Putting together the pieces of a puzzle can be a time consuming and tedious effort, but the beautiful picture at the end makes all the hard work worth while.
When several top fighters in Arizona decided to open their own gym, Power MMA & Fitness, they had the makings of a top MMA team.
Ultimate Fighter Season 8 winner Ryan Bader, NCAA All-Americans Aaron Simpson and C.B. Dollaway, as well as knockout artist Robbie Lawler had all the talent in the world, but much like a puzzle, they needed a border to contain them and give their gym form.
“If there was one thing we were lacking it was that person of authority, someone to hold everyone accountable,” said Simpson. “I personally have kind of been training myself for a long time, not really having a coach oversee what I do.”
From the first day they opened the gym, Simpson, Bader, Dollaway, and others knew that they would benefit from having a head coach take over their program, but they also had a slew of other top coaches that were already there to prepare them for fights.
Power MMA & Fitness opened on day one with a Muay Thai instructor, a boxing coach, a jiu-jitsu coach, a strength and conditioning coac,h and down the line, but there was still something missing.
“That’s what we were missing, that whole MMA coach, game planning and putting it all together,” Bader told MMAWeekly.com. “We had great individual coaches from Muay Thai to jiu-jitsu to boxing, etc., but to have someone to put it all together, to look at opponents, and put the fighters where they need to be and somebody that’s been around the game.”
At that point, Bader and his teammates turned to their manager and business partner Dave Martin of the Martin Advisory Group, as well as gym co-owner NBA guard Mike Miller to start putting together a plan to get this missing piece of the puzzle.
“I think it’s important for the upper echelon guys at our gym to have the proper coaching staff in place. You can only coach yourself so far. We’ve got some great assistant coaches if you will, but we just needed that structure of a head coach,” said Martin.
For as talented as the team in Arizona was, there just happened to be a glass ceiling on how much further they could push things without having a leader to take them to that next level.
Enter Tom Vaughn.
For longtime fans of mixed martial arts, Vaughn’s name will sound familiar. He was the instructor that brought up current UFC welterweight contender Carlos Condit through the ranks from his earliest days as a teenager all the way to the WEC championship.
Vaughn, who owns and operates Fit NHB in New Mexico, has also coached several other young up-and-comers over the years.
Once he was introduced to the team in Arizona through a mutual friend, there was a certain chemistry at work that just caused the right kind of reaction from both the fighters and the coach.
“When he came down he got right on the mat,” UFC middleweight C.B. Dollaway said about Vaughn. “Like we were doing some rolling on the day he got there and he got right in with the guys and was rolling with them. He was willing to get in there and show them what he was talking about. Reminded me a lot of a wrestling coach.”
Vaughn admits he wasn’t sure what to expect when he first arrived at the facility in Arizona, but once he had a chance to work with Simpson, Bader and the others, it was a natural fit.
“It was the way I saw these guys interact with each other,” Vaughn told MMAWeekly.com about his first experience with the team. “I never pictured myself training guys that just floated in for a couple of days, and I’m sure some of that will happen and this gym will certainly be open for people to come to do their camp and I encourage that, but what I have to offer takes more time than that. When I came out here and I met these guys and realized how long they’ve known each other and what a great team they were, that was the selling point.”
Like a good recipe, just having all the ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to finish with a great meal. It’s being able to measure things out in the right amounts and knowing just how to prepare things that ultimately make it a winning combination.
Bringing in a head coach like Tom Vaughn was exactly the structure that the fighters at Power MMA & Fitness needed, while allowing them to train and get ready for a fight without over-thinking each and every situation.
“It takes all of the thinking out of it for us. We don’t have to come in every day and go ‘well, what am I going to do today?’ We come in and he puts us through our workouts. Instead of thinking about what am I going to do today, what should I do today? We’ll just come in and he’ll put us through it,” said Dollaway.
Simpson, who has coached many wrestlers in his day, admits even he needed the structure that a head coach provides because it’s one thing to tell others to get in there and do something, it’s a whole other game when you have to do it yourself.
“I needed it. I needed someone to hold me accountable, but also me being a little bit older and having been coached by great guys and having been a coach, I feel like I know a little bit about peaking and training, and I can’t just trust anybody with my career,” Simpson commented.
A veteran of MMA that’s been around the sport since its inception, Vaughn understands all the nuances of fighting that just any coach wouldn’t get. He understands how to teach, how to develop and how to put together a winning strategy, which usually means something different for each and every fighter he works with.
“Putting it all together and using the right tools for the right fighter. You can’t just have a cookie cutter mentality for everybody. Each one of these guys are a little bit different, and it takes a veteran MMA eye to pick the things that are going to be correct for the fighter,” Vaughn stated.
“I have a been a mixed martial artist for a long time, I’ve had a mixed martial arts gym for a very long time, so I know the whole game. I can be the general contractor, I can be the conductor. I’m very happy.”
Bader echoed those sentiments, but also says it’s the little additions that Vaughn is already started to contribute that they feel will ultimately lead to their success.
“It’s huge and I think the No. 1 thing is the experience. He’s been in the game, he’s been in MMA, and that’s what he does,” said Bader. “He lives, eats and breathes MMA. He’s loves to do that and that’s his passion and that’s great for everybody. It’s the little things, the techniques that we were never taught.”
Vaughn is already in Arizona full time working with the team and is currently putting together the strategy for the next big fight on the team’s docket.
The next major fight for the team in Arizona is Ryan Bader’s return to action against fellow wrestler Jason Brilz. Obviously dealing with the difficulty of two losses in a row, Bader is excited to get back in there and prove he’s still a top talent in the light heavyweight division.
Tom Vaughn says no one has to worry about how Ryan Bader will look when he comes out for UFC 139. If anyone should be worried, it’s his opponent.
“I just got off the mat with Ryan and I’m amped. He’s a really cool person and really good athlete, and he’s eager to learn. So when you have all of those things to work with, the sky’s the limit,” said Vaughn.
“I think Jason Brilz needs to be concerned.”