One of Australia’s finest Judo stand outs for two decades at both junior and senior level, Duke Didier has taken the decision to retire from the sport. Now fully committed to a run at professional Mixed Martial Arts, Didier already boasts a perfect 6-0 record with five stoppages to his credit. What’s more, Didier laid claim to the BRACE Light Heavyweight title, an accolade duly won after a five round battle against respected veteran Mike Turner.
The decision to retire from Judo came after winning gold at the Oceania Championships in his native Canberra last month. One of a long list of achievements in Judo, Didier’s impressive résumé has been hard-earned, and things haven’t always gone his own way. Having narrowly missed out on a Commonwealth Games bronze medal from Glasgow, Scotland in 2014, the seven-time Australian International Open champion could have sought redemption at next years’ Games on the Gold Coast in Queensland, but has chosen to tread a different path. A former Olympic hopeful, Didier told The MMA Vanguard that: “I honestly was intending on retiring after Glasgow, but that close loss in the medal fight definitely lit a fire in me and I decided that I wasn’t finished with Judo yet. I followed that up with 2 years of full time Judo on the international circuit which was incredibly tough, but afterwards I was finally able to close the book on Judo and start on my next path.”
He added: “After 20 years of Judo I feel like I am finally able to close the door on my career with the knowledge that I was able to achieve almost everything I set out to do. Judo is a tough and sometimes frustrating sport, but it has definitely given me a solid base to begin my MMA run.”
While that run has already begun, there’s no question Didier’s sights are calibrated towards loftier targets than national-level titles. While Mike Turner was a good test for ‘The Duke of Canberra’, Didier is no doubt eyeing competition on the biggest stages and most popular promotions in the world – and with the likes of fellow Australian Judoka and UFC ace Dan Kelly as a training partner, Didier finds himself in great company.
In actuality, it was fighters like Dan Kelly that inspired Didier to turn to MMA in the first place: “A few of the more senior members of the national Judo team such as Priscus Fogagnolo, Ivo Dos Santos and Daniel Kelly had all successfully tried their hand at MMA, so [for me the switch] was always something we talked about. Then the more I watched the sport on TV, the more I became a fan, and the more I felt like I realistically had the tools to transition into MMA.”
This wasn’t always the plan, however. Didier actually started out with ambitions to play another of Australia’s favourite sports: “Growing up as the son of rugby player I was always watching and playing rugby from a young age. At about 9 years old I was told that Judo would be a good sport to assist with rugby, and luckily enough my school just so happened to have very reputable Judo club. I immediately enjoyed the rough physicality Judo offered and eventually ditched rugby to focus solely on Judo.”
That decision continues to reap rewards in the post-Judo era of Didier’s career. With excellent clinchwork and an ability to work takedowns from a wide variety of situations, Duke’s background has also ensured an extremely high level grappling and submission game. That’s not to say Didier is resting on his laurels, however, as The MMA Vanguard would like to congratulate Duke on earning his purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from Ben Langford this past week. His striking also continues to improve training alongside five time ISKA World Heavyweight Kickboxing Champion Ben ‘The Guvnor’ Edwards.
Of Edwards, Duke says: “Working with Ben has been great, he has so much big fight experience and is great at passing along his knowledge. Benny is making his pro MMA debut in 5 weeks against a very tough and well rounded Brandon Sosoli, so our focus has now shifted to him. I’m loving that I can assist with his preparations the same way he did mine. We are building a solid little training group here in Canberra.”
The term ‘little’ may not apply for long should Edwards copy Didier in forging an extensive unbeaten run in the sport, as Australia’s capital city looks to play host to more and more multi-skilled, world class Mixed Martial Artists. Fighters like Chris Smith, Hugo Miller, and Sam Kei will attest to just how good the competition is getting.
It was back in 2011 that Didier actually debuted in MMA, and in truth he made it look easy. First round finishes of Smith and Miller under the BRACE banner set the tone for future contests, Didier able to take down both fighters early, and manipulate them into fight-ending submission holds early on. Sam Kei would fare little better. Taken down in the early stages of their fight at Capital Punishment 6, Kei was unable to prevent Didier clamping on a painful-looking armbar to make it three in a row.
When Didier got to 4-0 in 2013, however, his focus shifted back to Judo and the upcoming Commonwealth Games. While fight fans would have been wowed by Didier’s modified Omoplata submission in the second round of a bout against Michael Falula, it would be a full 23 months before he would be seen in MMA action again.
When he came back, Slav Surla awaited him. Surla proved a tough opponent to put away, and pushed Didier into unfamiliar territory before succumbing to a third round TKO. Even with split loyalties in terms of focus, Didier was winning, and more importantly, dominating.
A master at imposing his will on opponents, Didier produced one last run in Judo, before matching up with Mike Turner last month. Does Didier believe he has made the right decision? “Yes 100%,” he told us, adding: “I was so relieved to finally leave Judo behind and begin this new adventure. It is so refreshing to now be in a position where I am learning new processes and styles as opposed to just doing the same old Judo training I did for so many years.”
This exciting chapter couldn’t have got off to a better start. Five championship rounds preceded a title victory that Didier rightly holds in high esteem: “We put a lot of effort into the game plan for the Turner fight; we knew that a combination of strong take downs and solid ground positioning would be very hard to counter. With a high work rate and heavy top game we were able to nullify Mike’s strongest asset, his ground game. I’m proud of this fight as my preparation was perfect, and I listened to my coaches’ every direction during the whole fight.”
From an athlete as well-versed in combat sports as Duke Didier, we would expect little else. What will be the outcome of continued full time MMA training? “More hard work, more fights, more wins, and more dream chasing!”
Well if what we’ve seen so far is anything to go by, ‘The Duke of Canberra’ is going to be an incredibly tough competitor to stop!