Photo by Dave Fogarty
Tom "Fire Kid" Duquesnoy has turned a lot of heads during his five years in professional MMA, following a similar trajectory to the UFC's first simultaneous two-weight champion Conor McGregor. Now he gets the chance to show the world what he's all about at UFC on Fox 24 this weekend.
Like "The Notorious," the Frenchman made his name in a British-based promotion, in Duquesnoy's case BAMMA, and successfully captured two championships in two weightclasses during his stint there—successfully defending said titles unlike his Irish counterpart. And with fight promotions looking to recapture the magic produced by McGregor stateside, Duquesnoy was one of the world's most highly-sought free agents once his BAMMA contract was up, courting the interest of the UFC's Sean Shelby and Bellator's Scott Coker.
With Bellator co-promoting Duquesnoy's last outing for BAMMA in Dublin, Ireland's, 3 Arena, rumours swirled Fire Kid could be joining Coker's organisation following a string of high-profile rejections of UFC offers in the past.
However, on 16th January the Frenchman announced his home for the foreseeable future—the UFC roster. Duquesnoy made it to the UFC within five years of starting—the same amount of time it took McGregor
Like in soccer, it's tough to be naturally confident of an upcoming MMA talent enough to proclaim a fighter to be the "next big thing," through fear of heaping too much pressure on young fighter's shoulders and not abetting their career. These are harsh lessons many writers have learned from one-time US soccer prodigy Freddy Adu, who, touted as "the next Pele," was handed a $1million Nike sponsorship and a professional contract at DC United aged just 14. Now, Adu is without a football club to call home aged just 27.
The UFC moneymen have been guilty of this in the past too, billing the young Phillipe Nover as "the next Anderson Silva," nine years ago just off his stint on season eight of The Ultimate Fighter alone. In February, Nover retired from MMA with a record of 11-8-1 (1-6 in the UFC) at 33-years-old.
At 23, Duquesnoy has long been talked up as a top prospect and it's hard to argue against that as he has continually risen to the occasion since losing to Finnish UFC featherweight Makwan Amirkhani—a solid, rangy fighter at 145lbs who has only just experienced his first loss inside the Octagon—as a teenager.
Since then, Fire Kid has flourished on the European circuit. Duquesnoy isn't one to talk ill of his opponents, nor promote an upcoming fight with work on the microphone. Instead, he has built up an extensive résumé of knockout and submission wins with his spectacular highlight reel acting as his impressive CV.
Duquesnoy is an all-action pressure fighter with a diverse, flashy striking skill set to boot. He has stunningly finished opponents with his fists (Damien Rooney at BAMMA 24), elbows (Shaw Walsh at BAMMA 25 for bantamweight gold), kicks (Krzysztof Klaczek at BAMMA 18) and has scored some slick submission wins over the likes of Teddy Violet and Alan Philpott—a triangle choke and a rear-naked respectively. Fire Kid has even shown the willing and wiliness to dig deep and grind out a decision when necessary, like in his close, née controversial, split decision win over British talent Brendan Loughnane.
Duquesnoy has clearly had a lot of potential since the very start, but his move to Jackson-Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he splits his time with France 60/40 in favour of the former, has tidied up his overall MMA game.
Any highly-publicised prospect stepping into the Octagon for the first time will inevitably draw more eyeballs than normal and in Duquesnoy's case, the pressure will surely be heightened compared to other promotional debuts. Instead of making his UFC bow in a small show in Europe like many fighters from the region do, Duquesnoy is high up on the preliminary card of UFC on Fox 24 in Kansas City's Sprint Center, taking on American bantamweight Patrick Williams in what serves as the support act to Alexander Volkov vs. Roy Nelson in the prelims headliner on Fox Sports.
Duquesnoy and his team will have naturally heaped a considerable amount of pressure on themselves as you'd expect from a man debuting in the Octagon, but I'd argue it is tougher to be European prospect in the UFC than if you were from South or North America. Duquesnoy will have the weight of a continent—as well as an expectant France, a country which is still battling to see MMA legalised—behind him and will inevitably encounter some detractors from the USA at some point in addition. The rise of McGregor serves as proof as he continually faced doubters and critics as the yardstick to measure success was continually moved for the Irishman until he won UFC gold. The Frenchman will certainly have his sceptics based across the pond waiting for him to slip up against a wrestler or submission artist like they did with McGregor, though those detractors will surely act with less fervour as Duquesnoy is not nearly as abrasive as his Irish comparison.
Win, lose or draw, Duquesnoy's fighting should earn him favour from many as he attempts to make a splash on the international scene. With Williams, Fire Kid has a willing participant as evidenced with seven of his eight wins coming by either knockout or submission.
In the UFC's view, the organisation will surely be willing Duquesnoy on to victory as a way to breathe new life into a bantamweight division which lost two exciting fighters to retirement—Urijah Faber and Brad Pickett—and let a former prospect in Michael McDonald leave the UFC for pastures new earlier in 2017. If his skills successfully translate Stateside, Duquesnoy could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the UFC's top-heavy bantamweight division dominated by an exclusive few.