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Ready or Not, Here Comes Todd Duffee

All signs point to Todd Duffee facing Paul Buentello at UFC 107 in December. MMA Junkie first reported the bout over the weekend, and FanHouse has learned that it is close to being finalized.

FanHouse recently spoke to the 23-year-old UFC rookie about his stellar Octagon debut in August, why he was hesitant to fight in the UFC this early in his career and his unique nickname. The full interview is below.

Ariel Helwani: How has your life changed since you knocked out Tim Hague last month?
Todd Duffee: My life hasn't changed by any means. I think, you know, my future has changed. I think it's opened a lot of doors for me. Yeah, I go places like CVS, and people are noticing me, and things like that. But that's not a life-changer so to speak, that's just five seconds of your day to shake someone's hand or take a picture maybe. I'm still the same guy. I still got the same bankroll. You know, I'm still doing the same things. I'm back here in the gym right now. I did go to Aruba [recently] to corner Carmelo [Marrero] for the Vengeance tournament. But my life hasn't changed, I wouldn't say. I think it's just my future is a little brighter, and I kind of hit some people's radar, maybe.

It's funny that you mentioned your bankroll because a lot of people were disappointed you didn't win knockout of the night. Did the UFC at least hook you up with something?
I'm sure they will. [Nate] Marquardt's [knockout] was way more impressive against a way more highly talented opponent, and not to mention, was it really a UFC record, Ariel? Let's be honest.

Yeah, what do you think about that because it seems as though some believe Duane Ludwig deserves that honor for his 2006 knockout of Jonathan Goulet?
It is what it is, man. I'll take it as it comes. I have not a complaint in the world. I will gladly sign my name beside it, so to speak. It's definitely going to help my career. I mean, I've seen closer times, but I can't be the one to make that judgment call, can I? (Laughs) It's not my fault.

I think the way it works, if you go back and look at his, that was pretty fast. I don't remember the time on it actually -- I just remember that knockout. I mean, he caught him with a right hand, and it was over, which was similar to mine. I mean, if you really want to look at the actual time of KO, it was really the first punch. I mean, heck, that was like what, two, three seconds? I think it's all even, you know. But I'm sure that seven seconds will get broken.

So you weren't disappointed that you didn't get the bonus?
Man, once I saw the Marquardt knockout, I just kind of looked at my brother, and said, 'Oh, there goes my hopes and dreams' (laughs). I had already kind of planned what I was going to do with it, like put some in for college, do this and that. But no, man, I'm not disappointed at all because Marquardt, he's put a lot of work in, man. That guy is more than just a pioneer in our sport. He's it right now, and he probably earned it a little more.

Was there a part of you that wished that the fight went on a little longer considering the fact that you hadn't fought in almost a year?
Initially it was, until I sat back with my brother later that night, and he goes, 'Man, that couldn't have worked out any better.' Initially I was kind of like, I wanted more, I wanted more. But in reality, the hype that it created is better than any three rounds I could have received from Tim Hague. So I can't complain. ... My time will come to give a show and learn who I am as a fighter. I have a good idea already, but I've developed a lot over the last year, I feel like, and I'd really like the opportunity to see how much, and to show that to the world, I guess to the haters more than anything (laughs).

Do you feel as though you have more haters now?
Yeah, I mean, I can't see why I wouldn't. The guys that really know the sport are kind of like, 'Really? This kid?' Even I feel that way. I was down in Aruba cornering 'Melo, and I'm sitting beside Matt Lindland, and someone asks to take my picture, and I'm almost insulted. I'm like, 'What about this guy?' You know, this guy's the guy whose been there, done that; he created this. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here.' So that kind of stuff, it kind of bothers me a little bit, and I can see why other guys might be like, 'F--- this guy. He doesn't deserve this.' So, yeah, I'm sure. I've read a few of the message boards, and you know, guys talking about this or that, but I think that I've also developed just as many fans as I have people that don't like me. So it's going to work both ways.

