K-1, Strikeforce, Sengoku, and a third stint in the UFC—Duane “Bang” Ludwig has been around the block.
MMA legend Don Frye and UFC welterweight Duane Ludwig are signing autographs at the Mr. Olympia Expo in Las Vegas at the FIGHT! booth. Here’s the problem. Half the time, the muscled-up crowd is not exactly sure who Ludwig is. Most of the time, they are too busy staring at their own abs. Sure, Don Frye, an original gansta, has street credit outside the MMA sphere and is more easily recognized, with a distinct look that includes his trademark mustache and cowboy hat. Ludwig is a bit more nondescript, and when a tentative passerby asks him if he’s Cowboy Cerrone, Bang says, “Yeah, hee-haw,” and he signs an autograph with Cerrone’s name. Ludwig laughs it off, rips up the picture that he just Hancocked, and says, “No, man, my name is Duane Ludwig,” and he signs the fan an actual autograph, even coming out from behind the table to pose for a pic.
Here’s a guy who has fought around the globe, in the biggest MMA promotions in the world, and he’s completely grounded. There is no sense of bigheadedness, even though there could be. Ludwig has wins over Jens Pulver (back in 2003 when Pulver was vicious), Genki Sudo, Jonathan Goulet, Yves Edwards, and, in the last 12 months in the UFC, Nick Osipczak and Amir Sadollah. The Sadollah victory at UFC Live: Hardy vs. Lytle in August may be the fight that gets Ludwig on the radar of many new UFC fans. When you beat a TUF winner, it resonates with even the casual MMA folks.
“The Sadollah win was good for me as far as recognition goes,” says Ludwig. “And, it’s all about recognition if you want to make some money these days. Hell, I’d fight for free if I didn’t have a wife and two kids to provide for now. In fact, I’ve been in this game for 18 years, I have fought for free.”
NO MORE FREEBIES
With 32 MMA fights and 51 kickboxing contests under his belt, the 33-year-old Ludwig is no stranger to combat sports, and his body knows it. Before his fight with Sadollah, Ludwig couldn’t even spar because of a compressed disk in his neck. But he went ahead with surgery after the fight and is looking to be back in the Octagon in December or January.
In the meantime, Ludwig’s latest undertaking has him in a different kind of fight. He wants the UFC record for fastest knockout—his 2006 KO of Jonathan Goulet at UFC Fight Night 3 that would have brought the dromedary to its knees. Ludwig is a kidder, but he’s not kidding about the record. He sent a packet to the Nevada State Athletic Commission in September that contained a video of the fight, as well as a link to a Facebook petition to have the result changed from 11 seconds to four seconds. Why the timekeeper decided to write down 11 seconds is a mystery to everyone. But that was 2006, so a ring-tailed lemur could have been running the stopwatch and no one would have batted an eye.
“The Commission is going to take a look at it and hopefully make a decision,” says Ludwig. “At the very least, it would be cool if Dana White and the UFC recognized the record, because it would be something good for me—the exposure is fun, and I love the fans who support me. I’ve been learning to play the game, so to speak.”
For years, Ludwig spanned the globe like Delta, fighting K-1 in Japan and MMA across North America. He’s one of the few guys who has successfully fought in the two disciplines simultaneously. In 2006, Ludwig made the permanent move to MMA—and he’s not looking back.
“Honestly, I’ve fought K-1 in Japan, and it’s a nightmare,” he says. “Short-notice fights, changing opponents, delayed paydays—it’s ridiculous. It’s so nice to be back in the UFC. It’s like, ‘Here’s who you are fighting two months in advance. Here’s your plane ticket. Here’s your money. Go fight.’ What more could a fighter want?”
The fight game, however, wasn’t always this easy for Bang. He had a few rough goes trying to get his 185-pound body down to the 155-pound lightweight limit, so he decided to make the move from lightweight to welterweight before his fight with Osipczak last year, and he feels like he’s found his poundage promise land.
“Now, I go into the gym every day and work on how to get better,” he says. “It’s not about going in there and cutting calories. I feel great at welterweight. I’ve never felt overpowered in any exchanges, and I know I still have my power.”
Ludwig definitely has the power. More than half of his 21 MMA wins have come via (T)KO. He also has a bit of the Chris Lytle swagger—the mentality to go out there and put on exciting fights, win, lose, or draw.
“I want to get as many fights as I can and make as much money as I can,” Ludwig says. “But the truth is, I love fighting. It’s what I do for fun. I’m just going to go out there and perform to the best of my ability and hope that I can pay my mortgage and provide for my family. It took some time for me to realize that, but over the last couple of years I’ve started to figure it out.”
What fans are starting to figure out is that Ludwig is a dangerous fighter with power in his eight limbs. Even so, he wants people to realize that he’s no sprawl-and-brawler. He may have a Muay Thai background, but that doesn’t mean he’s not comfortable on the mat.
“Look, this is MMA, it’s not K-1,” he says. “You’ve got to be able to go anywhere the fight goes, and that’s what I’m working toward. I’m going to get my BJJ black belt before it’s over with, and I feel like I’m a natural wrestler, even though I never wrestled growing up. It’s all coming together.”
Everything is starting to come together for Bang, which is refreshing because he’s a real character with a lot of personality. Another muscled-up Mr. Olympia patron walks by and asks Ludwig, “Who are you?”
“I’m a bad mo-fo,” Ludwig says with a laugh.
“Awesome, can I have your autograph?” says the meathead.
“Five bucks, bro,” says Ludwig jokingly, and then he signs the picture and jumps up for a quick snapshot. He is a bad mo-fo.
LEARNING FROM THE BEST
Duane Ludwig had the opportunity to meet and train with Bas “El Guapo” Rutten before his fight with Kevin Randlemen in 1999. Ludwig was an impressionable 21-year-old at that time.
“Bas is intense,” says Ludwig. “He’s like a human Jack Russell Terrier. He’s full-bore all the time. His work ethic is second to none. The man is a legend, and he taught me how to train. I met him in Colorado before his Randleman fight and really learned so much from him. After that, I would travel to California and train at his gyms. I didn’t have a lot of money back then, and Bas never took a penny from me. He’s just that kind of guy—the best ambassador our sport has.”