French sensation Tom Duquesnoy has long been praised for his strategic approach to the fight game on top of his impressive mixed martial arts skill set.
Most prospects jump at the chance of signing on the dotted line for UFC, but Duquesnoy dismissed the promotion’s advances on more than one occasion as he built his status as the biggest prospect in the sport.
After winning and defending BAMMA’s featherweight and bantamweight titles, Duquesnoy finally signed on the dotted line with the UFC last year, but he insisted that he was in no rush to immediately test his worth against the championship elite.
“Firekid” got off to an emphatic start with the promotion with his second round stoppage of Patrick Williams in April at UFC on FOX 24. As predicted, once he entered the biggest stage in world MMA, the mainstream media in France have begun to take a lot of interest in the 24-year-old.
The sport may still be illegal in France, but with a recent change of government, Duquesnoy believes MMA is the best place it has ever been in terms of gaining legitimacy in his homeland.
“People are beginning to realize that MMA is a real sport that is supervised by professionals and practiced by professionals,” Duquesnoy told MMA Fighting.
“It’s no longer about changing minds in France. It’s more about establishing a federation that can oversee the sport and its practitioners.
“There has been a recent change of government too. The new sports minister is a woman who was training in MMA at one point in her life. She is really open to the idea of legalizing MMA in France.
“It’s the best time for French MMA to progress with the new government in place.”
With MMA’s future still in the balance at home, Duquesnoy is focusing on building his stock in the US.
Leading talent agencies CAA and WME IMG — the organization that last year bought the UFC for over $4 billion — have been courting the French fighter’s signature, underlining the potential that he has inside and outside of the fight game.
Although Duquesnoy has yet to align himself with an agency, he expects to make a decision in September.
“It’s not just about being the best on the mats, it’s also about how you manage your career,” he said.
“It’s exciting. It’s very fascinating. My career is on the way up now and I want the best for me. Even though it seems like it’s just the beginning of my career, I must already consider what’s going to happen with my career after fighting.
“This is where these big agencies can be very helpful. I want a win-win situation that’s good for me and good for the agency.”
Honing his skills at the infamous Jackson-Wink facility in Albuquerque, there is no shortage of champions who have already scaled to the top of the sport, whose paths Duquesnoy wishes to follow.
Duquesnoy watched on as Jones prepared himself for the fight, and it was no surprise to him to see how emotional the newly crowned champion was when he had his hand raised.
“He is a sensational talent, but that has been fueled by a lot of work,” stated Duquesnoy.
“After seeing what he put himself through to prepare for this fight over the last few months, I could understand why he was very emotional when he had his hand raised.
“There was so much pressure on him. He trained harder than ever and made tremendous sacrifices so he could look so good on fight night.
“He deserved the win. He always does. He is a magnificent talent and when he works like that it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to beat him. He is a fantastic champion.”
It’s difficult to consider soft-spoken Duquesnoy ending up with a similar rap sheet to Jones at this early point in his career. Yet, the bantamweight has been inspired by his teammate’s technical approach to fighting as well as his ability to overcome adversity following his forced hiatus from the sport.
“Of course you can always learn from people like Jon,” he explained.
“First of all, in the technical area, he has always been a source of inspiration to me.
“The way he creates openings in his fights and the way he has used his elbows, range and distance control, I think he is one of the first in MMA to understand that element of fighting. I think he has everything,” Duquesnoy continued.
“When you consider the things that have happened outside of the cage, I think we see this a lot with young athletes when they rise to the top of a sport and they begin to get a lot of money and fame. It can be overwhelming, and of course, we all make mistakes.
“What I take from everything that’s gone on with Jon is, he has taken all his mistakes and he has used them to make himself better. We must remember, that is the purpose of making mistakes.”
Jones has emerged from UFC 214 with more options than ever. With the win, “Bones” has moved the conversation past the lows of his April 2015 hit and run and the potential USADA violation that cost him his headline privileges at UFC 200.
Those career blemishes will stay with Jones throughout his career, but Duquesnoy has interacted with the man beyond the headlines and UFC marquees, a man he describes as a “world class gentleman.”
Even before the hype, when Duquesnoy first arrived in Albuquerque, Jones went out of his way to make him feel like he was a part of the team.
“At Jackson’s, there is a class from 9:30 to 10:30, the pro heavyweight class, and then straight after that from 10:30 to 11:30, they have the pro lightweight class,” he remembered.
“So, he was working out before me with the heavyweights and when the lightweight class began, he continued to do his own training on the mats.
“For two to three days he waited and watched me as I was sparring.
“At one point he approached me and said, ‘You are a great source of inspiration to me, thank you for being here’ — I was thinking, ‘What? It should be the opposite way around!’
“That’s when I realized, no matter what people say about what he does outside of the Octagon, he has amazing humility as a fighter. He can use everything around him as a motivation and that is the mindset of a champion.”
Duquesnoy highlighted that the Jones that we saw thanking Daniel Cormier in his post-fight interview is the Jones that he deals with on a daily basis in Albuquerque.
“He has always been a world class gentleman with me,” he said. “Those words have stuck with me and that’s the person that I saw at the end of the fight when he congratulated Cormier on his performance. That was beautiful.”
With so much hype coming into his UFC debut, Duquesnoy’s first outing was widely celebrated. However, there were some who criticized how often Williams was able to hit him before he met his demise.
Like Jones, Duquesnoy hopes to use the critiques to better himself as a fighter.
“There are always people who will criticize you. I was a champion at 20 years of age and even at that stage I was making mistakes, and I will continue to do that throughout my career.
“I use the criticism as a source of motivation. I’m listening to what everyone has to say, but I won’t listen to people who are just being negative and not offering any kind of advice or insight. That kind of thing is a little bit boring for me.
“Look at Jon Jones,” he continued. “He has been heavily criticized for the last two years and it resulted in the best performance of his career.
“My style of fighting will not change. I like to force the action with forward pressure. It’s a dangerous style, but I have only gone to decision three or four times in my career, which is very rare in the lighter weight classes.
“This my style. There are good things about it, and there are less good things about it. My job is to make my weaker areas stronger. That’s what I’m doing, and as always, there have been improvements.”
Duquesnoy hopes to return to action in October.