Todd Duffee's story arc twists almost beyond recognition. Injuries, personal tragedies, promotional difficulties, misunderstandings and poor decisions pockmark the Duffee careerscape like the pitfalls of prehistoric times.
But he's a new man now, and just in time for his return to the UFC on Dec. 29, when he'll face Phil De Fries at UFC 155.
This time, Duffee said Monday in an interview with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour broadcast, it will be a different kind of Duffee. Gone is the young phenom who knocked out Tim Hague in a record-setting seven seconds and took MMA world by storm. Now, a kindler, gentler, smarter Duffee has taken his place. At least, according to Duffee.
"When I got into the UFC, I got a ridiculous amount of attention," Duffee told Helwani. "I think I’m talented, but I wanted to earn it. I wanted to feel like I deserved it."
After Hague, Duffee lost to Mike Russow and was unceremoniously dumped from the UFC. Seven months later, a brutal 19-second knockout loss to Alistair Overeem in the DREAM promotion signaled a career nadir, but one Duffee said he learned from:
"I got the phone call to fight Alistair on Christmas Eve, and I took that fight. We all know what happened there…that was a rough one. I learned a lot about myself, though. If the community will give me time, I think I’ll be better for that. Whenever you get the opportunity to fight one of the best guys in the world, I don’t think you can turn it down. I think in the long run it’ll pay off."
Since that loss in late 2010, Duffee has ridden a professional roller coaster, fighting only once in the intervening two years despite working with multiple promotions. He grew frustrated enough that he nearly walked away from the sport.
"I’ve kind of been living like a drifter these last couple years. These last three months have been very difficult. I was looking at going home. It was almost over for me...I was packing my stuff to go back home. I was going to go to my girlfriend’s and then back to my Mom’s in Atlanta. I still would've fought at the highest levels I could have, but I was looking at going back to school or looking for full-time work."
Then the UFC called.
"No one thought it was possible," Duffee said. "I had been cut and I had made some mistakes in the past that upset them. But the moment I got that call I dropped everything...I woke up. I was myself again."
Duffee was thoughtful but vague about the reasons behind his abrupt UFC release. He noted difficult family losses during the time and different perceptions of his personality.
"It’s been well documented that my dad died and my best friend died and my coach died within a short time period. They were all the people who were the reasons I was in the sport and had done so much...Clearly I made some mistakes, but what exactly it was I have no idea. There’s a shyness in me...Everyone assumes I got arrogant and cocky...Yeah, I am a different person in some aspects. The big thing is I’ve learned how to represent myself and show my true self to people. I was not prepared to deal with the fans and things like that. Some of it’s that I’m stoic by nature and sometimes I’m blunt. Maybe a little too blunt, to be honest."
With a new shot on MMA's biggest stage, Duffee is working hard to look forward.
"Not very many times in your life do you set a goal and actually go out and get it done," Duffee said. "It’s huge, but to be honest I've only fought twice since I left [the UFC], so to say I earned my way back isn’t entirely true. But I have an opportunity to earn my way back on Dec. 29."