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Duke Roufus Responds to Team Members’ Abuse Allegations: “Things Have Changed”

(MMA H.E.A.T’s Karyn Bryant talks with Rose Namajunas, Pat Barry, and former Roufusport training partner L-Dogg.) 

The death of kickboxer Dennis Munson Jr. in March was a horrific, completely avoidable tragedy, and one that has spurned several former students of Duke Roufus to speak out against the allegedly abusive and negligent training methods employed by the Roufusport fight club. Chief among the dissenters has been TUF 20 contestant Rose Namajunas, a Milwaukee native and former UFC fighter Eric Schafer, who referred to Roufus as “one of the worst people I have ever met” on a recent UG post in support of Rose. The hard numbers haven’t helped either — Roufusport was recently determined to be the most injury-prone camp in MMA, with fighters withdrawing due to injury in 16.6% of their scheduled fights.

But so it goes, there are always two sides to a story. In an interview with MMAJunkie last night, Roufus — along with former UFC/Roufusport fighter Danny Downes — responded to Namajunas’ allegations.

You know, when I see Rose and (former UFC fighter) Pat Barry, they don’t seem disgruntled. They’re very nice to me. Pat asked me advice at the last Glory (kickboxing) event. Rose came and trained at our gym in spring. Eric Schafer, I know we’ve had some issues. I’ve tried to reach out ever since he left Roufusport, and he didn’t want to ever sit down and chat with me. It’s tough.

I think they left in 2010. It’s 2014. If you look at the results of what the kids are doing right now, and just the evolution of MMA, things have changed. Back then, I don’t think we embraced strength and conditioning as much. We were trying to spar ourselves into shape. My philosophy now, four short years later, is completely opposite of that.

Several other fighters who opted to speak with MMAJunkie under the promise of anonymity claimed that, while the physical abuse was was always a big problem while fighting for Roufusport, the main issue was verbal and psychological abuse in the gym, often following a loss. Former Roufusport/UFC fighter Danny Downes attempted to shed some light on this:

Downes recalled his first fight in the WEC, which he lost via submission at the hand of Chris Horodecki after taking the bout on short notice. Afterward, he said, Roufus had some unkind words about his wrestling ability, and that stung.

“But he was right; I did need to work on my wrestling,” Downes said. “Duke’s the kind of guy where, if you did a sh-tty job, he’ll tell you that you did a sh-tty job.”

We hear a lot about positive reinforcement, but not usually the converse,” Downes said. “Fighting is about negative reinforcement. Not good at blocking a cross? Well, you just got punched in the face. Not doing so well at sparring? Then you hear about it. The trick is to find the balance, and oftentimes that balance was not met.

As for his feelings regarding “Thug” Rose, Roufus could only state that he was “disappointed” in them, as well as confused why Rose chose to return to her gym following Munson’s death knowing what she knew.

If that’s how you felt, why did you come to my gym to train in the spring, after Dennis had passed? This happened March 29. She came through after that to train with us.

So basically, it’s a lot of “he-said, she-said” at the moment, which is to be expected. Still, a young man is now dead, and his death lies largely in the hands of Roufus’ team and the officials deemed competent enough to protect him. While Roufus did defend the ringside physician and referee chosen for Munson’s fight, he could not pretend that his loss was anything other than tragic.

I have a hard time putting it into words, because it hurts. I have a huge hole in my heart with the loss of Dennis. The harsh reality of combat sports hits home sometimes, and it’s hurtful. … It’s awful, and we all hurt over here.

-J. Jones

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