Prior to his fight with Anthony Hamilton at UFC 181, heavyweight Todd Duffee lamented the short window of opportunity fighters have to make the most of their time on the UFC stage. He turned 29 on the day of his fight and having lost two years due to his battles with Parsonage-Turner Syndrome, the knockout artist spoke passionately about wanting to make the most of the time he has left in his career as a fighter.
Bruce Buffer’s introduction of the heavyweight combatants took nearly twice as long as the fight itself.
Being on the sidelines for over 700 days may have left Duffee a little rusty once the bout got started, but it didn’t do anything to his blistering power, and the imposing physical specimen put a right hand on Hamilton’s temple that sent the Team Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter twisting to the canvas in a heap. In just 33 seconds, his two-year absence faded into the background and Duffee once again became an intriguing name in the heavyweight ranks.
Over the next few months, however, the division started moving – fighters continued jockeying for position and lobbying for matchups; bouts got announced; ranked talent squared off and the former itinerant trainer who now calls American Top Team home wanted to make sure he got in on the action.
So Duffee went on social media and suggested a bout with Frank Mir.
His logic was simple: a former champion with a big name, Mir was the only member of the Top 15 that was (a) coming off a victory and (b) on the same general timeline as Duffee, having knocked out Antonio Silva in February.
Mir took exception to some of the things Duffee said in trying to make the fight happen and returned fire, seemingly making tomorrow’s main event a grudge match, but that isn’t the case as far as the ATT-based heavyweight is concerned.
“I haven’t heard a lot of it,” Duffee admitted on Monday. “He was name-calling at one point when he first kind of responded a few months ago is what I was told, but I haven’t heard much of it so it’s hard for it to get under your skin when you don’t even know what’s going on.”
For the 29-year-old powerhouse, this isn’t personal at all; it’s about continuing to move forward with his career.
Less than a year ago, Duffee didn’t know if a return to the Octagon was going to be possible, as his struggle with Parsonage-Turner forcing him to take a hard look at permanently hanging up his four-ounce gloves. Now, the 9-2 heavyweight is set to take on a former titleholder in the biggest fight of his career – and his first UFC main event assignment – and he credits the people around him for helping him get to this place.
“You need to have good people around you – that’s the most important thing,” he told me back in December before his bout with Hamilton. “It’s the people that are around you because at the end of the day, your support system is everything as an athlete. If people aren’t looking out for you, people don’t care about you and they’re along for your joyride, you’re going to get in trouble quick.”
While financial considerations and proximity to family and friends were big factors in his decision to set up shop permanently at American Top Team, the former training nomad who has gotten looks in all of the best gyms across the United States feels the Coconut Creek, Florida fight camp represents the blueprint for how large teams should function going forward.
“I think it’s just a matter of them really having everything in order to run a team like that,” he said of ATT continually producing elite talent and helping rehabilitate the career of welterweight champion Robbie Lawler.
“It shows how if ran correctly, how beneficial it can be for the fighters and I think they’re really discovering how to move the pieces around and how to get everybody the proper training they need.”
Now it’s time for the once hyped prospect turned heavyweight dark horse to put that training to use and make the most of the opportunity before him Wednesday night in San Diego.
The way Duffee sees it, he’s moved into the position Mir occupied heading into his February showdown with Silva in Porto Alegre, Brazil and this bout is Mir’s chance to do for him what the Brazilian heavyweight did for the former titleholder then.
When the matchup with Silva was announced, the former champion was coming off a one-year absence and entered the bout on a four-fight losing streak, several spots below “Bigfoot” in the rankings. There wasn’t a lot of upside in taking the fight for the Brazilian, but he agreed, giving Mir the opportunity to get back in the win column and put himself back in the conversation in the heavyweight division and the Las Vegas native made the most of it.
Though Duffee is entering on a three-fight winning streak, not a four-fight losing streak, he’s still unranked at the moment and he sees tomorrow’s fight with Mir as an opportunity to pick up an impressive victory over an established veteran and continue his climb towards the top of the UFC heavyweight division.
“That’s pretty much it, yeah,” he said when presented with that assessment of this matchup.
“(And as far as who is next), I want somebody still in the Top 10. Doesn’t matter who; whoever is available.”