Todd Duffee (top center): Dave Mandel | Sherdog.com
A year ago, Todd Duffee was one of the brightest prospects in the UFC’s heavyweight division. With a perfect record and a Herculean physique, he appeared to be on his way to contender status in no time.
What a difference a year makes.
After Duffee destroyed Tim Hague with the fastest knockout in promotional history at UFC 102 in August 2009, UFC president Dana White publicly avowed to put him on the “fast track.” A back injury, however, kept Duffee out of the cage until May, when he fought Mike Russow at UFC 114. After dominating the first two rounds of the fight despite battling a knee injury, the young stud was knocked cold by a Russow right hand late in the third period.
A little over three months later, Duffee was released from the company. He never received a formal explanation as to why he was let go, according to Duffee. After releasing the fighter, White claimed Duffee had a bad attitude and questioned the commitment of the former American Top Team standout.
“Dana never actually talked to me. The only time he talked to me was after my first fight [in the UFC], and he publicly went out and said that I had a good attitude,” says Duffee. “I gave up my entire life [to be a fighter]. The thing that was insulting to me was when he said that he didn’t know if I wanted to be in the UFC.”
Now training at the Grudge Training Center in Colorado, Duffee challenges anyone who questions his desire to be a fighter.
“My dad was dying, and I spent my dad’s last five months preparing for a fight. I didn’t go visit my dad once. I was focused on one thing and one thing only, and that’s how I’ve trained my entire career. So that kind of hurt my feelings,” says Duffee. “It was kind of hard to swallow when I heard that someone could have that kind of misconception about me, especially someone who has that much control over what I’m trying to do with my life. With a snap of someone’s fingers, everything you’ve worked so hard for goes down the sh--ter.”
Duffee now fields questions regarding whether he will ever fight again, a process the heavyweight finds frustrating considering his self-confessed commitment to the sport.
“I have a horrible attitude because Dana White says I have a horrible attitude. That’s frustrating, you know?” Duffee says. “I can’t tell you how hard that is to swallow. My last five and a half years have been based around only fighting. I don’t have friends. I don’t go hang out and party. I’m not that kind of guy.”
Naturally, when a prospect of Duffee’s caliber is suddenly cut from the world’s top MMA promotion, media and fans alike will speculate as to why. One theory stems from a post Duffee made on a prominent mixed martial arts Internet forum in August, wherein the fighter wrote that he was looking for a weekend job in Denver and that he was tired of being completely broke.
“I know a lot of people say that I was complaining about money, and I wasn’t. I was getting paid more than fair. I’m on the same track as guys like Travis Browne,” says Duffee. “You could pay me $100,000 right now, and I’m still going to have a weekend job, because I have a set training schedule [in Denver] that I didn’t have in Vegas. That made a lot of people mad, but I don’t know why.”
Another theory that arose centered on Duffee’s role in the upcoming film “Never Back Down 2.” Duffee was scheduled to fight HIT Squad product Jon Madsen at UFC 121 but withdrew, citing the same knee injury that hindered him against Russow in May. If Duffee was not healthy enough to fight, why would he be healthy enough to act in the movie? However, the fighter claims the situation did not unfold that way.
“I accepted the role, but I wasn’t going to do it, because they told me they didn’t want me doing it. That’s not a problem. I’m not an actor,” says Duffee. “Then [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva came up to me at an expo and told me to go ahead and do the movie. I still didn’t really want to do it, because I wanted to concentrate more on getting healthy and getting ready to fight sooner.”
Duffee asserts he never signed a contract to fight Madsen at UFC 121 and claims he put off signing his film contract so he could put his MMA career first.
“I never personally agreed to [fight Madsen]; my manager did. They all really wanted that fight for me because it was on the Brock [Lesnar] card. I was just asking for a couple of weeks to see if I could get healthy to take that fight,” says Duffee. “I just didn’t feel comfortable taking a fight injured in hopes that I’ll be able to get ready. Once I got cut, I was on set for like a week before I signed [the movie contract], just in case I got a phone call [from the UFC] saying, ‘Hey, let’s get you a new contract. Let’s get you back in the UFC.’”
With the dust settled surrounding Duffee’s release, he has focused on returning to training full time. His injured knee still healing, he does not plan on rushing the recovery. Rest, the fighter says, remains a much more palatable alternative to going under the knife.
“I’m going to try to ease into it and be smart for a change, but I’m not having the same kind of issues I was previously,” says Duffee. “My big thing is I try to avoid surgery at all costs. Surgery is a last-ditch effort. If it doesn’t work, then you’ll have [a really bad] situation, you know?”
Though returning to the company that cut him loose is not currently at the top of the Duffee’s list, he remains open to fighting for the UFC again when the time is right.
“I have a lot to prove, and the UFC is the place to be,” he says. “They’ve definitely helped evolve this sport. They’ve pushed it. They’ve made a lot of good things happen for this sport. I don’t have a reason why I wouldn’t want to be there. I mean, I’d like an explanation [for why they released me], but I don’t expect it.”
Duffee has not yet received any offers from fight promotions. Once the 24-year-old returns to action, he hopes to fight as frequently as possible.
“I’d like to rattle four or five fights off on average a year,” he says. “I’m not saying that I’m going to stay away from the big organizations, but I don’t want to be trapped. I want to [avoid] a non-compete clause in any contract I end up signing so I can compete on a regular basis. When you go out and fight only every eight or nine months, you don’t get the feel.”