Monday, July 15, 2013

The impact and importance of a (the) coach

When it comes to sports, it used bother me when coaches like Phil Jackson in the NBA and the late John Wooden in college basketball would garner so much credit for their team's successes; I mean let's face it, they always had the best players. Jackson's 10 championships were won with Jordan and Pippen and then later with Kobe and Shaq. As for Wooden, six of his 10 titles included two of the most dominant players college basketball has ever seen in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (formerly Lew Alcindor at the time) and Bill Walton. How much impact did these guys really have on their team's performances?

Well, the sudden and tragic loss of MMA Trainer Shawn Tompkins nearly two years ago has made me think otherwise. Tompkins passed away suddenly in his sleep because of a heart ailment on August 14, 2011 at the way too young age of 37. At the time, he was regarded as one of the top MMA trainers in the game, assembling a stable of successful home grown fighters known simply as Team Tompkins. 

Known affectionately and throughout as 'The Coach', Tompkins worked with many fighters during his career, but it was the core of Team Tompkins at the time of his passing, Sam Stout, Mark Hominick, Chris Horodecki and Ronnie Mann that I will focus on for this column. Those fighters, all perennial contenders throughout their careers under the tutelage of 'The Coach' Tompkins have felt the impact of his loss in more ways than one. 

Just take a look at the careers of each before and since Tompkins passing and the results are obvious; either that or it is incredibly coincidental. Let's start first with Stout, Tompkins brother-in-law by marriage to Stout's sister; he has been a mainstay in the UFC's lightweight division since his first fight in the organization way back in 2006. That was when he was a mere pup at the age of 22, thus Tompkins was a major influence on his career.

Before Tompkins passing, Stout had won four of his previous five and was coming off the most electrifying win of his career, a devastating first round knockout of veteran Yves Edwards. In that streak, there were also wins over highly regarded contenders Matt Wiman and Joe Lauzon. Stout was on the cusp of making a move towards the top when his brother-in-law died two months after the Edwards KO.

Since that time, Stout has gone (2-3) in the octagon, losing his most recent fight last month to James Krause via submission. The last time Stout had lost a fight via submission was in his second fight in the UFC back in 2006 to former title challenger Kenny Florian. The loss of Tompkins has been evident in his performances, but not nearly as much as Mark Hominick's.

In April 2011, Hominick had just lost a bid for the UFC featherweight title against champion Jose Aldo. However, in the loss Hominick gave such a spirited performance losing a five round decision that you just knew it was only a couple of fights till he worked his way back to title contention. I mean prior to that loss, he had won his previous five in a row.

Less than four months later, Tompkins was gone and Hominick did not climb back into the cage till December of that year. In his first fight back without 'The Coach' in his corner, Hominick lost via knockout in only seven seconds to the 'Korean Zombie' Chan Sung Jung. Since that unremarkable loss, Hominick lost his next two fights to fringe fighters Eddie Yagin and Pablo Garza and ultimately called it a career retiring at the young age of 30. 

Before August 14, 2011, Chris Horodecki had won four of his previous five fights, including his most recent win, which came in July of that year in his first fight for Bellator Fighting Championships. It was looking as though Horodecki had found the perfect place for him to flourish in a new promotion and at the right time of his career, which was not even in his prime yet. However, just three weeks after that win everything fell apart. 

Tompkins passed away and Horodecki has had only three fights resulting in one loss via first round knockout, one draw and one no-contest. He's no longer fighting in Bellator as at this point he is relegated to fighting his way back on the regional circuit. A similar fate would befall fellow Tompkins teammate and Bellator fighter Ronnie Mann.

The British bantamweight looked on the verge of making a splash on the American MMA Scene in the summer of 2011. Fighting in Bellator, he had just come off a decision loss to current featherweight champion Pat Curran, which had been preceded by a four fight win streak and 10 wins in his previous 11 fights. The future looked bright for Mann; that was until Tompkins ill fated passing.

Since then, Mann has only had three fights going (1-2), losing two in a row and since has been released by Bellator. He's back in England unsure of where to train at this point. Sure MMA is a tough game and these instances with these four fighters could possibly have happened had Shawn Tompkins still been alive. However, considering the careers of these fighters before Tompkins passing and the reputation he was getting in MMA circles for his training; I think it's safe to say the impact and importance of a (the) coach is evident.         

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