Exclusive | MMA Coach Duke Roufus Opens Up About Childhood Tragedy and How He Builds Champions | UFC News
When number one lightweight contender Anthony “Showtime” Pettis made an abrupt decision to challenge featherweight champion Jose Aldo to a fight, many MMA pundits were stunned. Fresh off a vicious TKO win over Donald Cerrone at UFC on FOX 6, Pettis was next in line to challenge the lightweight champion at 155 lbs so the decision to drop down in weight was unexpected. Nevertheless, UFC President Dana White granted the Milwaukee native his wish as Pettis will fight Aldo in August for the featherweight crown.
Few know Pettis better than his head coach and close friend Duke Roufus. Roufus has been with Pettis since the beginning but even he wasn’t aware of Pettis’ plans to challenge Aldo following the Brazilian’s defense against Frankie Edgar at UFC 156.
“Anthony and I have what I like to call a 90/10 relationship. The 90 is we make gameplans and strategize a lot of things plus I co-manage him but the 10% are Showtime kicks, Showtime knees and calling out Jose Aldo,” Roufus told BJPenn.com Radio.
“That’s why everyone loves Anthony Pettis passionately because there’s just something special about him. I was very blessed growing up around my brother and my dad and we’re also family friends with Chuck Norris. I’ve been around great fighters my whole life and I know how to spot talent and I knew right away that Anthony was a special kid.”
One of the top striking coaches in the world, Roufus has mentored both Anthony and his younger brother Sergio from the second they were introduced to the sport. He knew they both had supreme potential from day one and believes they still haven’t reached their maximum yet.
The Pettis brothers tragically lost their father at a very young age. In a lot of ways, Roufus was a father figure to them growing up. He couldn’t be more thrilled to see how successful they are both becoming and they haven’t even hit their prime.
“I always joke that with the amount of female followers that Anthony and Sergio have on Twitter, they’re like the Oscar De La Hoya’s of our sport. Fathers want their sons to fight like them and mothers want their daughters to marry them,” Roufus said.
“Their mother is such a phenomenal person and Anthony is such a good kid that he bought a really nice home for his family. He grew up in the hood and it was very hard, his father was murdered on his block.”
Tragedy is never an easy thing to deal with and in most cases you can never see it coming. Unfortunately we live in a world where bad things happen to good people and it’s not fair. Dealing with a sudden family loss is something that Roufus himself has gone through and up until recently hasn’t been able to truly recover from.
“I relate to them, I haven’t talked about this much in the media but it’s something I got over recently when I had a baby and it ended this circle of pain but I found my sister dead when I was 13 years old,” Roufus said.
“It was something that haunted me for a long time and it’s probably why I didn’t have children at a young age. I think I was pretty soft growing up until that death happened in my family. I was always training in martial arts and always competing but right after my sister died I was actually wrestling in high school but academically I had terrible grades so I couldn’t wrestle anymore. I tried to play football the next year but I got injured. I saw the success that my brother had and I’ll never forget when I told my brother that I wanted to fight and he looked at me like Sonny in the Godfather when Michael said he wanted to be in the family business.”
As a professional kickboxer, Roufus retired with a record of 36-8-1 and held multiple championships across the globe. He’s been a martial artist his entire life and is extremely passionate about molding great fighters into champions. His Milwaukee fight camp Roufusport is home to some of MMA’s elite fighters including the Pettis brothers, Erik Koch and Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren.
“Ben Askren also had his first child recently so it’s really cool to see my family expand their family and we are going to grow together. It’s a neat time in my life to see people younger than me becoming very mature and supporting their families by doing something they love,” Roufus said.
“Not that this sport is only about money, it’s also about creating a legacy and being the best but it’s awesome to see these guys making a living and following their passion. I’m not looking to have 20 or 30 guys in the UFC I’m looking to create champions and if you want to become a champion I am going to help you with your champion mindset.”
If anyone knows about what it takes to rise up and become a world champion, it’s Roufus. For years Duke was known only as the younger brother of kickboxing superstar Rick “The Jet” Roufus until he found away to make a name for himself and branch out. In 1998, Roufus won his first world title at the age of 25. In his words, he was a late bloomer to his older brother who had championship gold by the time he was 19 years old.
“Rick was such a prodigy and it’s kind of like being BJ Penn’s brothers, his brothers are all good but BJ is phenomenal so dealing with that growing up was difficult. I think that’s why Sergio and I have such a good relationship because I can walk him through being the younger brother of the superstar,” Roufus said.
“I was known as Rick Roufus’ brother for the longest time until I was able to make a little bit of a name for myself. I understand where Sergio comes from because I grew up under my brother’s shadow and I don’t coach from what I did right I coach entirely from what I did wrong. I see the mistakes that were made by me and my brother and other friends in the fight industry and I make sure my team doesn’t make the same mistakes.”
To listen to the full interview you can do so below: