"Watch out, there's going to be fireworks tonight," Anthony Pettis said as he laced up gloves for a night of sparring at Roufus Sport.
It was a muggy, hot night in Milwaukee, and the air conditioning wasn't working in the main workout room. So much sweat poured off the fighters that a volunteer used a mop to sop up the sweat between each round of sparring, but it didn't matter. The floors were soaked.
Pettis was right, as not a single fighter took it easy. Everyone from UFC fighters Anthony Pettis, Erik Koch and Ben Rothwell to the bankers and lawyers looking for a tough workout to the tweens who look at Pettis with adoring eyes used every second of sparring to bring it. Nothing could make Duke Roufus, the head coach overseeing the practice, happier.
"There's big stars in there, but they take a knee at the end of practice like everyone else. There's some big stars out there who couldn't handle that. It's a team. It's great what we do in the UFC, but I'm also happy with the day-to-day of what we do in this place."
Despite recent losses by Pettis and Danny Downes, and the departure of heavyweight Pat Barry, Roufus' gym has grown so much that they will soon upgrade into a 14,000 square-foot complex across the street. Roufus acknowledges the losses, but points out his style isn't one-size-fits-all.
"I have an environment that isn't for everybody. I run it more like a collegiate wrestling room. Some guys like that, and some guys don't. Everyone feeds off of it. It was the hottest day of the year, and we had guys going hard," Roufus told Cagewriter.
Though Barry has moved onto Death Clutch with Brock Lesnar in Minnesota, Roufus wishes his former pupil the best.
"We've had some personnel changes. Pat Barry has moved on. It's for the best. I wish him well. It sucks that he got knocked out like that. Getting knocked out cold is a scary thing."
Roufus would rather focus on the fighters he has in the room. Ben Rothwell and Erik Koch both have fights coming up, with Rothwell fighting Mark Hunt at UFC 135 and Koch taking on Jonathan Brookins at Ultimate Fight Night 25. Both also appreciate having Roufus in their corner.
"It's cool because Duke is like a student who never stops learning. You think a guy who has been around martial arts for 30 years would think, 'Oh, I know enough!' He doesn't stop. He watches videos. He watches fights. He's coming up with new ways to do things. For me, that's exciting to have a guy who has an open mind. Close-minded guys end up as victories on my record," Rothwell said.
All in the family
Pettis, the final WEC lightweight champion who brought fame to the gym with his "Showtime" kick, appreciates the environment at the gym.
"Being here now, Erik Koch lives with me. It's a family. We live together, we train together, we do everything together. We all have the same dream. We all want to be the best," Pettis said.
Calling the gym a family isn't lip service for Pettis, either. His younger brother Sergio, a miniature version of Anthony who is already making waves as a fighter in Milwaukee, worked out next to his brother. Both had a tough time with the planks and wall sits required at the end of practice, but encouraged each other through the workout.
Pettis originally came to Roufus Sport to train, not compete. He needed a way to avoid the trouble that befell many of his relatives, and he found it in MMA. Now, he's a leader, with young fighters wanting to show Pettis "the new kick they made up."
Roufus sees how martial arts has been a savior, and wants to open the doors of his gym so that more people around Milwaukee can find that refuge.
"Martial arts saved Anthony. Saved me, too. I could have gotten into some bad things. A lot of these kids have turned their lives around. A lot of these kids don't have the best life at home," Roufus said of his hopes for the future of Roufus Sport. "A lot of people are looking for something. Instead of a bar, come here. I'd like it to be like a community center. When you're not training, have fun. I'd rather have them here than be in trouble."
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