MMA wunderkind Tom Duquesnoy makes his long awaited UFC debut this Saturday at UFC on FOX 24: Johnson vs. Reis. This weekend the 23-year-old Frenchman, who Bloody Elbow’s own Connor Ruebusch has anointed ‘The Crown Prince of Violence’ - will be fighting outside of Europe for the first time in his career.
Before signing with the UFC this January, Duquesnoy plied his trade mostly in the UK. While competing in Britain the ‘Fire Kid’ won both the bantamweight and featherweight titles in BAMMA. He’s also fought in Finland, Belgium, and Germany, but never in his home country of France.
MMA in France is currently illegal, by default. In October, 2016 France’s Ministry of Sport decided to uphold a ban on a number of combat sport techniques which are commonly used in mixed martial arts, including striking on the ground and striking with elbows.
At least two legal challenges have been launched against the ban. In December, 2016, lawyer and MMA practitioneer Alexandre Allegret-Pilot appealed against the ban, while representing a coalition of groups that included the French Federation of Pankration (FPAMM) and the National Kenpo Commission (CNK). Shortly after Allegret-Pilot’s appeal, the Commission Francaise de Mixed Martial Arts (CFMMA) launched their own appeal. The CFMMA is recognized by the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) as a non-government MMA sanctioning body in France.
Both groups allege that the reason MMA was banned in France was because of the power and influence wielded by the Federation Francaise de Judo (FJF). Judo is France’s most popular combat sport, with over 625,000 people owning a license. There are fewer than 45,000 boxing license holders in France. Among many of France’s judo players are men and women who occupy positions within the French government and sports ministry.
Jean-Luc Rouge leads the FJF. He is an outspoken critic of MMA. In an interview with Le Point Rouge described MMA as a ‘refuge for jihadists.’ L’Equipe once reported that Rouge had also threatened to expel any FJF members who taught Judo at MMA gyms.
In January Paris-based UFC heavyweight Francis N’Gannou spoke out about the ban. “We know it is just political,” N’Gannou told Bloody Elbow. “But [the government] are refusing us the benefits of our work and that makes it so difficult for us to live.”
This week, Duquesnoy also spoke about the ban. “From the very beginning of my career I knew that MMA was banned in France,” he told Bloody Elbow. “So I had to develop my career somewhere else. Obviously, I would love to do a UFC in Paris, if it gets legalized. It would actually be a dream. I’d be very happy to compete in front of my country and my people.”
“So it’s very important for me to develop MMA in France. I would like the ban lifted and I will work for it as much as I can,” continued Duquesnoy. Like Allegret-Pilot and the CFMMA, Duquesnoy cites the FJF as the main obstacle for MMA legalization in France.
“The judo federation, especially two to three people in the top of that federation, are very close to the sports ministry and they continue to block the advancement of MMA in France,” said Duquesnoy. “It’s not because MMA has a bad image. People now understand MMA is a sport practiced by professionals and supervised by professionals. The problem the judo federation has is that they want to protect their business. They are afraid that if MMA comes to France a lot of licensed people from the judo federation will leave. It’s business, it’s not philosophical. And it’s not very sporting to act like that, but that’s the way things work currently in France.”
Adding to Duquesnoy’s frustration over the ban is his belief that MMA fits perfectly within the French sporting scene. “We are a land of martial arts,” stated Duquesnoy. “And for hundreds of years; in wrestling, boxing, savate, muay thai - we are one of the best countries in Europe. We have good judo, taekwondo, karate. We have Olympic winners every four years in combat sports.”
Duquesnoy stated he would jump at the chance to discuss MMA - and combat sports in general - with Jean-Luc Rouge. “I would love to talk to him,” he said. “I am very open to having a discussion with him. I hope in the future we will meet and we will talk about it. And maybe find a solution. In that moment I would be happy to represent French MMA.”
The UFC debutante gave Bloody Elbow a preview of the argument he would present to Rouge, if he were ever granted the opportunity to defend his sport. “MMA and judo; it’s not a question of ‘me or him,’” said Duquesnoy. “We evolve together. At the end of the day, even if you are a mixed martial artist you come back to those original sports.”
“If I want to get better striking in MMA, I will go to muay thai and boxing and karate. You need the pure sports, the essential sports. We need judo, we need muay thai, we need wrestling, so it’s not a question of: MMA is going to kill judo, because we need you as a sport, because you’re one of the components of MMA and that’s that.”
Tom Duquesnoy will represent France against Patrick Williams this Saturday. His UFC debut can be seen on FOX, during the prelim card of UFC on FOX 24: Johnson vs. Reis.