Photos by Dave Fogarty/BAMMA
When you mention French bantamweight sensation Tom Duquesnoy to anybody who has followed his career, the conversation quickly turns to when he will sign for UFC. An enviable position to be in, such is the skill set of 'Firekid' that he has the whole European MMA community screaming for his Octagon debut. Yet, you rarely hear the 22-year-old mention the world's flagship promotion.
When he competed at featherweight he was deemed one of the most highly touted prospects in the world. Now that he has moved down to bantamweight his showings have been even more impressive.
Despite claiming two first round knockouts in as many tests at his new weight class, Duquesnoy insists that he is still in no rush to make his Octagon debut.
"I'm in no rush," explained the BAMMA featherweight and bantamweight champion. "Since early on in my career I always respected the physical and psychological process. I have a long-term vision for that. I'm not in a hurry because I have worked for this since I was 12-years-old.
"I want to take things step by step before I go to the UFC. I see UFC as a long-term partner. We will do good business together, but for the moment, I still want to improve my skill set so I can give them the best entertainment."
Of course, a talent like Duquesnoy has not gone unnoticed by the powers that be. According to the French fighter, he already has a "good relationship" with UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby.
"I've been in touch with Sean Shelby, the matchmaker for the lighter weight classes. We have met each other and we have a good relationship. I mail him a lot. I'll know when I'm ready and when I am, we are going to do great stuff together. At the moment, I'm still in the process of making myself the best in the world."
Should mixed martial arts be legalized in his native France, Duquesnoy would be an obvious draw for the national supporters of the sport. Although he admits it would be an honor to be a part of such an event, Duquesnoy believes the sport has a long way to go before being made legal in the country.
He said: "It would be a huge pleasure to be a part of UFC's first card in France. I have a lot of fans in my country and especially in Paris. It would be a great pleasure to fight in front of my fan base.
"As we're speaking about this, I can't see UFC hosting an event in France being easy. MMA is still illegal in France, but someday UFC will put something on the table that will bring a lot of money into the country. We'll see, maybe things will change in France when that happens. I certainly hope so."
As mentioned earlier, Duquesnoy has looked even more devastating since dropping down to 135 lbs. He forced roars from the Dublin crowd when he collapsed national champion Damian Rooney for his 135 lbs debut in February. He took BAMMA's bantamweight title when he folded champion Shay Walsh in one round with a stunning elbow last month.
Duquesnoy stated that the drop down was planned because he always knew that he wanted to compete at bantamweight when eventually moves over to UFC.
"I feel much better at bantamweight. Before at featherweight, my opponents were getting up to 165 before we fought and I was still between 150 and 152. It's been very different moving down and I feel like I'm on a level playing field with my opponents now.
"If we are at the same level of skill, but the opponent is way heavier, it makes a difference. Now I'm walking around at 145 and I just need to go on a simple diet to get down to 135. I think that works a lot better for me. My opponents can be a little bit taller and heavier even at bantamweight, but not the same level it was at featherweight.
"There was a lot of planning behind the move down to bantamweight, but I always knew that it would be the weight division I would compete at when I eventually go to UFC."
It's not just Duquesnoy's skill set that separates him from the rest of the field, but his outlook on the sport is very refreshing in a time full of forced wars of words and braggadocios behavior. More than most of his peers, 'Firekid' is always full of praise when it comes to his opponents.
"If I had a great performance, it's because of my opponent. If there is no opponent, there is no performance. It's very natural for me to think that way. It is not natural for me to trash talk people.
"I just don't do it. If I force myself to do something, it won't seem natural. I just want to be natural. I do this sport to cater to my philosophy. I love to travel. I love to discover new things. I love to work every day to make my life better.
"That hard work makes me humble. Trash talking is not me. It's not me, it's not my tradition and it does not fall in line with family's beliefs.
"I have a lot of respect for my opponents because I know what it means to be a fighter. I know how hard it is to put all the work together to get into the cage. You must sacrifice your life. You sacrifice your diet. You have to travel all over the world to get the best training. It's a lot of stress and a lot of pressure. It doesn't make sense to me to trash talk a guy who does the same work as me every day."
You can't help but think the years the young fighter has dedicated to the fight game has made him more respectful of his counterparts. Since he was 12 years of age, Duquesnoy has worked towards his goal of becoming a UFC fighter.
"I started at the age of 12 with combat Sambo. At 13 or 14, I was already training in MMA. By 15, I started to watch the old Pride events and realized that I wanted to be a fighter in the UFC. My father would buy me all of the DVDs so I could watch it.
"I just felt like I could do something in that game. I knew that I had a lot of potential but I needed to work hard. The legal age to practice MMA in competition is 18, so I said to myself 'from the ages of 14 to 18 I will compete in everything else.'
"I competed in Muay Thai, boxing, wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu–everything–to get the most experience I can get. I just wanted to make sure I was as ready as I can be when I turned 18."
Now sharpening his tools under the watchful eye of Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, Duquesnoy spoke about training at the world-renowned Albuquerque facility.
"The coaches are amazing and I always feel like it is the coaches who give the gym its atmosphere. You come here and you keep your ego outside of the gym and you work to help your training partners. That's the idea of the gym. When you understand that you can enjoy every day you spend out there."
Finally, the French star gave a final comment on when we will see him enter the Octagon for the first time.
"I think I'm ready for the UFC, but the thing is, I don't just want to be ready. I want to be ready to take the belt when I fight for them."