by Ken Pishna – MMAWeekly.com

Everything happens for a reason, right?


Duane “Bang” Ludwig certainly hopes so. At just 31 years of
age, he is one of the most seasoned fighters in combat sports. A decorated
world-class kickboxer holding numerous titles, he has never achieved the same
level of success in mixed martial arts.


He steps back into the Ring of Fire in Denver on Friday
night in what he hopes will be the first step towards changing that fact.


“My main goal is to get back in the UFC. That’s where I
belong,” Ludwig told MMAWeekly.com as his training wound down for a bout with
fellow UFC veteran Ryan Roberts.


Having swung back and forth between kickboxing and mixed
martial arts, chasing paychecks while MMA grew into a career-supporting
industry; the most significant element that Ludwig was lacking was focus. He readily
admits it.


“I lost focus a few times going back and forth between
kickboxing and MMA and different promotions and stuff like that. But now the
end goal, like I said, is the UFC,” Ludwig restated.


He has fought big fights. He knocked out Jens Pulver,
shortly after Pulver walked away from his UFC lightweight championship. He KO’d
Jonathan Goulet in mere seconds in the UFC and holds a win over popular
Japanese fighter Genki Sudo.


But Ludwig’s focus hasn’t held when he needed it most. He
has stumbled against the sport’s elite. He took a fight with current UFC
champion B.J. Penn, probably too soon in his MMA development, was TKO’d by
Tyson Griffin and Paul Daley, and was stopped on a cut by former number one
lightweight Takanori Gomi.


So now he is locking his future hand-in-hand with returning to
the UFC and working his way into title contention.


“That was kind of the goal from the beginning (when I first
started fighting), to win the title. So this is kind of trying to step back to
that, having the eye at the end of the tunnel a little bit, but not to lose
focus,” said Ludwig.


“I’m using the UFC as my goal, I guess, but I can’t look
through Ryan Roberts because I’m his jackpot. If he beats me maybe he gets back
in the big shows. I can’t let that happen.”


Just a few short months ago, Ludwig was headed down the
wayward path once again. He was offered, and accepted, an opportunity to
compete in Contenders Asia, a reality show kickboxing tournament that would
have paid him $250,000 had he won. It offered the money to help launch his own
gym in Denver, and the exposure to hopefully catch the eye of the UFC once


But everything happens for a reason, right?


Contenders Asia fell apart at the last minute, pushing
Ludwig to refocus on his mixed martial arts career and launch himself head-on
at a return to the UFC.


“I couldn’t pass (Contenders Asia) up. Good exposure to open
a gym and jumping back into the UFC. I’d have a pretty good name if I pulled
that off.”


When Contenders Asia was put on the shelf, so was the idea
of opening his own gym. Ludwig realized it was another distraction that he
couldn’t afford if he wanted to get back in the Octagon.


“I’m gonna put (the gym) on the backburner until I get back
in the UFC. That’s my main goal; I just want to get back in the UFC and
concentrate on myself and we’ll see what happens from there,” Ludwig stated, regaining
his focus.


Of course, all the talk is for naught if he implodes at
Magness Arena on Friday night.


Ironically, he’s going back to the same mentality that he
started with as a kickboxer at age 16.


“That’s what always drove me, that world title shot or
getting to the UFC.”


Now a veteran that has been through the trenches, he knows
it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a step-by-step process, a process that begins
anew on Friday night.


“There’s these small steps (to get back in the UFC) and Ryan’s
one of these small steps.”


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Ring of Fire 36, which
features a main event between The Ultimate Fighter veterans Mike Nickels and
Vinny Magalhaes, is available live on Internet pay-per-view.


Ring of Fire is a paid sponsor of MMAWeekly.com)