Thursday, March 29, 2007

Change of Leadership, But Not Philosophy

By Sarah Aswell

Here’s what it’s like to be a member of the L.A. Anacondas: you train together and you support each other, you follow the Bas Rutten fighting system as if it were the gospel, and on the weekends you and your family attend a team barbeque or two.

Oh, and you happen to be in first place in the IFL, with an undefeated record after rolling over the Razorclaws and beating last year’s champions, the Silverbacks.

But with Bas Rutten leaving his position as head coach last week to become an IFL commentator, what will change for the team?

According to the new head coach Shawn Tompkins, not much. And the way things have been going so far this season, that’s a good thing.

“As far as the training structure goes, we’re going to keep everything the same,” said Tompkins, from Rutten’s gym in Los Angeles.

“The secret to our success is that we train our fighters for specific fights, and I’ll continue to do that. We train from Bas’ structured program, and I’ve learned to stick to that system to win.”

Tompkins, who served as assistant coach for the Anacondas, and who has trained under Rutten for the last eight years, sees his teacher as a father figure.

“When I met him at a seminar in Quebec, Canada, I didn’t know anything about him except that he was a giant bald man who won UFC 20,” Tompkins said.

“He asked me to come to California with him, and it took me about three minutes to say yes. I slept on the gym floor. We’ve been through a lot, we’re similar characters, and we’ve been loyal to each other.”

Rutten, in a message posted on his website, also had only good things to say about Tompkins.

“We right away ‘hit it off’ and he liked the way I was teaching. He started to add things and come up with his own stuff. Listen, this is the true kind of teacher, I am very happy with him, trust me!”

When asked what improvements he had made to the Bas Rutten Fighting System, Tomkins was slow to admit he could improve on his mentor’s teachings in any way.

“I guess the way I’ve made it better is by applying it better to the different fighters, because I understand the diversity of the team – I know our fighters so well, and that’s what makes the difference. I don’t think that anything Bas does can be done better. He’s the best fighter there is.”

If you haven’t noticed already, the idea of the team as a family is the central philosophy for the Anacondas. Tompkins is critical of teams with high fighter turnover, and credits his team’s success to their fixed line-up and team unity.

“Our philosophy is based in loyalty and trust,” Tompkins said. “I talk with everyone on the team every day, whether I train with them or not. Our girlfriends and wives are friends, and we have barbeques at each other’s houses. We deeply believe in that. It’s not something that just happens. Our dominance speaks for itself.”

Knowing how the Anacondas run their ship, it’s no surprise that Bas will stay involved with the team after he’s gone, even if it’s mostly in spirit.

“A day won’t go by when I won’t run a large decision by him, or try to do what he would do. And Bas is a big part of the fighters’ lives, too. It’s not something that you can turn on or off. On other teams, people train for a few weeks here and there, but we’re in it together.”

As the only IFL head coach who isn’t already seen as a celebrity, Tompkins is an anomaly. After years of fighting Maui Thai boxing matches across North and South America, and a brief, less-than-noteworthy MMA career, Tompkins is very comfortable with the idea that you can be a great coach without having a lot of championship belts hanging on the wall.

“It’s great that there are so many legends, but if you take the sport seriously, you understand that there’s more to being a coach than being a fighter in the past,” Tompkins said.

“I take being a coach very seriously. I know a lot of UFC champions that can’t teach and can’t train. There’s a lot of ego involved, and I know when to put that aside. [Not being an MMA champion] doesn’t bother me at all, because I know that they respect me as much as I respect them.”

It’s clear that his team feels the same way. Chris Horodecki, the team’s unbeaten lightweight, has trained under Tompkins since he was 13, and seems just as positive about his coach as Tompkins is about Rutten.

“Horodecki in my mind could never lose,” Tomkins said, “This kid’s a superstar through and through and he’s a son to me. What I am to Bas, Chris is to me. At 33, I hope that he will be a champion and still training beside me. He’s a monster, and I like to think that I helped create the monster.”

Tompkins, who has been known to get just as emotional at bouts as the fighters themselves, had all positive things to say about all of his fighters, and about his team’s upcoming bout against the Tiger Sharks in Everett, Wa., on June first.

“The next show, I’m really going to put the pressure on [Tiger Shark’s Coach] Maurice Smith,” he said. “He’s a coach where you don’t ever know who’s on his team, and he probably doesn’t know either.”

Smith seems to be using his changing roster to his advantage. At the press conference after the LA bout, he told Tompkins he had “a special gift” for Horodecki waiting in Washington.

Tompkins isn’t worried. “It doesn’t matter who he brings, Chris will be prepared. If he brings a kickboxer, that’s a big mistake. If he brings a wrestler or a jiu-jitsu guy, that won’t be a problem, either. They can bring it, and we’ll deal with it.”

Does Tomkins dream of returning to the inside of the ring? “During those fights I got out of me what I needed to get out of me – and I take that experience to the gym every day,” he said. “My number one priority is coaching the Anacondas, and fighting is a distant second.”

But after a little more prodding, Tompkins admitted, “I’ve been playing around with the idea, and there’s a good possibility that I will within the next year. And if I do, the IFL will be my home.”

No comments: