenge.
FO: Take us back to Alan’s fight with Rousimar Palhares in May. Was it actually part of the gameplan to match skills with him on the floor or were you in the corner screaming ‘No!’ ?
Definitely [that was part of the gameplan]. Alan wants to be a supreme martial artist and believes in being well rounded. When Kang came over from Pride, he asked to fight him. He wanted to fight Akiyama, he wanted to fight Belfort but his wife’s pregnancy made that impossible at the time. But that’s the type of guy that he is. He is working hard on his wrestling with Ben Askren, he works on his jiu jitsu with so many guys and he is sparring with great strikers.
He is not the most ‘out there’ guy like a lot of other UFC guys because he is a family man and he spends a lot of time at his academy mentoring his students and training but he amazes me every time he gets in the Octagon. He keeps getting better. Its so easy to train guys like him because all they want to do is get better.
When he fought Palhares it was like fighting the Mike Tyson of jiu jitsu - people were really scared for Alan, that he was going to get his knee blown out or his leg ripped off. Not only did he stop that guy doing that, he stayed on the ground, beat him at his own game, almost submitted him and then pounded him out. Alan has a very solid ground and pound game and again, him and Bisping would be a real barnburner.
FO: Now Bisping is matched with Brian Stann for UFC 152, so he and Alan aren’t on collision course just yet. Obviously you’d have preferred to see Bisping vs. Belcher…
No disrespect to Brian Stann, I just think Alan is higher in the food chain and he and Michael both have the same goal, to fight for the middleweight championship of the world. One or the other of them will get that opportunity soon and its a fight that both of them want.
Michael has a huge name internationally. Its a great fight for PPV, a great fight for the fans and the type of fight that won’t leave Dana White or Lorenzo Fertitta complaining. These are guys that will get in there are mix it up. They might not be arguing now but by the time they would be getting in there they would hate each other. It would make for some great chemistry.
FO: Speaking of guaranteed barnburners, its getting hard to say that now because so many fighters are turning out to be nothing of the kind. We had Hector Lombard and Tim Boetsch at the weekend and Clay Guida was heavily criticised for his approach to Gray Maynard - there was a fight you would surely have expected to be all-action…
Yeah definitely. I’ve known Clay a long time, he’s from our area in the country. I think the mistake Clay made, he was sticking and moving but he was moving too much. Sticking and moving means moving just out of range and then getting back in and hitting them again, and you gotta land something in order to lead. Its about intelligence, a few different things.
At the end of day, what fuels out sport is entertainment. And I can understand why Dana was upset, especially as it was on free TV. At the end of the day these guys asre entertainers as well as fighters. Its the sports-entertainment business. I am not saying put your chin out there and let guys hit you but they are fighters and they need to go out there and fight to entertain people at the end of the day.
Much respect to Clay, he’s a great fighter but striking is something he still needs to master so he can fight comfortably as a stick n move guy. A lot of guys ask about Greg Jackson, is he ruining the sport, and the answer is no its the judging. Its so inconsistent and its very hard to know what will win you the fight, fights are judged so differently.
FO: Do you think there are conflicting messages from the UFC - you have to keep winning to retain your contract, and they want you to win in style and put on a show, but by opening up you create more chances to be taken out yourself…
Yeah; I think its getting better though. I have a former student who hasn’t had the best run overall but he is still in the UFC. Or Dan Hardy is another example, Matt Brown - there are guys who stick around with losses as long as they are going out there and fighting well for them.
And there are so many shows these days that it is easier for the UFC to market guys who have already fought well for them than it is to bring in new guys constantly. So I think the ‘two losses and out’ rule is starting to slip out. They’ve brought Patrick Cote back - awesome to see him back, he’s exciting - so I think its starting to change. And the amount of shows and injuries are a factor, I think they are keeping more guys on the roster.
FO: Do you think the recently-instituted medical insurance is to blame for so many of these injury pullouts? It seems like we are seeing it more than ever before.