Dana White said that you wanted to be put on "the fast track." What exactly does that mean?
I actually don't think I said 'fast track.' I think that's something that was put in my mouth. I didn't really say much [after the fight]. I wanted to call my mom, I wanted that time to release, so I was just, 'Thank you, Dana,' and he was really excited for me. And then actually, I was like, 'Well, heck, Dana's here, I need the opportunity to talk to him,' and I went in there and I said, 'Look, Dana, I just wanted you to know, I'm very grateful for this opportunity. I'm looking to fight as soon as possible, man. I'm not injured, I need to go and build my record, and I would like to fight tough opponents. I don't want any walks in the park.' I didn't say that, but that's the gist of what I said. I was looking for tougher opponents. I just don't want to go into a fight where everybody knows, Oh, Todd's supposed to win this fight. That's not a fight then. This is about entertainment, it's about putting on good shows, and that's what I want.

How frustrating was the whole UFC 99 experience for you? Things obviously worked out perfectly for you, but I can't imagine getting bumped off the card then flying to Germany and still not fighting.
Yeah, man. The buildup wasn't bad to it, I thought. In my head, I thought I was in control, and I was okay with everything. And then after it was all said and done, and after I watched the fights, it really kind of hit me and it hurt. Just emotionally, it was a killer. You know, I kind of walked around in a haze a week or two afterward. I was still training and doing things I was supposed to be doing, but I wasn't all there. Just that dump of all this work and nothing. But you know, there's an ultimate goal; it's a part of the journey and all that. But it was hard, man, because I put a lot of stress on my family, and then it didn't transpire. And that had happened so many times in my career, that's not like the first time. I mean, I went a whole year without fighting. I've had two different times I've had like eight- or nine-month periods where I couldn't get fights, and I was healthy, training, looking for fights. So it was kind of the culmination of this, I think. And for about two, three weeks I was feeling it, I can't lie. Initially, I thought I took it in strides, but it really did hit me. Looking back on it, looking how I was reacting to things, I mean, I would just sit around and watch TV.

Were you just a moody guy to be around?
There just wasn't much going on in my brain to be honest. I think I just kind of shut down. I'd go home after training, and I would just sit down on my couch. There wouldn't be a TV on, I'd finish eating, and I'd just sit there. A little depression I'm sure, who knows?

Was it almost worse than losing?
No, nothing is worse than a loss in MMA (laughs). I'll take a no contest. There's nothing worse than a loss in your career. I think it was just my maturity level and the way I handled it. I should've looked at the bright side; I'd still have more opportunities. But I don't have a complaint now.

For those who aren't so familiar with your fighting style, is there anyone you would compare yourself to?
I don't think there is, man. I think that we're all coming up. I'd say I'm similar to Cain Velasquez. I think I'm better with my striking and he's better with his wrestling. But if my striking is equal to his wrestling, and his wrestling is equal to my striking ... Dude, I'm not ready to compare myself to that guy. He's already proven more than I have. I think we all need to learn together, so to speak. I still have a lot I need to improve, so to compare myself to anybody is almost insulting to the person I'd be doing it to. And I don't think that the comparison is ready to be made yet. I'd like to think Cain Velasquez, let's say that.

I read that you weren't really looking to fight in the UFC this early in your career. Why is that?
It wasn't that I wasn't looking to fight in the UFC, that I wasn't at the caliber of the UFC, because actually I was; I was looking for those tough fights. I didn't think I was ready to be put behind the hype machine that the UFC creates, I think you understand what I mean. If you go fight a tough opponent in Japan, you just went and fought a tough opponent in Japan. If you fight him the UFC, the whole world explodes over that situation, and you're really under a spotlight and you're really being critiqued. If it happens in Japan, nobody even really hears about it sometimes. I'm just using Japan, I mean internationally, so to speak. And plus I wanted to travel and get some more experience about what it was to be a real fighter I wanted to earn it. By any means, I thought I was ready for that level, yeah. And I look forward to proving that. It wasn't that I wasn't ready for the UFC-caliber fighter, it's that I wasn't ready for the hype machine I didn't think. And I wanted to be more proven when I got here, that way there wasn't any questions about who Todd Duffee was. I mean, we'll get those answered, it's just a matter of time. I don't have those answers, because I'm learning when you guys are learning them.

