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On the beat

Chicago cop Mike Russow making name for himself as UFC fighter

January 25, 2012|By Ryan Smith, For RedEye

Mike Russow's life sounds like the stuff blockbuster action movies are made of--on paper at least.

By day—er, night actually—the 35-year-old works the beat as a police officer in Chicago's Grand Crossing District on the South Side. But when he's not wearing his Chicago Police Department uniform, you might find him in workout gear as he trains for an upcoming mixed-martial arts fight.

That's what he's been doing a lot of recently as the 35-year-old of Mount Greenwood prepares for his big hometown debut in the UFC on Saturday night at the United Center. Russow, 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, is scheduled to take on fellow heavyweight John-Olav Einemo.

But as exciting as that sounds, the reality of his day-to-day grind has less in common with Hollywood and more to do with his blue-collar, South Side Chicago roots.

"It's really tough because I work my beat from 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. and then I sleep, get up, eat, practice and train around noon and then do it all over again," said Russow, who said he's used almost all of his vacation time to take the month of January off to fully prepare for Saturday's fight.

Need further proof he's just a regular Joe with a cool side gig? Russow refuses to use a nickname, even though he fights alongside UFC fighters with flashy monikers such as "Rampage" or "Iceman."

"Nah, I just go by my real name," Russow said. "I'm not a nickname kind of guy."

His size and stature stand out, but Russow goes about his business with such quiet humility that many are surprised when they hear about his head-busting moonlighting gig, said Tony Petrancosta, Russow's CPD partner of six years.

"When you tell people Mike's a UFC fighter, they say 'Really?' " Petrancosta said. "He is a big badass, but he doesn't come off as one. He's a real down-to-earth guy, who is really sweet and humble."

His sweet disposition is less evident in the octagon, where he has fought his way to an impressive 14-1 overall record, including an undefeated 3-0 record in UFC fights. Arguably the biggest thing that has prevented him from racking up more victories is his history of injuries.

He's fought only three times since 2007, partly due to a long recovery from elbow surgery and a broken arm suffered in a fight against Todd Duffee in UFC 114, a match Russow actually won via knockout as an underdog. He also was scheduled for a match in October, but his opponent was disqualified after failing his pre-fight drug screening.

"I've had some bad luck since I joined UFC," he said. "Ideally, I'd like to fight three times a year, and I'm hoping that happens in 2012."

Russow succeeds in the ring with a grind-it-out fighting style that matches his personality.

"What I'm best at is the ground and pound, and trying to take someone down and get a submission," he said.

Down-on-the-mat action is something Russow has experienced since high school, when he was a state champion wrestler. He also wrestled at Eastern Illinois University, where UFC legend Matt Hughes was an assistant.

Russow became a fan of mixed martial arts in the '90s and began dabbling in boxing and MMA. He considered becoming a full-time fighter early in his career, but opted instead for a less risky job with the CPD that could ensure he could pay his mortgage and provide for his wife and child.

"There were times I wish I would have fought right out of college, but I'm 35 years old now, and I can't complain," he said. "I've got a good life and a good job."

Of course, there are also times when Russow's mixed martial arts experience is useful during his job as a patrolman.

"Sometimes you have to wrestle with offenders, you know, because there's a lot of people who don't like to be arrested, so there are certain situations where the training helps," Russow said.

His size and brute strength also come in handy when it comes to busting down locked doors when his squad is executing search warrants, Petrancosta said.

"He's the guy that takes the door down, and for some people it takes a few hits, but for Mike, it usually gets slammed open right away," he said.

But other than those rare moments, Russow is no action hero at work, Petrancosta said.

"What happens in the ring is different than what happens on the street. Most of our job is verbally talking to people and keeping situations from getting worse and as non-violent as possible," he said. "And that's Mike--he's a very peaceful guy."

Until you get him in the octagon.


BOX: UFC in Chicago

3:30 p.m. Saturday, United Center

Preliminary bouts: 4 p.m. Saturday, Fuel TV

Main card: 7 p.m. Saturday, Fox

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