By Mike Russell
I first met Shawn Tompkins six years ago while I was working for The Fight Network in Toronto, Canada. I’d been a fan of his work for a while, having watched Mark Hominick and Sam Stout climb the Canadian rankings under his tutelage, but didn’t get the opportunity to shake the hand of the London, Ontario coach, who was considered by many to be the top trainer in Canada until late 2005. He was one of the good guys in the sport, always eager to talk shop and would give you the shirt off of his back if you needed it.
I last spoke to “The Coach” a week ago for a story I was working on for Fighters Only Magazine about his brother-in-law and longtime protégée Sam Stout. In spite of the fact that he was on vacation (the first one he’d taken in years) and was in the midst of celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife Emilie, Shawn promptly responded to the text I sent him asking if he had time to talk that week with a familiar reply: “I’ve always got time for you, Mike.”
It didn’t surprise me when he told me that day that he and Sam had never had a disagreement.
Back in 2007 I talked to Shawn about how the transition to California was going since he had recently moved to Temecula to take over as head coach for Dan Henderson‘s Team Quest gym. I asked him what he had on his plate the coming weeks and typical of Shawn, he answered for the team.
When I posted the story, Shawn called me to let me know that he never meant that he was training Lindland and asked me to correct the piece to reflect the truth, as he didn’t want to take credit for someone else’s work. That was him. He wasn’t mad, he just wanted the story done right the same way he wanted his team’s training and he wanted credit to go where it was due.
Last week, in the same humble way he told me that he’s only partially responsible for the success of the team that bears his name.
“I truly think that Mark, Sam and Chris and myself — the four of us are who built the Team Tompkins brand together by the way that we fight and the style we’re known for. It’s great that it’s my name, but I’ll always give them credit when credit is due. We’ve been together since the beginning, we’ve done this together and it’s something that just wouldn’t be right if it wasn’t the four of us doing it together. We’re the original four who built the foundation of Team Tompkins together,” he pointed out. “Now the new guys who come along and want to be part of it because they see the relationship we have; it’s a great thing. I think one of the biggest things of bringing on some of the newer fighters to the team is that it’s something they really want. People love the idea of being mixed martial arts fighter, but they want more now. They want to be a part of what we have and it’s truly an awesome thing I wouldn’t trade for the world. It’s something I’ve been blessed with throughout my life and my career to be able to put together a team and family that’s as tight as it is. I don’t think I’ve seen a team as close as we are. The ones who are like ours are the successful ones in mixed martial arts or any sport or business that they’re involved in.”
Team Tompkins to Shawn wasn’t just a group of fighters who trained in the same gym. They were and will continue to be a family who had each other’s backs through thick and thin, better or for worse. At the core of the brotherhood were Shawn’s original three students: Stout, Mark Hominick and Chris Horodecki. Each of them counted the others as his best friends. All three were in Tompkins’ wedding and Shawn was Hominick’s best man in his. “The Coach” prided himself in keeping his Team Tompkins family together by treating them like his family, because to him they were. They were the siblings he never had.
They had their own rooms in his house in Las Vegas and would often stay with Shawn and Emilie for a month or two at a time when training for upcoming bouts. Last month prior to Horodecki’s most recent bout at Bellator 47 in July in Ontario Shawn’s wallet and passport were stolen and being the optimist that he is, after being granted access back into Canada from the Canadian consulate and being put on the waiting list for new identification, he shrugged the misfortune off and chalked it up as an extended vacation at home. That was Shawn.
While staying with Sam and Emilie’s parents in London, Shawn woke up at four in the morning to discover a drunken intruder had entered the house and passed out in the basement. Instead of dragging him out of the house, he calmly woke the man up asked him his name and whether or not he may be in the wrong residence. When he determined the guy was in the wrong place, he led him outside and pointed him in the right direction of his house. That was Shawn.
Having honed his craft as a marquee trainer under the guidance of Bas Rutten and his fighting system, Shawn’s heart was always in developing fighters from the ground up. That’s where his roots were and that’s where he knew he had to go back to. In spite of having worked with a who’s who of the MMA world from Dan Henderson to Randy Couture to Vitor Belfort, Tompkins decided to leave Xtreme Couture two-and-a-half years ago to take the helm of the recently opened TapouT Training Center where he could do what he loved doing – training young inexperienced fighters to one day become champions.
“All the success in the world and the Vitor Belforts and the Randy Coutures and the Dan Hendersons were awesome to train, but I wouldn’t trade what I have with Team Tompkins any day,” Tompkins admitted.”
At the end of our conversation last week, Shawn asked me what I had been up to since the last time we spoke and I told him that besides working in MMA full-time — something he knew was an aspiration of mine as long as we’d known each other — I had been editing a book written by a mutual friend about his recently deceased father who was an Olympic wrestler and a coach and mentor like him named Harry Geris from Shawn’s hometown.
“We actually run the Harry Geris wrestling club out of the Adrenaline Training Centre/Team Tompkins gym in London. He was a great man. I never got to train with him, but I did get to meet him a few times,” he said. “There isn’t a wrestler from London who Harry didn’t help in some way. I hope I can touch as many lives as he did.”
Judging by the tremendous outpouring of support his family has received since the news broke last night, I think it’s safe to say he did.
Knowing many of the back stories of the team and its members having spoken to the guys almost every week for a weekly Canadian MMA column I penned for TFN, I asked Shawn if he had ever thought about doing a book on Team Tompkins, even though such a bio is usually reserved for the twilight of fighters’ careers.
“I did some instructional stuff a little while ago and I’ve been asked about doing a book, but like you said, there’s so much more to add to the story I think it’s something that will be done way down the road. I think we’re at about chapter three now and we’ll have fifty more chapters to add,” he said. “Maybe when it comes time you can write the Team Tompkins story, Mike. You know as much about us as anybody. “
Unfortunately for those of us who like myself counted Tompkins as a friend and a member of our close-knit MMA family, Shawn’s story ended without reaching the climax he was destined to reach. He passed away overnight Saturday after watching some of his up-and-coming Team Tompkins fighters compete in Hamilton, Ontario. He was 37.
Unfortunately many in the MMA media did not respect his family enough to allow them to grieve, and instead flocked to their phones and computers to try to squeeze a quote from them. Sadly, when reached for comment, some had yet to hear the news and were taken aback by the breathless, devastating disclosure that their mentor was gone.
To Sam, Chris, Mark, Emile, Mr. Stout, Mrs. Smith and Mr. and Mrs. Tompkins:
I am sorry for your loss. Shawn was always a stand-up guy. You should all be proud of him. He will be missed.
It was a pleasure to know him.
Thanks for everything, Shawn.
It was great to be able to call you my friend.