Do you believe in fate, or destiny? If you do, you would have to believe that Aaron Simpson‘s story was written long before he had any say in the matter.
A natural born competitor, Simpson immersed himself in the world of combat from adolescence and has not taken a back step since. In high school the budding athlete put together a jaw dropping record of 142-1 during wrestling competition. Upon graduation the Phoenix, Arizona native continued with his success on the mat for the prestigious Arizona State University wrestling program. While with ASU he was named a two time All-American, won a Pac 10 championship and holds wins over Mark Munoz and Olympian Ben Askren.
Having maintained an unblemished straight A record throughout his days wrestling, Simpson went on to graduate from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, and earned himself a masters degree in higher education. Needless to say, the academic and athletic stand out had his options upon graduation. He easily could have gone on to secure himself a number of different jobs in a variety of different fields with his strong education, but that wouldn’t have been Simpson’s fate. Simpson was meant to be a fighter from day one.
Simpson wanted to give back to the team that had given so much to him, and shortly after graduation he landed a job as an assistant wrestling coach for ASU. For nine years Simpson shared all of the fundamentals he had learned during his many successful years on the mat with many of the best athletes ASU’s wrestling program has ever produced. It was during this time that the lifelong wrestler finally discovered his true calling in life.
As fate would have it, UFC veterans CB Dollaway, Ryan Bader and Cain Velasquez had all fallen under the guidance of Simpson during his coaching days with the school. Even back then his up and coming pupils often expressed their desires to possibly transition into mixed martial arts in the future. Simpson didn’t thnk too much of it at the time. Even after Jesse Forbes came up to train with him in preparation for his stint on The Ultimate Fighter in 2006, sure it peaked Simpson’s interest, but nothing was set in stone at the time.
This is where former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz comes into the grand scheme of things. Longtime friends from their wrestling days in college, Ortiz had recently enlisted Simpson’s services during his preparation for his showdown with current king of the UFC’s light heavyweight division, Rashad Evans, in July of 2007. After the time Simpson spent with Ortiz in Big Bear and the experience of being able to help corner Ortiz in his bout with Evans, there was nothing left to consider. As soon as he got back to the desert he hooked up with one of the best gyms in the business, Arizona Combat Sports, and the rest is history so to speak.
Jump starting his career with a first round beatdown of Tim Coulson in October of 2007, Simpson went on to fight for the WEC in his fourth professional bout and graduated to the UFC in his most recent bout, a first round mauling of former training partner Tim McKenzie on the first of April. He has been extended out of the opening round only once during his career and has finished every single one of his bouts by knockout.
Training with an incredibly talented group of fighters at AZCS like Carlos Condit, Jamie Varner, Jacob McClintock, Jesse Forbes and former students Dollaway and Bader have helped to propel Simpson into the biggest fighting promotion in the planet in the blink of an eye. One would think that his overwhelming wrestling pedigree would be the backbone of his fighting style but Simpson has surprised many with the dynamite in his fists and willingness to exchange punches with tremendous success. The combination of skill in the the separate aspects of MMA have left Simpson as an obvious up and coming talent to keep a very close eye on in the future.
Every now and then an athlete will come along in mixed martial arts that it’s nearly impossible to not have incredibly high expectations for. Simpson is without a doubt one of those fighters.
Cory Brady with FiveOuncesOfPain.com: Why do you think that so many top level wrestlers have been enjoying so much success in recent years?
Aaron Simpson: I feel that wrestling at the top levels helps an athlete develop skills that you cannot simulate in any other form of mixed martial arts. The day in and day out training, develops timing, speed and quickness, explosiveness and endurance as well as top notch mental toughness. Those who actually train and compete on the highest levels are having a great deal of success in MMA because they’ve already competed for so long and have so much experience with wrestling as combat.
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: Do you feel that the transition to mixed martial arts has been a natural one because of the time you spent in the wrestling room?
Aaron Simpson: I definitely feel the quick learning curve for me and MMA is directly related my years spent in the wrestling room. There are so many attributes that I have developed in wrestling that help me in fighting.
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: Did you ever imagine yourself fighting for the UFC back during your wrestling days at all?
Aaron Simpson: I think every wrestler who has ever seen the UFC, as well as most men on this planet, imagine themselves fighting in the Octagon in the UFC. Now, some are a little more realistic than others, but I believe that it is natural for humans to want to test themselves in physical combat. As far as me personally training in the sport, I have always thought about fighting, but never put myself in the right situation due to coaching and competing in wrestling.
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: Your hands have looked extremely explosive during your MMA career so far, have you always been fairly heavy handed, or is the power behind your punches something you have had to really focus on?
Aaron Simpson: I feel that my style as a wrestler helps the power in my hands. That being said, I still train my hands everyday. I am a big fan of Jamie Varner and Carlos Condit and it so happens that I get to train with them everyday. Their hands are so impressive, that I would like to mimic certain things they do. It always helps to have great people around you when you’re trying to get better
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: You can see that you look really comfortable on your feet, when did you first begin formal training in any kind of striking?
