Commentary

Fighting crime and for the UFC

Mike Russow's passion is MMA, but he loves being a Chicago cop

Originally Published: January 24, 2012
By Michael Huang | ESPN Insider

The voice on the other line says: "Hey, can I call you back? We're handling a domestic dispute right now."

Mike Russow is obviously distracted. There are voices escalating in the background; a single police siren whines for a passing second.

Indeed, 15 minutes later, the phone rings and it is Russow. As a Chicago Police officer, his first priority is responding to calls from the public, not the media. As a UFC heavyweight, however, Russow's focus this week is on John Olav Einemo and their upcoming bout at UFC on FOX2, this Saturday at the United Center in Chicago.

"This is the biggest fight of my career, without a doubt," said Russow, 35. "I'm pumped I finally get to do it in front of my hometown on national television. I'm in the best shape of my life, and I'm ready."

Who is Mike Russow?

Todd Duffee v Mike Russow
Ed Mulholland/ESPN.comTrailing deep into the third round, Russow suddenly knocked out Duffee with a straight right.

At 14-1, one would think UFC fans might have heard more of Russow. He's probably best known for his comeback knockout of then-rising heavyweight star Todd Duffee in 2010 at UFC 114. Duffee dominated Russow for two pummeling rounds until 2:33 of the third round where Russow caught Duffee with straight right -- a shot that sent Duffee's career spiraling downward as quickly as he had ascended.

"I just never gave up," Russow says. "I broke my hand in the first round so I wasn't really able to punch very well. I even got knocked down to my knees at one point. But I stayed calm and kept on pushing through."

Russow has been a harbinger of sorts, as Duffee was released by the UFC a short time after that loss. Before Duffee, Russow defeated Justin McCully at UFC 102 and McCully was released. Last March, Russow TKO'd Brock Lesnar's training partner, Jon Madsen, at UFC Fight Night 24 and also was subsequently released.

Though he hasn't lost a fight since 2007, he's only averaged about one fight a year, which doesn't satisfy Russow. He knows the clock is ticking.

"I don't want just one fight a year," Russow said. "I think this fight could lead to better things. It's huge for me and there's some pressure. Ultimately, I want to try and break through the top 10 somehow. But to do that, I have to fight more."

Russow is an accomplished wrestler, having competed for Eastern Illinois University. However, in preparing for Olav-Einemo, Russow enlisted the help of instructor Rodrigo "Comprido" Medeiros, a two-time CBJJ champion who also trained Brock Lesnar. Russow will need it against the 6-foot-6 Olav Einemo, who holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. So Russow might try to keep it standing up.

"Yeah, we'll try to work the boxing," Russow says.

A busy schedule

There are few fighters who must contend with a full-time job in addition to training, as well as juggling a new wife and baby at home. Certainly, the inability to train full-time is a disadvantage. And the past year has been a whirlwind, adding wife Lana and baby Ella to his responsibilities.

Mike Russow vs  Jon Madsen
Rod Mar for ESPN.comRussow TKO'd Brock Lesnar's training partner Jon Madsen in his last fight.

"Life has been pretty hectic to balance everything," Russow says. "I really have to be very strict with my schedule. There's no going out. It's basically sleep, get up, eat, train until 11, then weights or sprints. After that, I go to work from 5 PM until 1 AM.

"I've been fighting since I was 27. Sure, I'm a little jealous of the guys who can train full-time," Russow adds. "And if it ever came to be that I could take a leave from the CPD to train full-time  and they were OK with it -- I would. But I've got a wife, a kid and a mortgage. We need the insurance. I can't take a chance like that."

And being a first responder takes on even more significant meaning, both as an occupation as well as Russow's feeling of responsibility to the public. Fighters risk their health every time they step into the Octagon. Russow risks his life every day on the streets of Chicago. The grappling he uses in fighting sometimes translates to what he must do to subdue and apprehend a criminal.

"You got to do what you have to do, but within the department's use-of-force model," Russow said. "Obviously you can't just beat on a guy. There are rules to what you can do."

Russow is not alone. Former UFC fighter Chris Lytle serves as a firefighter in Indianapolis, while Strikeforce heavyweight Chad Griggs serves as a firefighter and paramedic in Tucson, Ariz. "I'm very happy being a cop," Russow says. "Mentally, it helps me out a lot because in the job you can't panic. The punch you don't see could knock you out. It's kind of like that in police work. You could be driving around and all of a sudden you see something and you have to react. You have to keep your wits about you."

Russow should know. He served in the CPD's Target Response Unit (TRS), assigned to some of the toughest areas in Chicago where there are high spikes in crime. The two-platoon unit tackles mainly gang activity and drug trafficking.

"There were many 10-, 12-hour days, but the schedule was actually better," Russow laughs. "It was five days straight, then three off and you weren't tied to the radio. Of course it was a lot more dangerous and stressful."

In early December, Chicago made national news when an "MMA expert" thwarted a would-be mugger, turning the assailant's face into something that resembled hamburger. Many thought that was Russow, but it was not.

"Yeah, I got that a lot," Russow laughs. "But no, that wasn't me. But I would've arrested the guy, though."

His wife, Lana, worries about him more when he enters the Octagon.

"She's more nervous when I'm in the cage," Russow says. "A lot of wives aren't as supportive of a fighting career. She knows I Iove it, and it's my passion. But I know where the real fight is. It's on the streets I patrol every day."

Michael Huang is a senior editor for ESPN Insider. Video by Dan Svoboda.