LAS VEGAS -- Few know the two principals in this main event better than Shawn Tompkins.
Having amicably split from Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts in 2009, the famed striking coach will corner Mark Coleman in his marquee showdown with Randy Couture at UFC 109 “Relentless” on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. It marks the first time in the promotion’s history that two enshrined hall of famers will meet inside the Octagon.
Tompkins considers Coleman and Couture “the two toughest men” he has ever encountered but gives an edge to the former in terms of durability.
“Coleman’s the tougher of the two,” he said. “He’s got the chin. Everyone knows what kind of fighter [Mauricio] ‘Shogun’ [Rua] is, and you saw what [Coleman] did with a week’s worth of training [at UFC 93]. He got the s--t kicked out of him, but he didn’t quit.”
Couture -- who has been knocked down at least once in each of his last three fights -- reacted with indifference when made aware of Tompkins’ sentiments and maintained that the two have remained friendly despite their decision to part ways.
“I ran into him earlier today,” Couture said. “We’re still friends.”
Tompkins admits he had second thoughts about training Coleman for his long overdue match with Couture. He weighed all the dynamics involved, and the positives far outweighed the negatives.
“It’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Tompkins said. “I was up in the air for a little while. Randy and I have been friends for a long time, but Coleman’s a good friend of mine, too. In the end, it’s the Mandalay Bay, it’s the main event, it’s two hall of famers for the first time. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got to be a part of this.’”
Now based at the Tapout Training Center in Las Vegas, Tompkins joined forces with Coleman in advance of his UFC 100 matchup with “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 runner-up Stephan Bonnar in July. The first heavyweight champion in UFC history and the 2000 Pride Fighting Championships open weight grand prix winner, Coleman snapped a two-fight losing streak with a unanimous decision over Bonnar.
Tompkins raves about Coleman’s drive and athleticism, even at this late stage of his career. Experiencing true training camps for the first time has reinvigorated the 45-year-old Columbus, Ohio, native.
“I think a big part of this is he’s done this on his own his whole life,” Tompkins said. “He wrestled with wrestling partners but did not train with actual coaches. Now, it’s more about using game plans and technique. He’s probably one of the best athletes I’ve ever trained.”
Tompkins knows as well as anyone the problems Couture poses. Revered for staying one step ahead of his opponents, the 46-year-old has broken many a men inside the Octagon’s unforgiving confines.
“Mark has to be prepared to take the fight to him,” he said. “He’s got to stay calm and not get frustrated. The most dangerous part of Randy Couture is not how he thinks in the gym; it’s how he thinks in the cage. He’s an active thinker.”