Aaron Simpson: I started formal training in May of 2007 at Arizona Combat Sports, so that puts me at just 2 years. I feel like I’ve come a long way, but still have so much more to get better at.
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: Would you credit a lot of your success you’ve had in MMA to training at one of the best gyms in the business, Arizona Combat Sports?
Aaron Simpson: Yes, I definitely credit ACS to my success. They’ve put together a great fight team: Ryan Bader, Steve Steinbeiss, Ray Steinbeiss, CB Dollaway, Jamie Varner, Carlos Condit, Jesse Forbes, Jacob McClintock, and Estevan Payan. In my honest opinion, you can’t find a better place to reach your goals.
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: Do you think that having a good group of guys around you in the gym is one of the keys to progressing your game, and continuing to improve?
Aaron Simpson: I can get freaky knees and elbows from Carlos, I can get awesome stand up from Jamie, I can get top notch wrestling and toughness from Bader, I can get unorthodox wrestling and ground with CB, I can get top level BJJ with McClintock, I can get K1 level kickboxing with Steve. I have no excuse but to get better.
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: How do you feel about having the opportunity to swim with the sharks in the UFC’s middleweight division at this early point in your career?
Aaron Simpson: I am honored to be fighting in the UFC and feel that I can compete with most anyone in the middleweight division and with time… I feel like I can beat them all.
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: Did you suffer from any of the notorious UFC pre-fight jitters in the moments leading up to your bout with McKenzie?
Aaron Simpson: Honestly, I have not had too many pre-fight jitters before the last fight. I may get a little nervous a week out hoping I did everything in my power to prepare for the fight. But, one hour leading up to right before, I’m calm and collected. The reality is I love the spotlight. I love being in the middle and having pressure to excel on me. I’ve finally found something that really gets me going.
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: Do you find being a full time father and a full time fighter to be quite a balancing act at times?
Aaron Simpson: The first several months of having twin babies is absolutely ridiculous! My elbows were killing me from holding and feeding, holding and feeding! But, things have slowed down a little now that they’re 10 months old. My wife is amazing and has them on a schedule, so nothing cuts into training. She is understands the rigors of training and competing. She grew up in a family that lives for wrestling, so she learned at a young age about the discipline and sacrifice that comes with being great. I am able to do what I do, because she is so great at being a mom.
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: Do you think there is any reason that Arizona State’s wrestling program has produced so many top level fighters over the last couple of years? In the last year or two, Ryan Bader, yourself, Cain Velasquez, CB Dollaway and others have really taken MMA by storm. Is there something in the water down there?
Aaron Simpson: I’m not sure what to say about us all fighting now and all former Devils. We all have different stories and took different paths to get where we are. Cain was the first, Bader and CB followed. I had an opportunity and decided it is now or never. It is really amazing to think that just a couple years ago, I was helping coach these three against Minnesota, Iowa and Iowa State and now we’re all fighting on the biggest stage in the world. It is crazy to see how life unfolds.
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: What are your ultimate goals in mixed martial arts? What did you get involved for?
Aaron Simpson: The ultimate goal is to fight for and win the UFC World Title. I would not be in this for anything less.
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: Is it important that you are known as the kind of fighter that finishes his fights?
Aaron Simpson: It is important for me, because I train so hard for these fights. The day after my fight, I ran 3 miles in Nashville. The next day I was back doing my conditioning workout with Bryan Davis, a former Superbowl Champion cornerback for the Washington Redskins, and several of the Elite Freestyle wrestlers who were getting ready for the US Freestyle Nationals. I train that hard so I can push my opponents to their breaking point. I know that someday my fight will go the distance. But, when it is over and I am getting my hand raised, my opponent is going to remember me and know that he will never want to go through that again.
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: What can people expect from Aaron Simpson in the future with the UFC?
Aaron Simpson: They can expect me to start the fight and end the fight. I will be throwing first and throwing last. My goal going into every fight is to dominate. That is the game plan first and foremost. I will leave everything I have on that canvas.
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: Is there anyone you would like to thank?
Aaron Simpson: I would like to thank all of my training partners (mentioned above) as well as the Lally brothers. I would also like to thank Dave Martin and Amanda Barnes with Wasserman Media Group as well as Brad Martin with UltimatePros.com. Last but not least I would like to thank my wife for being a perfect role model of hard work and true honesty as well as my daughter Claire for taking everything that she’s been dealt and turning it into gold…and lastly my baby boy Nico and baby girl Mia for making me smile all day long…oh and thank you for letting me rattle on!
FiveOuncesOfPain.com: No problem Aaron, anytime. Good luck with your fighting career, it’s looking very bright from here. Thanks for your time and I’ll talk to you soon.