Legendary singer/songwriter Billy Joel once sang "Only the good die young." However, that phrase was around long before Billy Joel, so you know it's definitely been around longer than the sport of Mixed Martial Arts; which will celebrate it's 18th birthday in November. However, in that short 18 year span MMA has lost its share of notables within the sport and sadly all of them were all still very young.
MMA fighters Evan Tanner (age 37) & Gilbert Aldana (29), former UFC broadcaster Ryan Bennett (35), the Godfather of MMA Radio, and Charles 'Mask' Lewis (46), co-founder of 'Tapout' Clothing, are just a few examples of all really good people dying tragically long before their time. Shockingly, last weekend another name was added to this list as renowned MMA trainer Shawn Tompkins (37) died of an apparent heart attack in his sleep. I won't profess to have known Shawn on a personal level, because I didn't. However, I can attest on a personal level that he was one of the truly good guys in MMA that I did get to know.
I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Shawn on more than one occasion, whether in passing while in Las Vegas, at his gym at the Tapout training facility or on the radio. Each and every time, he would take a few minutes to talk, listen and most importantly engage in conversation with me, whether it was two minutes or ten. It wasn't an obligation nor was it his duty; it was his personality because that's who Shawn Tompkins was. An engaging outgoing person, who loved his sport, loved what he was doing and loved the fans of the sport.
A week ago I was watching the UFC on Versus card when Mike Goldberg announced on the air the news regarding Shawn Tompkins passing; it hit me like a punch to the chest. I was shocked and saddened instantly. I remember having this same reaction when I heard the news that my friend Ryan Bennett was killed tragically in an auto accident. I considered Ryan a friend, since we spoke numerous times over a couple of years through his radio show 'Soundoff', though we never formally got a chance to meet face to face. Shawn Tompkins on the other hand, as you can see by the photo above, I actually ran into more than once.
A former professional fighter in the early days of the sport, Tompkins may have only had four pro fights, but he had a wealth of knowledge and experience. Between his fight career and then as an assistant trainer under legendary Bas Rutten in the International Fight League, Shawn honed his craft until his time as a full-time trainer came calling. It was in this realm that Shawn Tompkins excelled and made a name for himself. Some of his prized pupils included successful MMA fighters Sam Stout, Mark Hominick, Vitor Belfort and Chris Horodecki to name but a few.
A stint as a striking coach at Xtreme Couture and then finally branching off on his own and forming Team Tompkins at Tapout, Shawn Tompkins AKA 'The Coach', had finally reached the top of his profession. He was widely regarded as one of the best MMA trainers in the world. Sure, we never hung out or shared a beer together, but within this sport, unlike others, things are quite different. The hardcore MMA community is truly like a family and that includes athletes, notables and fans alike. Shawn Tompkins always made me feel that way when we spoke, which is why I can attest "only the good die young." Rest in Peace Coach.