Some fighters have said that they prefer to not fight in the UFC early in their careers because you get to fight more when you are a free agent. With that in mind, do you think it's best for you to be fighting only two or three times a year at this point in your career?
I don't know, man. That's kind of what we talked about before I signed the contract. We were like, 'Well, we could bounce around with these other small organizations, and still get good, tough fights to build me.' And realistically, they weren't out there, man. I did have two scheduled, and I ended up getting a bad cut right at the end of the year that killed those two fights for me. I kind of sat around with that cut for a week or so, and said, man, how stupid would I be if I were to pass up this opportunity with the UFC just for a shot at it later, in my own terms? Life doesn't come at you in your own terms technically, right? So you might as well take opportunities as they come. So that's kind of how we looked at it. But you know, to say it is or it isn't is yet to be determined. I don't know, man. This is a really funny game, and a really funny sport, and we're all kind of learning about it together.

Are you now splitting your training with American Top Team in Florida and the HardCore Gym in Georgia?
Both. I plan on going back up to HardCore. When I'm getting closer to fights, I'm definitely going to be at ATT for the good, hard sparring, the training partners. I really like having [HardCore Gym founder] Adam Singer as a guidance to my game. He's important to me. I'm planning on going up there for at least a week or two to train, just to get his insight, add some things. He's got a really good, objective opinion and I really appreciate it. So I definitely like having him. And those are all my good friends at the HardCore Gym, so I'm always going to be a part of that gym.

Were there any hard feelings because you started training at ATT?
No, there were no hard feelings. They were frustrated but they understood that I did have to get those heavyweight training partners. There's definitely no hard feelings because I go back there all the time, and I call Adam all the time for advice. I call Rory [Singer] all the time for advice, so I don't think there's any hard feelings. And if there was, they're gone. They support me a lot.

You strike me as a passionate MMA fan. Do you spend a lot of time researching fighters online and just reading news about the sport?
I think it's my job to, isn't it? Yeah, I watch a lot of videos, man, when I'm able to. I haven't had Internet the last couple of months, but when I do get on the computer, I'm either reading through the message boards, just finding out who's coming up, what's going on. Yeah, I'm a fan, definitely. But more importantly, I'm watching video. If you're not watching video, you're a fool. The game's developing every day and something new is coming out.

It always shocks me to hear some fighters say they don't watch tape on their opponent.
I watch as much fights as I can. I'll watch amateur fights; I don't care. A fight's a fight. There's something to be learned, I think. And I mean, when I'm 40, I'm hopefully going to be coaching, so there's a lot of aspects of the game that I need to learn.

Are you planning on going back to school, or is that on hold now?
I'm actually trying to get up to Athens in the next day or two; I've got two online classes that are at a deadline at the end of this month that I've got to finish. I'd like to put it on hold, but my degree is very important to me, and my mom made a lot of sacrifices to give me that opportunity, so I definitely want to finish it up for her. Plus, I left high school early and got some BS home school degree (laughs), so I definitely want to prove to the world that I'm no dummy. Be part of the club, I guess.

I think the last thing you need is a cool nickname. I'm not sure if "The Irish Car Bomb" works.
I've had a couple of different nicknames but nothing has really stuck. I would kind of like to go out and create my own nickname.

You remind me of Robocop. How do you feel about that one?
Oh, that would be a brutal one. That's horrible, dude.

OK, fine.
Doesn't he die at the end of the movie?

Well, it was more about your look, not so much about what happens to him.
Yeah, I want it to be more about the way I fight.

Sorry. No more suggestions. Finally, do you think you can be a champion in the next two years?
If not, I'll definitely be contending for it in my mind. Like I said, that's not my ultimate goal; my ultimate goal is to have great fights. Yeah, I want to hold a title, everybody does because that's the only way to really prove your legitimacy to the public. But more than anything, man, I want to be having good fights, getting good, big wins under my belt. I think the way the heavyweight division is, if I do what I'm supposed to do, I could definitely get that opportunity.

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