Well, its a big thing to risk your record, if you lose because you’re hurt… I don’t think its so much about medical insurance as guys don’t want to get held back in their career by losing fights because of injuries. Again I think things are changing with the success of the UFC, the roster is bigger and guys are coming back - Joey Beltran is back, he has exciting fights, Jamie Varner came back - and staying in there longer than they used to.
Most fights in the UFC are set up so that you have to win more to earn more. So if you’re pulling out over and over, your pay isn’t going up. Going back to the Clay Guida fight, that was more of a weird wrestler vs. wrestler fight. That’s not always the most exciting fight. Look at Josh Koscheck vs. Johnny Hendricks from Oklahoma State. And that’s another thing, you need to be well rounded in this sport.
FO: Do you think these stalemate fights might be helped by the implementing of a finish bonus for every fight, or the implementing of a yellow card system like Pride FC had?
Yeah its a good idea. I definitely agree with the yellow card and even a red card. And they should score for the effort to finish rather than control - its the guy who is trying to finish the fight who is making it exciting. That’s my perspective. At the end of the day the guys are fighters and trying to make a living, maybe they don’t always make the best decisions but hindsight is 20/20. I’m sure Guida thought he had the ideal gameplan at the time.
FO: Sometimes it seems to me like these guys have got so much going on in their heads - contract pressures, sponsor pressures, money pressures - that they are freezing up and finding it hard to get loose and get into a really attacking game. For me personally, I don’t care so much about win and loss ratios, I like to see good martial arts skills and a real fight with both guys going after it constantly. I liked the approach of Enson Inoue in Pride FC - get it done or die trying, always on the attack no matter what.
That’s funny you say that, that’s kind of where my personal philosophy is headed right now. You can’t over think fighting - what if this doesn’t work or that doesn’t work. I’m trying to work on a style of ‘pure fighting’ with the different coaches we’ve got on our team. Wrestling, striking, jiu jitsu - whatever position you are in, you fight.
Alan is kind of the representation of that - if he’s on top of you he’s trying to knock you out, if he’s below you he’s trying to submit you but wherever he is, he’s trying to finish you off. He will switch from one discipline to the other but its pure fighting. Like Miguel Torres, when he first came out, it was pure fighting and it was fun to watch. Or the old Chute Boxe guys - whether the fight stood up or went to the ground they were constantly hitting and trying to finish you.
I agree with you that sometimes fighters can be over-analytical. You’ve got to fight in the moment. That’s what Anthony Pettis did so well in the Benson Henderson fight, he was just fighting. Its something we do in our gym, we spar MMA a lot, we don’t compartmentalise things. That’s my philosophy on it, I don’t have all the answers but I think don’t over-analyse it and just be ready to fight anywhere.
FO: I guess its back to that whole subject of transitions which was such a feature of the early days. There are still guys that seem to click from ‘striking mode’ to ‘BJJ mode’ whereas others - for example Jon Jones - are blending things seamlessly and are ready to do whatever, whenever. Everything is an option for them.
Exactly. I think the best guys are really good at that. Its fighting and you go in there and, like a boxer uses jab, cross, hook or uppercut, for the MMA fighter its a submission, sweep, guard pass, takedown, defense to the takedown, reversal, punch, block, kick - they are all the same. Don’t compartmentalise, it bogs people down.
Like, I’m very critical and analytical of my coaching success, I am very analytical of everything I do as a coach but sometimes self-analysis leads to self-paralysis. You are stuck in scientific mode and really, its fighting. I see a lot of guys now have the gameplan, a lot are over-thinking it. Sometimes you just gotta throw caution to the wind and try to win the fight any way you can.
That’s why you cross-train so much, so you can handle it when you do run into that situation. That’s one thing Anderson Silva showed in that first fight with Sonnen - he got beat from pillar to post for five rounds and then pulled the triangle out. You’ve got to be ready to win any way you can. That’s what’s so exciting for me.