Dodging Bullets

By Brian Knapp Mar 26, 2011
Mike Russow (top) is a Chicago police officer. | Dave Mandel/

The unmistakable sound of gunfire sent Mike Russow diving back into his squad car.

As they neared the conclusion of their 10-hour shift, Russow, a patrol officer with the Chicago Police Department, and his partner answered what they believed to be another routine “shots fired” call. “You get calls like that 10 times a night where we work,” Russow says. However, it turned out to be anything but typical.

“This lady comes running out,” Russow says, recalling the 2007 incident with cold clarity. “She brought us around to the front, and we heard two shots. The guy then let off four or five rounds. My partner was shot in the hand.”

Instinctively, Russow dove for cover and beckoned S.W.A.T. for assistance, left to wait and wonder how it might all unfold. Mere minutes seemed like an eternity. He had seen the good, bad and ugly of law enforcement, but to live it was a different animal. The situation was ultimately diffused and the gunman taken into custody, but it was a sobering reminder of the line between life and death that Russow and others in his profession straddle daily.

“Anything can happen at any time,” he says, a chilling matter-of-fact tone in his voice.

A professional mixed martial artist since 1998, Russow has dodged his share of figurative MMA bullets, as well. In his second Octagon appearance at UFC 114 in May, the Pride Fighting Championships veteran encountered the gifted but rough-around-the-edges Todd Duffee in a featured heavyweight tilt at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Russow was a 3-to-1 underdog as he entered the cage against a man who seemed part prizefighter, part Greek god, at least on the surface.

From the outset, it played to perception’s script, as Duffee’s heavy artillery left its mark. Russow sustained a broken left arm in the first round, the product of a blocked kick, and absorbed an intense beating for the better part of 10 minutes. His cause seemed lost. Clearly behind on the scorecards, Russow unfurled a pair of nuclear right hands, and Duffee fell backward, his head bouncing off the canvas like a bowling ball. In a blink, the punches had wiped out a brilliant night’s work for Duffee, who had Russow reeling from several stiff uppercuts, one of which drove him to a knee inside the first five minutes. As knockouts go, few can be considered more improbable.

Jon Madsen file photo

Madsen weighed 261 on Friday.
“That was about as one-sided a fight as I’ve ever seen in my life,” UFC President Dana White said afterward. “Imagine if somebody came up and said, ‘I’ll bet you a thousand dollars Russow knocks him out in this round.’ You’d have taken it. That probably was one of the biggest comebacks ever.”

Russow’s chin had withstood a nightmarish onslaught, affording him the opportunity to spring the upset. Though the finish dazzled many, Russow was not among them. Not even the $65,000 in “Knockout of the Night” bonus money dulled his disappointment.

“I was really disappointed in that fight,” he says. “I was not happy with that fight at all. Out of all my fights, that was the first one that stayed standing for that long. I’m usually in there taking guys down, but I broke my arm in the first round. I guess I showed my heart.”

The break occurred below the elbow and did not require surgery, but it left Russow in a cast for roughly two months and kept him out of the cage for nearly a full calendar year.

Now recovered, he will lock horns with unbeaten “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 quarterfinalist Jon Madsen at UFC Fight Night 24 “Nogueira vs. Davis” on Saturday at the KeyArena in Seattle. Russow, who arrived in The Emerald City on Tuesday, will carry a nine-fight winning streak into the match, which pits him against a former NCAA wrestling champion with whom he has trained in the past.

“He’s a tough opponent,” says Russow, who suffered his only career defeat against Sergei Kharitonov in February 2007. “He’s 4-0 in the UFC. He’s a strong wrestler and a good counter puncher. We both kind of know each other a little bit. I trained with him twice, mostly with my jiu-jitsu.”

A victory over Madsen would likely put the once-beaten Russow in position for more meaningful and lucrative fights in what remains a relatively thin and top-heavy division. The 6-foot-2, 253-pound Chicagoan has finished eight of his last nine foes, six of them by submission. He has Madsen in his crosshairs.

“Right now, my only focus is getting past Jon Madsen,” Russow says. “I want to be up there in the next tier, hopefully near the top.”

Win or lose, Russow plans to return to his job as a police officer once he settles his affairs with Madsen in the cage. He works as part of the Target Response Unit, a patrol division that travels into high-risk crime areas on the south side of Chicago in hopes that its presence serves as a deterrent.

“I’ve been a police officer for eight years,” Russow says. “It was something I always wanted to do. I had a boxing coach in high school who was a police chief, so I was always around those guys. There’s a freedom to being in your squad car, with no bosses constantly looking over your shoulder. I’m not one of those guys who can sit behind a desk for eight hours.”

He admits the environment in which he competes falls short of the ideal. Russow works the night shift, 5 p.m. to 3 a.m., and trains in the late morning and early afternoon. Recently married, he has a wife and a soon-to-be 1-year-old daughter, Ella, for which to provide.

“I’d really like to concentrate on fighting,” Russow says, “but I’ve got to pay the bills.”

Russow turns 35 in November. He has no thoughts of early retirement.

“I want to fight as long as I’m healthy,” he says. “I think I have at least a good four years left in me. If I get to a point where I’m losing, I’ll definitely stop, but it works for me.”

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