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Duke Roufus: ‘If Anthony Pettis would have lost his last fight I was going to stop coaching'

A couple of weeks back, on the Friday night before the UFC on FOX 21 fights in Vancouver, Duke Roufus swore that the Anthony Pettis we were about to see was more like the old Anthony Pettis, the one that ended up on the Wheaties box as the lightweight champion. There was a shift in the focus during training that led him to believe that Pettis would be the best version of himself we’d ever seen.

Pettis proved his coach right by submitting the Brazilian Charles Oliveira in a frenetic back-and-forth bout that many people considered the Fight of the Night. It was a successful foray at featherweight for "Showtime," who needed a win in the worst kind of way after dropping three fights in a row.

How dire was it?

As a vicarious entity living through Pettis in the corner, Roufus said on Monday that it was it was literally put up or shut up. Had Pettis lost to Oliveira, the Milwaukee-based trainer said during an appearance on The MMA Hour he would have walked away from coaching. Everything he had worked to build was riding on the outcome of that one fight.

"I’ve only told a couple of people this -- Anthony, one of my really good friends in Canada, and one of my business partners -- if Anthony Pettis would have lost his last fight, I was going to stop coaching," he told Ariel Helwani. "He had his back against the wall, I had my back against the wall. And, I’m serious. That’s how much this kid’s life means to me.

"But that’s how invested I am as a coach. And that’s the mentality I have going into this [CM] Punk fight."

Roufus passed the first test, and now prepared for another. He has been training CM Punk — who makes his UFC debut at UFC 203 this weekend in Cleveland against Mickey Gall — for the last year-and-a-half at Roufusport in Milwaukee. The scrutiny on his coaching will come into play again, as the former WWE star makes his crossover into the literal realm of mixed martial arts. Yet he was in good spirits Monday, using the word "grateful" on more than one occasion to be in a spot to either succeed or fail with his new charge.

The Punk fight would have been a lot different if Pettis had lost. Roufus elaborated on his mindset heading into that bout, and spelled out how much coaching means to him.

"Yeah, I take responsibility for winning and losing when coaching," he said. "I’m the type of guy who wants to be in the trenches with my people. I felt like we had one of the best camps in a long time, that connectivity, I was inspired by Anthony’s hunger as well, too. It was a very crucial part of his career. It was. No one took the losses worse than me, and of course Anthony. I know his potential is, and I know what he’s capable of.

"He’s a special force, and I just want to see him shine. And he did. I feel like the next stage of his career is going to be a special one. He’s got a special, special motivation right now."

Asked if Pettis knew about his plan to walk away from coaching should he come up short against Oliveira, the 46-year old Roufus said he didn’t think that would be conducive to getting the most out of his fighter.

"No, no, I didn’t want to cloud his vision," he said. "I didn’t want to cloud his thoughts and mind. I didn’t want my hang up to be his hang up, if that makes sense. It’s just where I was at as a coach, and professionally. I don’t know, maybe it was a psychological trick to just make me extra hungry in his camp.

"I don’t know if it was reality or not, but that was the mindset I had coming in. And sometimes that’s what it takes to win a fight, getting your mind right. You don’t have to be a god all year, you’ve only got to be a god on fight night. So, the mind is an incredible thing. It can either play tricks on you, or you can play tricks on your mind to make it do things special for you."

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