Laying down the Law with Mike Russow

Posted by Danielle Hobeika on August - 25 - 2009 with Comments Off on Laying down the Law with Mike Russow

By Thomas Gerbasi ,

They started out as coach and student – Matt
Hughes the assistant wrestling coach at Eastern Illinois University, and Mike Russow, one of his pupils. But on April 25, 1998, at Madonna High School in Chicago, they were equals, two young fighters trying to make their way in a fairly new sport known as mixed martial arts.

Hughes had already competed once in MMA, winning in 15 seconds in a bout three months earlier. For Russow, it was his first bout, and he was in tough against Nate Schroeder. Both men prevailed that night, Russow via a three round unanimous decision, Hughes via first round submission due to strikes over Craig Quick.

It was here that their paths diverged.

Hughes went on to become perhaps the greatest welterweight in the history of the sport, a two-time UFC champion who defended his title seven times over those two reigns.

“I remember warming up in the wrestling room and being there when Matt started getting into it, and I was telling him, ‘man, you’ve got to do this,’” recalled Russow. “I knew he would do well just because he’s such a great athlete and so tough. There was never any doubt in my mind that he was gonna be a champ.”

As for Russow, he graduated from EIU with a degree in sociology and joined the Chicago Police Department. He wouldn’t fight again for nearly eight years. He also has no regrets.

“I love this job and it’s a great job too,” said Russow. “It’s exciting and there’s something new every day. I’m glad I can do both.”

That means working a 5pm to 3am shift in Chicago’s Englewood district, and then making time to work on his MMA game in gyms around the area. It’s a rough schedule to say the least, but the 32-year old finds a way to make it work.

“Being a police officer is a lot different than going out and digging a ditch or something, so it’s not like I get exhausted physically,” he explains. “Plus, I’ve got great bosses that support me, so they’re real good to me and let me do the stuff that I need to get done. Sometimes it’s stressful, and it definitely gets you sometimes, but I’ve been doing this for six and a half years, so I’m pretty used to it.”

The eventual goal for Russow is to make enough money in the fight game to be able to do it full-time, but that’s so he can focus on a single job, not because of any dislike for police work. In fact, he’s always wanted to be both a police officer and a fighter.

“I watched the first UFCs when I was in high school, and I would never miss one until they went off pay-per-view,” he said. “I always wanted to do it, but I always wanted to be a police officer too, so once I got on the job, and got settled in, after a year I started training again. I always thought I could do good (in MMA) just because of my background in wrestling. Plus, I’ve got a good manager in Monte Cox, so I knew if I could do well, he’d get me places, and that’s kinda what happened.”

By 2006, he had returned to active competition, and quickly ran off three wins. In February of 2007, he got a surprise call from PRIDE to take on Russian contender Sergei Kharitonov at PRIDE 33. On paper, it was a mismatch, with the 4-0 (1 NC) Russow taking on a fighter who was coming off fights against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira , Ninja Rua, Pedro Rizzo, Fabricio Werdum, and Alistair Overeem. But when the bell rang, Russow showed he belonged with the big boys as he jarred Kharitonov on a couple occasions and even worked his way into favorable positions on the mat before getting submitted via armbar.

The bout was a learning experience, teaching Russow not only how to deal with a veteran contender, but how to cope with the attention that goes along with a big show. And while the tendency might have been for Russow to immediately jump into another big event, with just five fights, he opted to get more seasoning.

“When me and Monte first started, we just wanted to get out there, get experience, and not rush it so that when we did get there, we’d be ready for it,” said Russow. “I just didn’t want to jump in there and do it; I wanted to have experience and I think it’s worked out great so far.”

Since his lone pro loss, Russow has put together a seven fight winning streak, with six of those victories coming via submission. Among his victims were PRIDE vet Roman Zentsov and Jason Guida, and with such success came the call from the UFC to make his Octagon debut this Saturday night in Portland against Justin McCully. He’s about to get a crash course in life in the revitalized heavyweight class, but that’s just the way he wants it.

“I think it’s a really tough division now,” said Russow, 11-1, 1 NC. “You’ve got a lot of good guys in there and I think I can do well. I’m excited to get out there and see. I think with my wrestling background – and I also work with (Rodrigo) Comprido, who also coaches Brock Lesnar – I think I’m ready, and I want to test myself against the best guys in the world to see where I’m at.”

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