After suffering two serious injuries in the last year alone, Duane Ludwig is looking to make one last run—and have some fun—inside the Octagon before he calls it a career.
A successful kick-boxer before entering mixed martial arts, Ludwig is the owner of over three-dozen victories in the sport—including a number of wins under the K-1 World MAX banner—and in 2003 won the ISKA Muay Thai Light Middleweight world title.
A professional mixed martial artist since early 2000, Ludwig first came to prominence when he upset then-lightweight kingpin Jens Pulver for the UCC Lightweight world title in January 2003.
Since beating Pulver, Ludwig has notched 11 wins as a mixed martial artist—including notable victories over Genki Sudo, Jonathan Goulet and Yves Edwards.
After winning his UFC debut against Sudo at UFC 42 and knocking out Goulet in four seconds—although it was incorrectly timed at 11—at the third Ultimate Fight Night in early 2006, Ludwig fought for Strikeforce seven times before being re-signed by the UFC in late 2009.
Despite being submitted by Jim Miller in his long-awaited Octagon return at UFC 108 and breaking his leg against Darren Elkins at UFC Live: Vera vs. Jones in March of last year, Ludwig came back to the Octagon to pick up a split-decision victory over Nick Osipczak at UFC 122 in Oberhausen, Germany.
Looking to build on his win over Osipczak, Ludwig was scheduled to take on Amir Sadollah at UFC Fight Night: Seattle. During his training-camp, however, Ludwig was injured during sparring and forced to withdraw from his bout.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ludwig about, among other topics, his gym in Colorado, getting back into the Octagon, kickboxing in North America, and pots of gold.
How are you doing today, Duane?
Pretty good, man. I’m getting my gym going—which is cool because I get to share my knowledge.
How do you like owning a gym?
It’s cool, man. I’ve been teaching for a long time, but it’s good to have my own spot and do what I want—it’s fun.
Do you find that teaching and coaching distracts you from your own fighting career?
No. I really don’t have that much else to do. I train full-time but it’s only four hours out of the day so there’s plenty of extra time. For me, personally; no. It’s fun and it helps me learn more—so it’s good.
What does it mean for you to be able to share your knowledge with the next generation of the sport?
It means a lot. I’ve got a lot of experience and it’s really fun to pass it on—to pass the torch. I know too much not to teach, so it would be a waste if I didn’t.
What do you think you have to offer your students?
(Expletive). Have you not Googled me? No—a lot, man, in every aspect of the game. I’ve got experience on the business side, negotiating with promoters—but that’s not my forte; it’s more on hopefully kicking more (expletive) than getting kicked. Wrapping hands, preparations, diet and nutrition—there is a lot that I know, so I can help out in many areas.
Was that always your plan?
No. I used to be an electrician and I just planned on fighting for a few years and then being an electrician but the fighting rolled longer than I expected, I guess. I’m much happier doing this than the electrical work, though.
Have you ever thought about how your life would have gone had you not taken the MMA route?
No, not really. I’m happy with what I’m doing, so I wouldn’t want to do much else.
You were scheduled to take on Amir Sadollah at UFC Fight Night: Seattle last week but had to pull out of the bout—could you tell me a bit about that?
We were sparring and I shot in and my sparring partner at the time threw a knee with no knee-pads on, hit me in the sternum and cracked the cartilage in my sternum.
It was the most hindering injury I’ve ever had—I couldn’t do anything; no physical activity at all. That was definitely an interesting experience.
I just couldn’t do anything. My life depends on physical activity; teaching and training and fighting and when you can’t do any of that, that made me sit back and think.
Even when I broke my leg in the UFC last year—I could still do push-ups and other physical activities—but with my chest injury, I couldn’t do anything.
How frustrating is that?
It’s pretty frustrating. I was banking on the money from the fight and the time I put into training was now wasted—there were quite a few setbacks that I wasn’t planning on.
Are you back in the gym now?
No—still not. Maybe next week I’ll get back to training. I’m teaching but not working out.
Do you have a timetable on your return?
