The phrase “hometown hero” is thrown around quite a bit, and a lot of times it’s used improperly. A guy from Fort Worth, Texas takes on a guy from Denver, Colorado at an event in Houston and, suddenly, Fort Worth is a suburb of Houston even though they’re four hours apart. At UFC on FOX 2, that will not be the case with the born and bred Chicagoan, who trains in The Windy City, and, when he’s not competing, he’s literally keeping the Second City’s streets safe as a police officer. On January 28th, a real “hometown hero” will battle in the Octagon and will hopefully receive the thunderous ovation he deserves: Mike Russow.
“It's exciting and it's awesome,” says Russow of competing in his Illinois backyard. “I don't have to travel, which is good. But it makes you more nervous because a lot more friends and family will be there who normally wouldn't be there. It does add more pressure, but I look forward to it and I'm excited. Getting to fight in the United Center - it's a great place.”
In “The House that Jordan Built”, UFC heavyweight Russow will look to keep his impressive 10 fight winning streak alive in a clash with Norwegian grappler John-Olav Einemo. Since joining the UFC in August of 2009, Russow has remained undefeated inside the Octagon with three wins: a unanimous decision over Justin McCully, a “Knockout of the Night” over Todd Duffee, and, most recently, a second round TKO (doctor stoppage) against Jon Madsen. Russow’s staggering professional record of 14-1, 1 NC is a rare commodity, especially in the ultra competitive heavyweight division, where one mistake can usually mean the end of a fight.
The 35-year old active duty Chicago police officer last stepped inside the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 24 in March 2011. “I knew it was going to be a tough fight because I knew Madsen was a tough kid with good wrestling,” tells Russow of the previously undefeated TUF alum, who had trained with Russow a couple times at Team DeathClutch in Minnesota. “I think he was 4-0 in the UFC when I fought him. I think it was a solid win and I was pretty happy with my performance. I figured it was going to be on our feet and I definitely wanted to get a knockout.”
Although he forced a doctor stoppage at the end of the second round, Russow wasn’t sold on his standup showing and believed he should have done better. “I wasn't real happy with my standup because I was really only throwing one punch and then kind of hanging around instead of putting combinations together and moving,” admits the former NCAA Division I wrestler from Eastern Illinois University, who has been pushing himself in training to become more dynamic on the feet. “I kind of figured going into that fight it was going to be a lot of standup and I didn't think I was going to be able to take him down as easy as I did because I knew he was a good wrestler. I definitely have been trying to make my standup to the next level. I definitely think I'm getting more confident, but I'm wrestling and jiu-jitsu first.”
With all the strides this heavyweight has made as a mixed martial artist, one thing that has held Russow back are long layoffs between UFC fights. During his three years with the organization, Russow has competed only once a year, with 2011 looking to finally break that cycle until the unexpected happened. Originally, Russow was scheduled to fight at UFC 136 in October against the 21-2 Dave Herman, but Herman was forced out of the bout. But there is a “silver lining” and it is twofold: he’s now fighting in Chicago and Russow’s had back-to-back full training camps to improve as a fighter and athlete.
“I have been able to stay in shape,” states Russow. “I took a week off after UFC 136 just because that was a long camp, but since then I've been pretty much going full-time. We've really picked up the sprints and doing more running than we did in the last camp. The intensity has been higher, the workouts have been harder, and conditioning wise, I think I was in great shape last time, but this time we started doing sprints and stuff about six weeks out instead of waiting until four weeks. We've done a lot of sprints and running for this camp, which is something we always do, but we've been having some real hard workouts and started it out earlier, so I think I'm going to be in even better shape. I always think my conditioning is pretty good. I have a belly, I'm fat and some people see that, but I'm always in good shape. I think as I'm getting older and we're doing these camps I think we're tweaking them and being smarter about the way we do things. I think I'm in the best shape right now. I hope that it pays off and I have a ton of energy and hopefully we put on an exciting fight.”
At UFC on FOX 2, Russow’s new challenger is world renowned Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Einemo. “The Viking” made his UFC debut last June in a second round TKO loss to Herman that was awarded “Fight of the Night” honors. It had been six years since the 6-2 Einemo had competed in an MMA bout, but “ring rust” was not too evident as “The Viking” swung heavy leather at Herman and scored a couple takedowns. Even though he lost, Einemo showed off a standup attack learned from the Dutch kickboxers of Golden Glory, which adds a new element of danger to the already well-decorated submission artist.
“I think he's a very tough opponent,” asserts Russow. “Obviously, his grappling is something to look out for because he's a world champion. That's one of the main concerns we really have focused on for this camp - he's very dangerous on the ground. Even if I take him to the ground or if he takes me down - he's dangerous. That's what he's good at. But from what I've seen from him on the tapes, he tries to throw the hard punches too. He likes to throw hard and straight punches. He throws a good 1-2. A lot of times, he likes to lead off with his right hand. He likes to stand on the feet. In the Dave Herman fight, he only took him down like once and the rest of the time they fought on their feet. I definitely think I can get the takedowns on him. That is my goal to get the takedowns and once I get him down to stay in good position.”
In training for each of his fights especially a ground fighter like Einemo, Russow’s resident “ace in the hole” is Rodrigo "Comprido" Medeiros. “One thing I'm fortunate to have is ‘Comprido,’ who is my jiu-jitsu coach who I have had for three, four years now,” boasts Russow of the Carlson Gracie BJJ black belt, who has won multiple grappling world championships. “I love jiu-jitsu and I think I get better every year. Fortunately, I have ‘Comprido’ and he's been able to simulate a lot of what John likes to do, like grabbing your back and stuff like that. I think anyone can be beat in any area; it just depends on the right timing and situation, so I'll definitely try to finish him on the ground if the timing and situation are there.”
This weekend, two heavyweights are set to tangle, with Russow squaring off against Einemo. “I really think no matter where it goes, whether it goes to the ground or stays on the feet, that I'll be fine,” affirms Russow, and even though he will face his toughest opponent to date, he has had ample time to prepare and is ready to get a win in his hometown. “I've had a month off of work for this fight, which is something I've never had. I used all my vacation days for January to February. I've been able to sleep and work out in the mornings and work out at night and I'm really excited, so it should be my best fight.”
Move over Derrick Rose, Brian Urlacher and Kanye West, if Russow wins Saturday night, there will be a real “hometown hero” watching the throne in Chi-Town.
For Russow, Home Is Where The Fight Is
"I really think no matter where it goes, whether it goes to the ground or stays on the feet, that I'll be fine." - Mike Russow