I’m writing this blog about Shawn, a couple of years after his passing, because I’ve decided to write a book called Colossal Concerns: Tales from the gym and other colossal adventures.
As I started to plan these epic tales of Mma wonderment for your consumption, I sorted through the filing cabinet in my brain (Which is full) and selected the best stories that will both amuse and interest you.
Whilst recalling various episodes during my career for the book I arrived at the part where I trained at Randy Couture’s gym, Xtreme Couture, in Las Vegas back in 2008.
As I was cataloguing these stories, I arrived at ones with Shawn. As I relived these events I was hit with a flood of guilt. Why hadn’t I done a blog about him sooner!?!
Now, please don’t mistake me here, me and Shawn weren’t best buddies or anything like that but I got to know him a little during my stay in Vegas as he had little choice but to see me every day!
When I was training at Xtreme Couture I didn’t know a soul, apart from Jay White, who had taken pity on me and let me stay at his home and invade his and his family’s space for ten weeks!
While I was at this strange new gym I was doing my best not to seem intimated or out of place while sharing mat space with legends like Randy Couture, Wanderlei Silva, Heath Herring, Forrest Griffin, Grey Maynard, Tyson Griffin and Mike Pyle – to name drop a few. Not to mention the constant influx of the best fighters in the world that had casually ‘swung’ by.
I can’t tell you how invaluable it was to have a guy like Shawn Tompkins that, while not knowing me from Adam, took me under his wing and made me feel like part of his extended fight family.
When you experience something like this it really is comforting, especially as I didn’t know anyone there and was away from home, hence the guilt I expressed earlier about not having done this blog before.
During the short time I knew Shawn; he made an impact on me and many other fighters.
One of these fighters was my training partner Ronnie ‘the Kid Ninja’ Mann. A quiet lad, very unimposing but who soaks up Mma knowledge like a lethal sponge. Myself and Charlie (our trainer at the time) tried to market Ron as- Ronnie ‘the baby’ Mann.
At one point in time both me and Charlie had plans for me to push Ron to the cage in a pram, then make him fight in a nappy and give him his water in a baby’s bottle!! You have no idea how close this was to actually happening. Me and Charlie actually spent time looking for one of those giant Victorian prams to sit Ronnie in.
In the end though, I was worried it might have sent poor old Ron into a nervous breakdown, I mean Mma is hard enough, you don’t really need a couple of jokers making you dress up as a baby before you do battle…
If Ron does ever come round to our way of thinking though, I want the credit.
I’ve known Ronnie for a good ten years now as we used to train to together at Trojan back in the day. When I left Trojan the hardest part, like I’m sure most fighters will tell you, is suddenly not seeing the people that you’ve made bonds with and that have been decimated to helping you and you them. I felt, and still do feel, very protective over Ron, so you can imagine how pleased I was when I heard he went off to train with Shawn Tompkins.
Ron wasn’t there long, about a year, when Shawn died. But in that time I could see how strong a relationship they had formed. Below are a couple of pictures which I think say it all.
If you haven’t heard about Ronnie ‘Kid Ninja’ Mann or want to follow his progress then check out his fights and see what I’m talking about. You can also follow him on twitter at https://twitter.com/RonnieMannMMA . If you’re in the Evesham area … The little fucker has only gone and got his own gym sorted called Iron MANN Gym. So go and invade his space.
Like I previously mentioned; training at Xtreme was like a who’s, who. It was really great to train and learn from such experienced fighters. On the down side (which I addressed in my previous blog on here “there’s no place like home, or the gym’ – if you find the right one“) there was only so much time that the trainers could spend one on one with there being so many fighters training there. I mean, they had a lot of high profile fighters, ones like Wand and Tim Sylvia that brought their own trainers in and just used the bodies.
But when I went there I was with only me, myself and I, and I needed instruction.
My friend Jay, who was good friends with Tompkins, introduced me to him. Shawn took a look at me on pads, asked me questions about who I was fighting in my upcoming bout (Brett Roger) and just generally gave a shit. He worked pads with me almost every day and when we’d finish I was invited to the house he shared with his fighters Mark Hominick, Chris Horodecki and Sam Stout, who was the brother to Shawn’s beautiful wife Emilie Tompkins. These guys were as close as close could be and I sensed this immediately. I was pleased to be a small part of this team spirit.
My fight against Brett Rogers was around the corner and I noticed that I was a lot more nervous than usual, even though I’d been sparring a lot. I worked my hands with Shawn (honourable mentions to Ron Frazier who helped me with my hands as well and did my corner with Shawn, and a mention to Jake Bonacci, who helped me with cardio) plus I was doing strength and conditioning training and the Dolce diet, before it was the huge success it is today, with the Man himself, Mike Dolce.
So why was I feeling unconfident? if I had great sparring, my cardio was great -thanks to Jake- and my weight was at around 117kg (a weight I will get to again, even though I’m writing this on NYE about to get pissed and weighting around 135kg). All these things were great but the thing that keep nagging at me was the lack of all-round guidance I had.
I would do my cardio, S&C, pads and spar (not all in one day) then I would do whatever classes that were being taught by the top of the line pros. The only thing was, I could be learning arm bars from the guard when really I needed to be learning take downs and how to control Brett once I’d hit the floor.
Please understand this is not Xtreme s fault. I paid a very reasonable fighters rate to train there and got a lot great training for that. It was my fault as I didn’t really ‘get’ how a proper Mma gym worked. With Xtreme Couture you seem to use the fighters available and their great facility to make your own fight camp, which is why a lot of the pros take their own team members to Xtreme and use the gym and other guys there to take their own regime to the next level.
Fight day arrives. I’m in the changing rooms feeling nauseous and I remember exactly what Shawn said to me
“Are you nervous? You look fucking nervous” I nodded “Good, that’s your body getting ready, you’re going out there to fight of course you’re going to be nervous, that’s sensible“
I thought about what Shawn had said and was pleased that the nerves did dissipate somewhat. It was such a simple thing to say to me at the time but he was reassuring, made me feel completely normal that I was nervous. It’s what you need when you’re feeling this way as sometimes the nerves can perpetuate if you think about them too much. Shawn brought me back in to focus so to speak.
I still wish he’d told me to duck though, as I was later stopped in the first by Rogers by a KO.
I’m kidding, that advice was great advice and fighters who know me will recognise it, because I say it all the time to them when they’re in that same position I was.
In a sense, and without trying to be dramatic. It’s an example of how we all, in this particular case ‘Shawn Tompkins’ lives on… long after we pass.
All that left to say is thanks Shawn, you really made a mark on me and so, so many other people’s lives… Thank you.
R.I.P Shawn Tompkins March 16, 1974 – August 14, 2011
Picture courtesy of Evan Shoman (@shomanart)
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