I’d say 10 weeks from now would be ideal.
How do you think you would’ve done against Amir had you been healthy?
I think it was a good match-up and it would’ve went well. It would’ve probably been Fight of the Night, because he brings it. There were a few things that I was working on that I still saw he had openings for in the fight, so I think I would’ve done alright.
What inspired you to get involved with mixed martial arts?
I was running out of kick-boxing fights. Kick-boxing isn’t big in the States, so in order for me to fight and continue having fun, I had to switch over to MMA.
Considering that most casual fans really just like watching guys stand up and trade with each other, don’t you think kick-boxing would be more appealing than MMA in North America?
More than half of the kick-boxing matches that I watch are boring because they sit back and they’re too tentative. I don’t think American fans have witnessed high-level kick-boxing like in K-1 Max or K-1 in person.
A lot of it also depends on having a big sponsor come up and put some money out and advertise it and promote it properly.
Do you think in the future, kick-boxing could become as popular as MMA in the North America?
No. It won’t ever get there.
There are a lot of obstacles in the way—there have been people trying to do it for a while. Boxing had a stronghold on it, but now MMA took over—they’ve got a really strong opponent to battle against and it’s not going to happen.
Why did you get into kick-boxing?
I was always intrigued by martial arts—the Rocky movies and the Bruce Lee movies—martial arts has always been in my blood.
Did you ever think that you would be this successful in the sport?
I knew that I could be—I knew that the opportunity was there. As far as kick-boxing, the pot of gold at the end wasn’t as full as I expected, but I knew I could do pretty well at it.
How important has martial arts been to your life?
Martial arts gives me life, so it’s very important. Some people go and fight so they can get some money to live—I live to fight; my whole day is about fighting and martial arts. I live for it.
What does it mean for you to be back in the UFC?
It feels great. Everyone knows that the UFC is the No. 1 spot and as an athlete you want to make it to the top—I’m in the top promotion. That’s definitely a nice thing to be known for.
Is it safe to say that you intend on retiring in the UFC?
This is the pot of gold—as you said?
It would be great to win the title—I don’t think I’m gunning for that. I’d like to get a few more good fights in a couple years and step away happy.
How much better are you now than when you were last in the UFC?
I’m a lot better, but of course, so is the competition—I guess I’m still in the same spot [laughs].
[Laughs] What inspired you to move up to welterweight?
I can’t make 155. I’m walking around at 195 right now, and I’m not fat. It’s always been a struggle for me to make 155—even seven, eight years ago.
Why didn’t you move up to 170 back then?
Stubborn—I was stuck in my ways. I didn’t have the proper guidance, but since I’ve gotten with Mike Dolce, he’s helped me out a lot.
Do you notice any differences between fighting at 155 and 170?
Mentally—yes, because I can actually focus on getting better as an athlete. When I was trying to make 155, most of my training sessions were devoted to burning calories and losing weight—rather than working on my skills as a martial artist and getting better as an athlete. It’s helped me a lot.
What are your goals in the sport at this point in your career?
I want to have fun, man. I want to just have fun.
You’re still having fun?
Of course—definitely. I love training—anything involved with martial arts I love doing.
What is it that you find so fun about it?
Martial arts tells you who you are when you face adversity and challenges and it shows you who you are—it’s all about self-discovery.
Over the course of your career, what have you discovered about yourself?
I’m pretty tough. I don’t break too easy—I definitely stay to fight, for sure. There are a lot of challenges in the world and the way I respond to them—I’m happy with myself.
Why do you fight?
I fight because I’m freakin’ angry and I want to punch (expletive)s in the face. No, again; it’s another way to find out who I am.
Present yourself with challenges and see how you come through. Again, it’s just about self-discovery, man.
Would you fight if you weren’t compensated for your performance?
I will. If a (expletive) takes my parking spot—(expletive). My first fight—in King of the Cage—I fought for free and I’ve got about 50 amateur fights and you don’t get paid as an amateur. Would I go back to it now, now that I’ve been paid? Yes.
