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Randy Couture remembers Robert Follis’ life, discusses his legacy as MMA coach

Team Quest, one of the most legendary squads in the annals of mixed martial arts, began inside what Randy Couture describes as a “damp, dank, wet, old” van conversion hut in Gresham, Ore.

Around 1998, Robert Follis began managing the gym he co-owned at that point with Couture and Matt Lindland. Finances were better, so the fighters and coaches decided to put up sheetrock for insulation inside the fairly dilapidated space.

It was a “horrible idea,” Couture told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour. All the wrestling and jiu-jitsu and striking was not conducive to the plan. Couture said there was a running joke about who would be the next person to have their head or butt go through a piece of the drywall panel.

“By the end of the second week,” Couture said, “there wasn’t a single clean piece of sheetrock in the gym.”

That was just one of the many memories Couture had of Team Quest, which launched the incredible careers of the likes of Couture, Lindland, Dan Henderson, Chael Sonnen, Nate Quarry, Jesse Taylor, Ed Herman and many more.

“We just had a ton of fun learning, beating the hell out of each other, but getting better,” Couture said. “Robert was a big part of that.”

Follis, one of the most respected coaches in mixed martial arts history, died Friday unexpectedly. The Clark County (Nev.) Coroner ruled the death a suicide, the result of a gunshot wound to the head.

Last month, Follis left his job as head coach of Xtreme Couture for other opportunities. He had been at Team Quest for 10 years prior to that. Couture said it came as a “shock” to those at his Las Vegas gym.

“A guy that’s as intelligent and warm and giving as Robert was, sometimes you never really know what’s going on on the inside with somebody,” Couture said. “It’s rough, it’s gonna be rough for a little while. But I think we’ll do our best to keep moving forward and honor and respect Robert for all the things he accomplished that were so positive.”

Couture said he knew Follis was having a hard time with the death of his brother a few years ago and was suffering from depression.

“Robert has been struggling with that,” Couture said. “I think it’s safe to say at this point, it just kind of got the better of him.”

Over the last few days, Couture said he has talked with many of the former Team Quest crew to mourn Follis’ untimely death.

“We had a pretty amazing room and Robert was the center of that,” Couture said. “The center of that knowledge, the center of that spirit.”

Couture, a UFC Hall of Famer and one of the greatest champions the sport has ever known, said a big part of what separated Follis from other coaches was his mastery of the mental side of MMA.

In 1997, Couture said he was personally looking for more knowledge of Brazilian jiu-jitsu to add to his dominant wrestling game. Follis was coaching and training at Straight Blast Gym in Salem, Ore., when he joined the squad in Gresham.

“I think Robert had a hunger for figuring things out,” Couture said. “Not only the physical aspects of the sport, but he was one of the few guys that was also in tune with the mental aspects of the sport. I think a lot of athletes, from my experience, overlook that part.”

Couture hired Follis four years ago to be the head coach at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas. Dennis Davis, another Team Quest alum and Follis protege, had been running the team and Couture said he actually took money out of his own pay to bring Follis aboard.

Under Follis, Xtreme Couture experienced a renaissance period. Miesha Tate and Bryan Caraway came from Washington to train at the gym and Tate ended up winning the UFC women’s bantamweight title in 2016 with Follis in her corner. Follis called it at the time one of the most significant accomplishments of his career. He also guided Kevin Lee to becoming one of the best lightweights in the world.

Couture said Follis had no ego and was constantly trying to better himself — and his students — in every facet of MMA.

“I think that’s what made him special,” Couture said. … “Robert had this positivity about him. He just had this persona that people were attracted to, that people wanted to be around.”

Couture said people close to Follis, his family and girlfriend Myra Fukuno are in the process of setting up a fundraiser and a memorial. It is obviously a difficult time and the tragedy is still fresh.

The MMA legend said he works extensively with military veterans. Couture, himself, served in the U.S. Army. He said he is disturbed by the rate of suicides in veterans who come home from combat and urged those who might need help to seek it. And by the same token, Couture said people should reach out if anyone in their life might be having a difficult time.

“Pick your head up out of your phone and connect with somebody,” Couture said. “Reach out to somebody if you’re struggling.”

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