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Shawn Tompkins Interview Part II: “I kind made a career of doing what people told me not to do”

Shawn Tompkins is one of the foremost authorities in MMA on the art of striking and thanks to Jake Hattan, one of his managers at Denaro Sports Marketing, was recently granted an opportunity to interview the Xtreme Couture striking specialist.

In Part II of our interview, Tompkins continued his rebuttal to famed boxing instructor Freddie Roach’s recent critique of Fedor Emelianenko; shared his feelings whether boxing translates well to MMA; and also became introspective when discussing his start in traditional martial arts and ultimately mixed martial arts.

Sam Caplan ( How do you feel about fighters working with boxing-only coaches? Is there a lot of techniques that translate back and forth between the two sports that are applicable?

Shawn Tompkins: No. I am a big fan of boxing and I am a big fan of MMA and I don’t think one should be held over the other at all. But at the same time I will tell you that everything I did with striking as far as becoming a coach in mixed martial arts, I had to transfer and change to make it transfer more to MMA.

As far as going to train with a guy like Freddie Roach, or Nacho, or any of those great boxing coaches, no I don’t believe it transfers over at all. I think where they come in is with a pure wrestler or jiu-jitsu guy in trying to build their hand skills from basics, that’s where they would come in.

But as far as coming in to make Arlovski a better striker for Fedor? I just don’t think that style of boxing will transfer over. Absolutely not.

Sam Caplan ( I wanted to see if you could get into more technical specifics. What are some main boxing fundamentals that don’t transfer over well to MMA?

Shawn Tompkins: First and foremost is the stance. The stance is completely wrong for mixed martial arts. Having the front foot turn into the inside of the opponent makes you accessible for a shot against a wrestler and a low kick against a kickboxer. It takes the power off the punch.

Boxers also tend to be very jab-oriented; before they can set up any kind of combination, they have to throw a jab. In MMA that can get you in trouble because you’re putting about 95 percent of your weight on your front leg, which doesn’t allow you to be defensive in your stance.

Any good kickboxers or boxers that transfer over to MMA like, say, Chuck Liddell, you’ll notice he uses a longer, lower stance. He has to use power shots and in MMA that’s needed to defend in order to defend against the wrestlers.

As I stated earlier, I think the stance and footwork in any combat sport and I think that’s where boxing just won’t transfer into MMA.

Sam Caplan ( What do you think of head movement in MMA? I hear boxing instructors complain all the time about the lack of head movement in MMA. Is that one area where MMA fighters can improve in?

Shawn Tompkins: I absolutely believe that’s a big problem for a lot of MMA fighters. And I think that comes from the fact that a lot of MMA fighters are trying to catch up when it comes to striking. Head movement even in a boxer is an advance thing. You don’t go to a boxing gym and the first thing is how to move your head. Instead, it’s stance and footwork.

Head movement is taught more at an intermediate to advance level so when you look at MMA the guys at MMA are really just trying to learn how to turn their punches over and how to walk with them forward and backwards. So head movement is going to be something that evolves later in an MMA fighter’s career. But do I think it’s needed? Absolutely, one hundred percent.

Sam Caplan ( Can you talk about your roots as a striking? Which specific disciplines have you been involved in?

Shawn Tompkins: I started martial arts when I was six-years old. I hold a third degree black belt in traditional Shotokan Karate. I’ve trained in Thai boxing since the age of 18 and I hold three championships in Thai boxing with approximately 47 fights under my belt. I’ve also trained with the great Bas Rutten, who has been a mentor in my life for the last 12 years.

It was really an easy progression for me to go from a traditional martial art into Thai boxing, where I learned a lot of my skills and technique and experienced the toughening and conditioning of my body. And then it was an easy transition for me when I met a guy like Bas Rutten, who is such a great mixed martial artist to be able to transition everything and blend it.

Sam Caplan ( I wanted to know if you could talk more about how you got into MMA because I originally started in traditional martial arts, where there was a bias against MMA and we were always told that MMA was just a “fad” and that it couldn’t be applied in a self-defense situation. And when I’ve trained Muay Thai, around certain Krus, Muay Thai is practically a religion to them and they’re really not open to anything that isn’t Muay Thai. What was your transition into MMA like?

Shawn Tompkins: Just like anybody else, 12 years ago MMA was viewed as the new fad and anybody that was a martial artist wanted to test themselves. I’ve had four fights in MMA that date back as far as 12 years ago. The sport has evolved so much in that time period and I wasn’t that successful when I was coming straight from a Thai boxing background with no wrestling. Nobody told me that you had to blend styles and that you had to know everything. I just wanted to go out and test myself and get a feel for it and I’m glad that I did. I think it’s made me a better coach and it’s made me understand the sport more.

But yeah, I got involved back then, back in the early days when it was just something as a martial artist that you had to try and you had to do. I was just fortunate that I lived in Canada. Montreal had the ECC and TKO organizations and they knew my kickboxing background and gave me the opportunity to give it a try and I really grew to love the sport.

Sam Caplan ( Did you experience any peer pressure or resistance from people that you trained under or trained with to not get involved with MMA?

Shawn Tompkins: Well, yeah, absolutely I did. There were people back then who felt it was the wrong thing to do and that it was bad for martial arts and that it was going to put the art further back as far as evolving. But I just stuck to my guns, much like I have for most of my martial arts career. I even opened up my own gym when I was 18 when everyone told me I was too young. I kind of have made a career of doing what people told me not to do and I’m proud that it worked out the way they it did and I think it’s things like that have helped me progress and be where I am today.

  • Katie says:

    Great interviews Sam!! I am a huge fan of Shawn’s and always enjoy reading what he is up to now and all his great opinions on things!! hope to hear more from Shawn soon!!! Awesome job!!!

  • nate says:

    i love the description how Shawn breaks down how boxing doesnt apply to MMA. Pretty cool.

  • stan says:

    That’s interesting about head movement being taught later in a fighter’s development. I remember watching the WEC fight where Rosholt kept marching forward at Osterneck and thinking “Why hasn’t anyone taught this guy to move his head?”

  • Benedict Smith says:

    good article, good insight. didnt’ know much about this guy/from behind the scenes etc.


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