Tom Duquesnoy BAMMA 18. BAMMA / Marc Moggridge 2016. No unauthorised use without written consent.

Despite being on the cusp of his second world championship, French fighter Tom Duquesnoy remains adamant that motivation stems from his continual ‘journey’ in mixed martial arts and not his potential ‘destination’ in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

No stranger to wearing gold around his waist, at BAMMA 25 the BAMMA Featherweight champion has the opportunity to become the promotion’s first duel weight world champion. Although, standing in the way of his historic achievement is Bantamweight champion Shay Walsh.

Duquesnoy travels to Birmingham riding a surreal wave of momentum. The world continues to talk about the “Fire Kid’s” prospects as the future of the 135lb division; a judgement which can only be solidified with a win over Walsh.

The 22 year-old expects Walsh to pressure him throughout the fight, but believes his own full-time move to the Jackson Wink MMA Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico has given him the preparation needed to remedy the awkward and rangy style of the defending champion

He said: “Shay has the possibilities to shoot in wrestling at any moment of the fight, so our preparation belongs to that point.

“He’s got some weapons, he’s a really tough opponent, so we just work with all the coaching and boxing with Greg Jackson and Brandon Gibson, with Mike Winkeljohn, with my boxing coach and wrestling coach to put a game plan that belongs to the next fight.”

The French native’s move to Albuquerque has been in the making for the past year. Duquesnoy has slowly made the gym a bigger part of his training camp every fight, with his title bout against Walsh the first time he has dedicated an entire camp to coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn.

At such a young age, Duquesnoy made the life changing decision to move across the Atlantic in hopes of progressing his MMA career. He has swapped the bustling and lively streets of Paris for a much quieter and unassuming lifestyle in New Mexico. It was a bold move by the fighter who originates from the mining town of Lens, one which will have will likely have huge repercussions in the longevity of his career.

“It’s like my second home right now, it’s been like one year and a half back and forth between Paris and Albuquerque. I’m 50 per cent of my time here, 50 per cent of my time in Paris. I’ve got my habits, I’ve got my friends, I got my hobbies here. It’s a big town, it’s quite a quiet town too so you’ve just got to compose with it. I feel good here man, other than that I don’t have the choice as I will spend the next ten years here probably.

“I’ve got two more fights with BAMMA after I still don’t know if I will re-sign with BAMMA or another organisation. I [will] give myself some time to think about it, but definitely I will live here permanently 100 per cent of the time then when I have got a fight, come back to Paris two weeks before like now and get the fight and come back here as soon as I can.”

Tom Duquesnoy poses at the top of the stage ahead of his fight at BAMMA 18 against Krzysztof Klaczek

Cornering Duquesnoy for his pivotal Featherweight title clash this Saturday, Jackson-Wink head coach Greg Jackson will be making the near 5,000 mile trip from Albuquerque to Birmingham. It will be the first time in the Frenchman’s 13 fight career that Jackson will corner Duquesnoy, another historic first on his rise through the Bantamweight ranks.

“I’m really grateful, I’m really honoured that he [will] fly over the Atlantic to help me for my next fight,” said Tom. “It’s the sign of a long term partnership between him and me, and Jackson-Wink and me because in the long-term, Mike Winkeljohn will come in my corner too. It’s just enjoyable that you work the whole day with Greg then he will come in your corner, it’s the next logical step. I’m still grateful it happened because he really is a busy man and he has a lot of champions to take care of.”

On September 19, 2015, Duquesnoy fought the toughest test of his career. It was a fateful night in Dublin, Ireland. BAMMA’s first show on Irish territory and a fight where Duquesnoy had to dig deep to get the victory over a very hungry Brendan Loughnane.

After breaking his hand in the first round of the fight, “Fire Kid” showed heart to combat Loughnane’s work rate and range. As the Featherweight champion would go on to admit, it was a very close fight, and a decision still debated today.

“Last fight against Brendan was a tough fight, so I got three months on the sideline because of my broken hand.

“You have doubts and the goal for a fighter is to work on it and say ‘I trust in myself’. Actually the victory against Brendan was a close decision, that’s a fact but it brings me a lot of stuff for the next [chapter] of my career.”

With six months on the sidelines, Duquesnoy had much to prove upon his return. Returning to the place of his toughest conquest, he showed exactly what he had been working on in his time away from the cage. Showcasing his dynamic boxing game in his bout against Damien Rooney, the Frenchman scored the first knockout finish of his four year MMA career.