What is your philosophy as a mixed martial artist?
Slow, have fun, and don’t take things too seriously. I think things are predetermined up to a point and just be happy and, as they say; roll with the punches.
If things are going to happen, they’re going to happen—don’t worry about it and just have fun.
Have you always had this outlook?
Yes. As a child, for sure. I’ve always been like this—it’s not something that I chose; it’s just the way I am.
Could you tell me a bit about your life growing up?
You could say that I was a kid and I didn’t know any better, but I wouldn’t put my child through it.
How important is your family to you?
Very important. Also, I guess you could say, it gives me a reason to get up in the morning. It’s good to have them as a motivating factor behind me. At the same time, I’d still fight for free—I don’t fight just for my family—it’s fun and it tells me who I am.
I don’t need to have a rent payment or a mortgage payment or a family depending on me to fight—I’d fight no matter what.
How does your wife feel about your career?
She shuts the (expletive) up and does what I say [laughs]—why am I talking (expletive)? We’ve been together forever—I was already training and fighting from day-one—she knows who I am and what I’m about. She likes it—she likes to go and travel and she trains as well. It’s definitely cool—there are no fights.
Would you encourage your children to pursue a career in mixed martial arts?
If it’s their passion; yes. If it’s like some people in the gym who fight to be cool or to have stories to tell—of course I like to be cool and have stories to tell—but they want to do it just for the fame and to be the cool guy. If that was their reason, then; no. If it was their passion, then; yes.
If you could give them one piece of advice before they embark on their career, what would it be?
Wrestle. The most successful guys are wrestlers.
Do you have any regrets?
Yes. Not moving up to 170 sooner. When I was in K-1 Max I would’ve went to Holland to train more—I think I could’ve done better in K-1 Max if I had better training partners.
Again, I should’ve moved up to 170 sooner—when I think about it, my bad performances were due to my diet and cutting weight wrong and not understanding the nutrition aspect of it.
Have you thought about how you’d like to be remembered when it’s all said and done?
Of course; one of the best strikers in MMA—ever.
Do you feel that you are?
I guess it’s kind of hard to put a timetable on it, but...
Three years and you’re done?
That would be my general timeframe ... I wouldn’t be upset, but we’ll see how I am. Any fight can be your last fight, man—the UFC can cut you whenever they want.
And if the UFC cut me, I’d still fight on other shows, but it would definitely be nice to, in three years, retire in the UFC—the world’s No. 1 promotion.
In three years, what do you plan on doing?
Teaching. It’s pretty much the same thing—just not getting punched in the face as much.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as a mixed martial artist?
I guess it would be the world-title against Jens Pulver, because he was the No. 1 guy at the time and the way it went down. Also, I like the four-second knockout that I have in the UFC—that was cool. I guess it would be one of those two things.
The knockout was technical—I didn’t just close my eyes and throw a lucky punch—there was some technique involved. Also, the fight with Jens Pulver—I guess it’s a toss-up between the two.
With your four-second knockout, does it bug you that...
At first it didn’t but now it does, because I’m understanding marketing. Now it would definitely be nice to have it legitimized, because of how many times that has been said and advertised towards Todd Duffee—that’s worth money.
Now I understand that, then I didn’t understand it—I didn’t really care about it because I fought just because I love to do it. I still love to do it but when people are talking about you, you’re making money and that’s what it’s all about; people need to make money and you might as well make it if it’s there.
I guess you just need to go out there and get another four-second knockout [laughs].
That would be nice, for sure. The (expletive) timekeeper needs to do his job—that’s what needs to happen.
[Laughs] Is there anything that you’d like to say to your fans while you have this opportunity?
Thanks for the support—to the true fans. I know a lot of fans are hit-or-miss and you do an interview and someone will get upset with your interview or whatever.
It’s good to have fans because you get the support and you get to make money off of them, but then again; the fans turn on you. I don’t care—I don’t fight for the fans, I fight for me. If you’re a fan of me, that’s cool and thanks for the support.