Don’t try and tell Duke Roufus that his team’s latest win was a fluke.
It was undeniably shocking to see Anthony Pettis land a “Superman hook” knockout punch on Stephen Thompson this past Saturday, a strike that ended the UFC Nashville main event with just four seconds remaining in the second round and made Pettis the first man ever to defeat “Wonderboy” by KO.
And while a glance at Pettis’s blood-stained face may have made it look like the bout was going poorly for him, Roufus told MMA Fighting that “Showtime” was fighting exactly according to plan.
“For sure. 99 percent of it,” Roufus said when asked if that finishing blow was just like they drew it up. “The last one percent was Anthony. He followed the game plan, we prepared together very well, but that was Anthony being Anthony at his best.
“He’s great at audibling and when he feels good and when he’s in the moment, he’s so dangerous. That was a surprise attack and he landed it and it was brilliant.”
Roufus is more than familiar with Thompson’s style, having prepared former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley for two title fights with the striking specialist, both of which ended up going the full five rounds. That was a lot of data to work with and while Pettis’s team was ready for a 25-minute contest, it wasn’t surprising to Roufus at all that Pettis added to his reel of highlight finishes instead.
“I think it can happen anytime with Anthony,” Roufus said. “Him and I have such a great relationship. He does what he does and I do what I do. I have a motto I live by, ‘Work for what you need. Pray for what you want.’
“Anthony makes the magic happen, I do the boring stuff, the fundamentals, the game plan. That’s why we work well. Like Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan.”
Even though Pettis possibly would have been down two rounds to none had the match continued, Roufus saw his fighter doing plenty of damage in his own right even if it didn’t show up on Thompson as dramatically. This was Pettis’s first UFC fight at 170 pounds and given the size disadvantage, chopping “Wonderboy” down a peg or two was integral to setting Pettis up for success.
Roufus pointed out that much of the damage Pettis was taking was superficial and that physically he was doing well.
“Dana White and Sean Shelby came up to me after the fight and they observe the fights very carefully and they loved how Anthony was chopping Wonderboy down with the low kicks and that was the plan,” Roufus said. “The whole plan was to go five rounds and he was weathering the storm. Anthony prepared himself very well to be patient.
“That’s the thing in MMA, you get cut easy because you can’t put as much Vaseline on as you can in boxing, Muay Thai, and kickboxing. But he wasn’t hurt bad. He was breathing great in-between the first and second rounds, he was in great shape for the fight, and I wasn’t worried at all. I found him to be figuring Wonderboy out as the fight went on.”
Going forward, Roufus would like to see Pettis and some of his other fighters consider the benefits of competing closer to their walk-around weight. He pictures Pettis bouncing between the 155- and 170-pound divisions depending on what appealing matchups become available. Pettis himself mentioned post-fight that he’d welcome a welterweight bout with Conor McGregor.
As far as Pettis’s most recent win goes, Roufus had nothing but positive things to say about how “Showtime” deals with adversity, not just in that fight but in his approach to the sport and life.
“I know he’s my guy, but I’ve got to pat him on the back,” Roufus said. “The character he’s showed in the last two years of reinvigorating his career after — you know, we’ve had some really bad failures and it can break your soul. And he didn’t let it break him and here we are and I’m really proud of him for that. That took courage and guts and I just can’t say that enough, how proud I am of him.”