“All the work on my boxing game, the transfer of power, the real efficiency, I worked on all that stuff in Albuquerque and it worked. So it means I am on the right path because that was my first knockout that I won. That was the first time in my career and I was really happy about that and I can’t wait to test if it works on Shay Walsh.”

Humility has always been a defining characteristic of the French champion. Having stepped foot inside the BAMMA cage six times, UKMMA fans have bared witness to his growth from a young and raw fighter, into a man defined by his travels and growing experience of the world.

“The travels made me. Every time you do a travel, you say ‘why did I wait such a long time to get to Brazil or Thailand’ because you just discovered [it] yourself, you’re just humble. It’s just a humble experience that you didn’t know nothing before. Also you know that every time you get to travel, you meet a new person, you can evolve your spirit you can evolve yourself. You can be arrogant about that, but I just think it is life that has made me humble. All the people that I have inspired by, they are humble, so I guess it just put some humbleness on me.”

Tom Duquesnoy sharing a special moment with his Father
Tom Duquesnoy sharing a special moment with his Father

For Duquesnoy, it’s not just about his travels, his humbleness falls much closer to home as well. The huge part his father continues to play in his career characterises the kind of person and the kind of champion he aspires to be.

Duquesnoy admittedly, is very ‘grateful’ of the special relationship he holds with his dad. His parents split when he was just eight years old and Duquesnoy was subsequently raised by his father. At the age of 12 his dad took him to his first martial arts class – a decade later, he stands on the verge of witnessing his son win a second major world championship belt.

“That’s maybe my Father too in my education who made me understand very early in my life that you have be respectful, grateful, you have to be calm. Other than that be authentic.

“We were talking just before about the Brendan fight, because my Father is always in my corner even when I was a wrestler a boxer a muay thai guy, all those kind of martial arts. He knows me like my heart, he knows my psychology, in which field I need to work on. His goal is to make me a better man and a better fighter, so I will always need him in my corner because he helps me a lot. Especially after the Brendan fight, every day he spoke to me about the things I needed to work on and that’s what made the difference in the long term vision because right now I’ve got my KO power back.

“We write the history every day, the fact my Father is there at the end of every one of my fights is a really important part of my success. He has to be there at the end of the fight when the pictures are coming, he has to be there when the decision is on my side, I need him. When I win and I lose I need him because he is the man.”

In an age of MMA where it seems that so many fighters want to rush their careers, aspiring, pining for a UFC call up. Duquesnoy, quite frankly, breaks the mould. A young man in no hurry to be anywhere fast, Duquesnoy’s journey to happiness far outweighs his probable destination in the world’s biggest MMA organisation, the UFC.

“It’s part of my dream but it’s just a goal, for me it’s do-able on the short-term vision, that’s not a dream that’s just an athlete’s expectation. That’s just the next step, then it will a next step again. My dream is to make my people happy, get to live the life I want to live, that’s my dream to be healthy, to be good in my mind. Now BAMMA title, it’s a way to get to this happiness, that’s the journey, that’s not the destination.

“No, I think that we can’t reach the ultimate destination because there is always something better to do for yourself. The BAMMA title, then UFC title, our goals on the journey.

“For me it’s just the next step. I’m really humble about that, I have to work my ass off every day to get to those expectations. It’s a good pressure to me. Every fight is really important, every fight is a step for my career so I will always have that kind of pressure. Now it becomes more global, but at the end of the day you step into the cage and you do your work.

“That’s what I think. Because before you can be a champion in the cage, you have to be a champion outside of the cage. If you’re champion in the cage and outside you do all kinds of shit, then for me you’re not a real champion.”

Can Tom Duquesnoy become BAMMA’s first two-weight world champion?

Although the destination may not be clear right now for Duquesnoy, what is paramount is that on Saturday, he has the chance to make history. Potentially 24 hours away from becoming France’s first major duel weight MMA champion, Duquesnoy is still fixated on the smaller things in life.

He often finds himself compared to the MMA great Fedor Emelianenko, a man who prided himself on being the best possible role model for the next generation of fighters. Humility is often scare in a sport as masculine as MMA, but Duquesnoy somehow finds humbleness in every opportunity life throws at him.

“This whole MMA stuff is the journey, the destination we just don’t know where we’re going. So if I stay humble today it is because that MMA journey brings a lot of good people into my life, I learn a lot, I travel a lot, it’s just life at the end of the day. The sure thing is that I have to eat and have to pay the bills, but the thing that motivates me, that’s the journey not the destination.”

Alas, it is the motivation of enjoying life’s journey instead of allowing it to dictate him, which makes Duquesnoy such a one of a kind athlete. One who is clearly bound for uncharted greatness, wherever his destination may be.