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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014

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Readers Blog: Wisconsin's Combative Sports Insider

Welcome to Milwaukee: The Mixed Martial Arts Capitol of the Midwest

4755-chicocamus

In the early days of mixed martial arts fighters from around the country flocked to tiny Bettendorf, Iowa in order to learn from legendary champion and coach Pat Miletich.

Once described by ESPN The Magazine's Tim Keown as the "unofficial mecca of MMA", future stars like Matt Hughes, Tim Sylvia, and Ben Rothwell were just a few of the competitors that claimed the Iowa gym home.

However, as time passed and the sport evolved, many of the combatants began to open gyms of their own and Militech ultimately chose to pursue other passions within the industry. It seemed as if cities like Las Vegas and Albuquerque would relegate Midwestern gyms to second fiddle. But that was before the explosion of Roufusport in Milwaukee.

Since the ripe old age of four, Duke Roufus has been immersed in the world of martial arts. Beginning with American Karate alongside his family and then mastering the art of striking through an ultra-successful kickboxing and Muay Thai career, Roufus racked up a number of world titles and accolades in the ring.

But as remarkable as his individual fighting resume reads, the Milwaukee native's strongest characteristics seem to have emerged in the world of coaching. As a result, local fighters like Anthony Pettis and Ben Askren have excelled nationally, world-class fighters like Erik Koch and Alan Belcher regularly train in the area, and Milwaukee has emerged as the mixed martial arts fight capitol of the Midwest.

Hometown Talent

In some parallel universe there is a world in which Anthony Pettis never found his way to Roufusport. In that world the man known as "Showtime" focused on traditional martial arts and teaches kids every day instead of training martial arts of the mixed variety. The different paths are endless. Anthony, Sergio, and Chico Camus likely never step into the cage. Roufusport possibly remains centered upon kickboxing rather than MMA. Milwaukee is a mid-level MMA community.

Luckily, that isn't how it panned out: Pettis is one of the top lightweights in the world and arguably one of the sport's most exciting fighters in history, Sergio looks well on his way to being one of the best bantamweights on the planet, and Camus has the opportunity to make himself a permanent mainstay in the UFC's 135-pound division.

As well, the success of Roufusport has been able to lure some of Wisconsin's top talent from around the state. Undefeated Bellator champion and Olympian Ben Askren made the move back home to train under Roufus, Gerald Meerschaert packed up from Green Bay to move an hour south, and countless other professionals have made the switch for the inside knowledge and professional connections that the Roufusport camp provides.

Incredible Imports

There are a number of respectable MMA-based gyms throughout Wisconsin such as Unified Martial Arts, Chosen Few, and Rothwell MMA. However, one thing that separates Roufusport from the competition is the ability to routinely bring in top talent from around the world.

One area that has supplied Roufusport with a host of talent as of late is Iowa. Once called the "mecca", Iowan standouts like Erik Koch, Rick Glenn, and Mike Rhodes have decided to leave the comforts of home in order to better their game a few hours east - a fact that illustrates the respect and awareness other states have amassed for the Milwaukee fight team.

But it isn't just Iowans that are flocking to Milwaukee. UFC middleweight contender and Mississippian Alan Belcher, Tennessean flyweight standout Dustin Ortiz, and even Freiburg, Germany native and UFC welterweight Pascal Krauss are just a few of the out-of-state fighters that call Milwaukee home during training camp. The reach seems endless.

What It All Means

So, Roufusport helps mold local fighters and brings in guys from out of town. But does that really warrant calling Milwaukee the Midwestern fight capitol? By itself, the answer is no. But the gym is just one portion of the business that is being produced at the intersection of 76th and Bluemound.

Much like Greg Jackson in New Mexico, Roufus and business partner Scott Joffe have established one of Wisconsin's most consistent promotions in the form of the North American Fighting Championship. The organization - once called Gladiators Cage Fighting in the early days - has hosted some of the sport's top talent including Pettis, Camus, Dan Downes, Jameel Massouh, Tim Boetsch, Sam Alvey, and countless others.

Now, with the star-studded professional cards being used more sparsely, NAFC has committed itself to hosting a number of amateur cards throughout the year as well as youth Pankration events. The idea is simple: if you don't have a present you're not going to have a future. So far, it's taken Southeastern Wisconsin by storm and is embarking on a statewide tour.

The fight camp was also instrumental in bringing two major additions to Wisconsin: the regulation of mixed martial arts and UFC on Versus 5: Hardy vs. Lytle. Now that regulation has been here for some time and the UFC card has passed, people seem to forget the role that was played by Roufus and company.

From an outside perspective, the amount of importance that the Roufusport influence has brought to Wisconsin MMA is immeasurable. And with respect to other gyms in the area, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more prominent mixed martial arts gym within the Midwest.

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