In a storied career that spans 35 professional MMA fights, 14 amateur fights and 51 kickboxing matches, Duane Ludwig, at the young age of 34, is the stuff legends are made of. He holds the title for fastest UFC knockout, has been trained by the great Bas Rutten when he was just 15 years old, and has been crowned champion in several Muay Thai and kickboxing promotions. He now has a successful Muay Thai training system, Bang Muay Thai, and is also the lead coach for the Alpha Male team in Sacramento. In short, Duane has lived the life of an athlete that most can only dream of.
With this level of success in a career that is much longer than his 34 years would indicate, a question begs to be answered. Why did he leave his own fight career behind, and will he come back at some point? I recently interviewed Duane, and got the answers to these questions, and many more. Here's part I of the interview. Part II will be up tomorrow, and will serve as the conclusion.
Stephie Daniels: You've been out at Alpha Male for about 4 months now, and we've seen a few of the team members fight since then (Dillashaw, Faber, Castillo). The change in them is a very visible one. What are you doing with the guys out there to evoke such results?
Duane Ludwig: Yeah, they've definitely been doing good. I'm very happy with that, for sure. I'm the proud papa. It's really easy because I have world class athletes that are showing up and putting in the work with crisp combinations and sequences that apply in mixed martial arts. I'm amazed at the levels of success they've achieved with what has been handed to them.
It's not so much the instructor as it is the individual athlete's skill, but I do believe that with proper guidance, they can do much better. I think that's kind of been showing.
SD: You talk about 'proper guidance'. You're known to be a very disciplined person. Do you find that by holding the reins a bit tighter, you get better results from the team?
DL: 100%. It's a combination of things. I know exactly what to do for kickboxing, striking and striking for MMA. I know how to train and how to keep the guys safe, but a lot of that is also leading by example; being on time, being the motivator, being the force that drives them all together.
I give them the advice, and it's up to them to pull the trigger, and they've been doing that very well. It just shows that they have trust in me. It's a two way street. I ask them to do things, they trust me enough to do them. This is why we're seeing such great results.
SD: Is Master Thong still involved with the team's training.
DL: We just call him Thong. [Laughs] They call him 'Master' and I think it's funny. He's still there and is an excellent mitt holder. Thong can hold some friggin' mitts. He's got his own little sequence of combinations he likes to do. One of the things that we're trying to instill is the understanding that we have a room full of over 30 athletes, that need to be catered to individually. We're still battling with that a little bit and changing some things.
I think that is one of the big things that has helped, giving each person their own specific gameplan for their individual skillset. This is the first time they've had a coach come in and break down film, analyze what they're doing right, and the areas that can be improved.
SD: There has always been debate on whether it really matters if coaches should have pro fight experience. Do you find that your own fight experience lends more to your coaching ability?
DL: Yes, for sure. There's definitely good lessons that I've learned over the years by crossing paths with great people like Bas Rutten, Rob Kamen, Greg Jackson, Mike Winkeljohn, Andy Souwer, and others. I've been to Thailand, Holland, Japan, and a lot of great places, so I have a ton of knowledge and information that would be wasted if I didn't teach it to others.
I know too much not to teach, and I'm dedicated. I stay up late at night watching videos, reviewing combinations, and working on game plans. My brain is in constant motion when it comes to mixed martial arts. It's actually one of the reasons that I'm glad to step away from the fighting aspect of it all. For me to sit back as a coach, and be able to impart some of my experience, I'm made for this.
SD: When you have guys like Danny Castillo and Urijah Faber, who are in their 30's and are assumed to be set in their ways, what's your approach to altering a long standing training regimen?
DL: It's a great credit to the athletes because they aren't really so set in their own ways. They're demonstrating the ability to take in new information and having an open mind. It's pretty easy for me to say, 'Look, we have this scenario, so if we change these things, we'll get these results.' These guys are world class and work well with my direction. It makes me feel good that they have trust in me.
When I was cornering Danny, the game plan for the fight is not what he did in the cage, but he's a great athlete, and you have to be able to adjust on the fly. These guys do that so well. What he did do, was he listened to my cornering to the letter. That was really cool. That is actually more important than the game plan.
Urijah did the same thing with that choke. It wasn't the game plan, but he adjusted on the fly, listened to corner direction. All these Team Alpha male athletes would have won their fights because they're that good, but I do feel that I've brought some good improvements to the camp.
Another case in particular is T.J. Dillashaw. He already knows to throw that sidekick if someone is coming that direction. I happened to ask him to do it at a certain time, and he did it. I got a lot more credit for that than I deserved, because he already does that technique anyway.
A little bit of it is that I'm still new there. When you have a brand new pair of running shoes, you can run faster and you can jump higher. It's that whole placebo effect, so we'll see how much of the energy and camraderie is still there in a year. I don't foresee any issues coming along, but that factor has to be taken into account, as well. When fighters change camps, there's always that new, reinvigorated energy. That's a little bit like what's in place now, although what I have brought to this team is going to be hard to duplicate.
SD: Have you completed relocated to California?
DL: Yes I have. I moved the family out here to Sacramento.
SD: At one time, Urijah was buying houses on the same block for the team, which seemed to be an attempt to seed the fields for a supercamp, complete with fighter housing. Is this still happening?
DL: Well, they no longer live all on the same block. They're a bit more spread out now. When it comes time to train, there is definitely a supercamp there. Everyone doesn't necessarily have to live together to accomplish that. Everybody is there, on time, putting in the work and helping each other out. That's the case, 100%.
Now, they have a full time, dedicated coach in myself. I'm there all the time, putting in my own work, and giving these guys some direction, and leading by example. Urijah can finally focus on himself, without having to be the head fighter and the head trainer. He can focus on what he needs to do as an athlete. That has helped the camp tremendously.
SD: Is fighting still that lovely siren that lures you to her song?
DL: Not so much fighting any more. I'm enjoying my life much more as a coach than I was with fighting. Now, I get to sit back, and relax and enjoy the day. I still think about fighting, combos, techniques and training a lot, but there's way less pressure now with my new career direction. I'm taking these fighters' careers just as seriously as I took my own, but it is way less stressful than than the amount of pressure I put on myself.
I was always the type where I would train till I was dead tired. I had to. There was no other way for me. If I left the gym with energy, then I must have been doing something wrong. Now that I'm not doing that, I feel that I enjoy life so much more. I can enjoy everything; the gym, my family, the day, my job. It's a different world, and I'm definitely loving who I am and what I'm doing.
Be sure to catch part II of this interview tomorrow.
You can follow Duane via his Twitter, @DUANEBANGCOM