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Aaron Simpson Talks UFC 102 Win, Randy Couture Comparisions

As an assistant coach for nine years at Arizona State University, UFC middleweight Aaron Simpson watched as wrestlers Cain Velasquez, CB Dollaway and Ryan Bader all successfully translated their collegiate wrestling backgrounds into a career in MMA.

Training with Arizona Combat Sports, Simpson (6-0) finally gave MMA a shot in 2007 and in exactly 13 months, debuted for the WEC and won by knockout in 18 seconds. This past Saturday, the two-time All American wrestler extended his streak of TKO wins to six by knocking off Ed Herman at UFC 102.

In this interview with FanHouse, Simpson talks about the UFC 102 fight, his interest in pursuing a role in broadcast journalism and addresses Randy Couture comparisons stemming from both fighters' late start in MMA (both started around 33).

Ray Hui: Congratulations on your win. I hear you're already back in the gym getting CB Dollaway, Carlos Condit and Steve Steinbeiss ready for UFC Fight Night 19.

Aaron Simpson: Yeah. (Laughs.) I went in yesterday a little bit. Carlos needed me so I helped him out a little. Training a little bit but I'm going to take a couple days off here into the weekend.

You won the first round convincingly, so was it disappointing for you that the win came via injury?

Yeah, it's always disappointing [when I fight ends in injury]. It's disappointing to the fans and disappointing for me because I want to cement that I am a force to be reckoned with in the UFC. And you feel bad for a guy like Ed Herman, cause I know he didn't want to go out like that. He wanted to fight a complete fight. It's just you feel kind of gypped. It's just too bad that it had to happen.

Were you surprised Herman threw a kick even though he knew he blew his knee out?

No, I don't know what's going on in his head, how bad the pain is. Maybe he's thinking "My knee's done and I'm going to try to take his head off and maybe get a knockout and win." Who knows? I don't know what he's thinking. Some people play possum "Ah, my leg's hurt," then I'm thinking he's not going to throw a kick, so you just never know. I was prepared for him to be 100% and fight hard even in the second round. I had to go in there and break his will off what I had to do.

Did you notice there was something was wrong in the first round or did you learn of it when he was hobbling in his corner in between rounds?

I did notice I think maybe off a takedown one time. He kind of maybe tweaked his knee, so I took a jump on him and [tried to] finish the fight. He kept fighting. He wasn't about to throw in the towel. Hats off to him for even coming out of the second round as bad as that knee really was hurtin'. Most people would have stayed down and thrown in the towel, but he kept fighting.

You've been training boxing only for a couple of years, yet you were outstriking the more experienced Herman. What do you credit for developing that area of your game so quickly?

There's a lot to credit. I credit my wrestling background and a lot of that goes to my dad. He's the one that started me in wrestling and told me all the stories about the guys who trained hard, and he was a big boxing fan. [He'd tell me] about Jack Dempsey and some of these great boxers, and that was just growing up.

Then I got to credit my gym and my training partners. The Lally brothers really helped me develop my striking, my toughness to stay in the pocket, and when punches are thrown at me [to] throw them back. My training partners – we don't go light on each other. Jesse Forbes tries to take my head off everyday we spar and that only makes me better.

All those guys I have in there are just a culmination of a lot of different things coming together. Really it's the right time for me. It's just the perfect time for me, even though I'm a little older. The age thing doesn't matter to me. I have another ten years in this sport if I take care of my body and train like I'm capable of training.

You've said you love the mental aspect of MMA. Can you talk a little about how you handled the Herman fight having the betting odds and crowd against you?

I've been kind of the underdog my entire life in a lot of different things. Especially wrestling in Arizona State, going against universities like the University of Iowa and Oklahoma State, some of these top notch schools. We were always underdogs and we've always competed in big crowds. I've gained so much mental toughness just in my wrestling background as far as just flip the switch and compete hard when it's time to compete when something's on the line.

That really I think bodes well for me in MMA because here I am in another one-on-one sport in front of huge crowds and none of that really fazes me. My mentality is that I have another guy across the cage and everything outside of that Octagon is blacked out. As soon as I step in there, it's like something comes over, but I get tunnel vision and have but one job to do and I'm not going to step out of the cage into that job is done. And I think that mentality that I have developed over years and years of training. Like I've said, I really enjoy that mental aspect of [MMA]. How mentally tough you have to be to want to be another man physically.

You brought up after the win that you're "days are numbered" and that you'll fight whomever Joe Silva puts in front of you. But considering that you are 35, do you want to fight the top competition right away?

No. I don't know -- I was getting a little excited – I don't know what I was getting at with "my days are numbered." But I guess I'm saying that I don't have a 20 year career ahead of me like someone who's in their early 20s. That's one of these things where I need to be smarter to who I'm fighting and I don't have a lot of say to who I'm going to fight but... I'm still early in my contract. That was only my sixth fight. A lot of people are still fighting in small shows by their sixth fight and getting that experience. So I've had three major fights, one in the WEC and two in the UFC. I still think I have a lot of learning to do and I definitely don't think I'm ready for the tops of their weight division, but whoever they throw at me I have to prepare for and I have to beat.

Has the UFC given you any indication as who you'll fight next?

No, that's probably too soon. I imagine, they're coming off this show and in two weeks they got another one, so hopefully Joe [Silva] will sit down [with me] before not too long and see who he needs and hopefully we'll be getting a call, but yeah, I haven't heard anything yet.

You have a degree in broadcast journalism. Did that in any way help you with the press a fighter has to do for a fight?

A-ha yeah. I took a lot of those classes in college, and I never got to pursue that degree much outside cause I started training and was coaching [wrestling]. It's something I'd like to get into down the line. I'd like to get into broadcasting and hopefully I can move into something. But yeah it's prepared me a little bit, just dealing with people and with media, and knowing how to talk a little bit myself in front of people, being comfortable speaking in front of people. I had a lot of communication classes, so we'll see. Hopefully I can move into something along those lines when my fight career is over.

Or maybe even during? Kenny Florian has a gig with ESPN.

Yeah, yeah. There you go.

The comparison of you and Randy Couture are there. Both started fighting MMA at 33. Most fighters bring Randy as how age is only a number, and that they can fight until their 40s. Do you think Couture is a rule or exception to the rule?

I've known Randy for a long time. He coached at Oregon State when I was a freshman at Arizona State. That dude is just made out of granite. He's just a stud, I don't know too many people can do what he's done. A lot of us aspire to be like him – probably too many people want to do what he does [at that age]. A lot of people slow down, and he's not, and I love that about him. To me to have my name in the same sentence is a huge honor.

It's one at a time for me. Four-five years ago I never thought I'd be fighting in the UFC. I can't see where I'm going to be in another two, three, four, five years. It's just been such a whirlwind and awesome experience for me.

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