Tom Duquesnoy had one year to make it work. Leaving his home in the north of France to pursue a dream of becoming a mixed martial artist in Paris, the teenager was given 12 months to show his father that he had what it took to compete in the sport.
“My father said, ‘Okay, you have one year to do your thing,’” Duquesnoy recalled. “‘Go to Paris. And after one year, we will see how it goes and see if you will continue or if you will come back to pursue your studies.’ And everything went well.”
How well? Duquesnoy is making his UFC debut against Patrick Williams this Saturday in Kansas City, and as he arrives in the Octagon, the 23-year-old is one of the hottest prospects in the sport.
“I can feel the pressure for the fight,” he said. “A lot of people are interested in seeing my debut, it’s a big honor for me to fight in the UFC, and I can’t wait to fight on that card. It will be all new for me and I hope to see the continuation of my development in the U.S.”
For nearly three years, Duquesnoy has traveled to Albuquerque to train with the Jackson-Wink MMA team. It was after visits to Las Vegas and Los Angeles that he ended up in New Mexico, which he describes as “The best choice for me.”
So while he continued to compete in Europe, winning BAMMA titles at 145 and 135 pounds, he also made the voyage across the pond to develop the game that has led him to a 14-1, 1 NC record. It’s a testament to the dedication of the “FireKid,” who has been involved in combat sports for much of his life, ever since his father took him to the gym so could “Learn the values of the sport and manage my energy.”
By 15, though, watching the UFC gave him the idea that martial arts could be more than a pastime.
“Little by little I got more passionate about combat sports, and it got to the point that at 15, I was watching UFC and I said, ‘Yeah, I can do some things against those guys.’ Obviously I needed more training and needed to develop myself in more different sports, but that was the first time I thought about it. After, I just pursued a dream and when it got to the point where I had to make a choice between school and sports, I decided to do MMA.”
From the start, there was the idea in European circles that Duquesnoy was something special, and he didn’t disappoint, with his only loss coming in his fifth fight in 2013 against UFC featherweight Makwan Amirkhani. So when it comes to the pressure of his UFC debut, he knows it’s there, but it’s something he’s used to.
“Since the beginning of my career, I’ve been able to manage that kind of pressure,” he said. “It’s not as big as the UFC, but when I was fighting in my debut, everybody was waiting for the result because I had a little bit of experience in sambo, wrestling and boxing, and everybody was wondering if I could do everything mixed together. It went well, and after there was a lot of pressure when I fought for my first belt and then my other belts. So I feel like everybody is waiting for me at each fight to see the results, so I’m kind of used to that pressure.”
About the only negative part of the whole process for Duquesnoy thus far is that he can’t fight professionally in his home country, which has banned the sport.
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“It is disappointing, obviously, because I would love to fight in a big UFC event in Paris,” he said. “It would be crazy and it would be around 10 minutes from my house. And even though I developed myself in the U.S., I first started in France. France is my country and the U.S.A. is the country that saved me, so both are equally important to me.”
In the meantime, he will represent France and inspire fighters at home, while still working with those trying to legalize the sport.
“Obviously my goal as an athlete is to get the belt, and I’m planning to do it in under three years,” he said. “If, at the same time, I can open something in France and make things move and remove the ban, it would be a great pleasure. I’m still in it, and I will do everything I can for it.”
That would be a dream come true. Well, at least part of it for the ambitious FireKid.
“As a younger boy practicing MMA, the dream is to fight in the UFC,” Duquesnoy said. “But my thing is not to just fight in the UFC. My thing is to go to the UFC, pass all the steps and go to take that title. It’s a little bit of the dream, but it’s just the next part.”