If you’re an Olympian, have a record on Sherdog, have coached at two of the most respected MMA gyms in the world, have your own Wiki page, are a household name in MMA circles, and have been in the corner for some of the best MMA fighters at the biggest MMA shows, there’s probably a whole history that’s been written on your career. Heath Sims is a guy with all those accolades attached to his name, yet there’s surprisingly little about him in the press. As I’ve gotten to know him over several events, I can surmise why. Heath is approachable, laid-back, funny, and sincerely likable. He’s about as ‘dude’ as you can get – he’s probably the first guy invited to every BBQ, pool party, and pub crawl. And he’s definitely the first guy you’d think to learn wrestling for MMA from if you had nothing standing in your way.
Heath and Quest co-founder Dan Henderson were even recognized by the city of Murietta, California in a proclamation for their accomplishments and service to the residents. That’s the thing where the mayor gives you the golden key to the city. He’s coached the US Eagles Rugby Sevens team. He was a coach on The Ultimate Fighter. And now he’s given up his founding position in Team Quest to move halfway around the world to coach in Singapore at Asia’s uber-gym, Evolve MMA. How does someone go from being a teenage wrestler to an MMA household name? Here’s a statement Heath made twelve years ago as he was preparing for the Sydney Olympics that reveals how his success has come from a great reservoir of personal strength:
“Wrestling has taught me one thing more than any other has. Patience. This is not a sport where one can excel overnight. It requires trial and error and learning to overcome ones flaws. You have to be man enough to admit them so you can take the next step on improving your self.”
How did you first get interested in wrestling in school?
I began wrestling as a freshman in High school at 13 years old. I needed to take a sport on my schedule in school so I choose wrestling on a whim. I started wresting Greco-Roman after my Sophomore year. I joined a wrestling club called The California JETS. We trained freestyle, Greco-Roman, Sambo, and Folk style (college style). This gave us the opportunity to compete more often and be more dynamic wrestlers.
Why did you stick with Greco-Roman?
I eventually choose Greco-Roman because I had a excellent training situation to excel in Greco-Roman. The JETS had a former Russian National Champ join the team. I now had a great coach and training partner to throw me around everyday! Also, with his connections in Russia we would travel and train at many camps in Russia. These were not just any camps. These were camps were World and Olympic champions were preparing for competition. I was training alongside guys like Alexander Karelin (3x Olympic Champion), also the World Champion and Olympic Champion in my weight class, as well as many other World and Olympic Champs training with the camp. It was unheard of! No one from the United States at that time had these opportunities!
I think it’s amazing you stuck with the same teacher for so long. Can you tell me about him, and the qualities that made him a good coach?
My coach from The JETS was Bob Anderson. He was amazing! He gave his life to helping kids learn wrestling. Bob coached multiple National, World, and Olympic Champions. He would not only teach me wrestling technique, but nutrition, strength training, conditioning, and mental skills. He would also organize other coaches from around the world to work with us. I was very fortunate to have him guide me my entire career. He was in my corner at every major event I competed at!
In one of the very few interviews you’ve done, your dad said you “messed up” each time they were getting you ready for the Olympics, until the last time, when he figured you’d “straightened up”. What was having a hard-ass father like? Did his background as a wrestler influence you in the sport?
My dad was a huge influence on me through my entire career. He spent countless hours traveling with me to tournaments, camps, and practices. He was a big supporter of our wrestling club and always helped me keep my priorities straight and my motivation high. Looking back, the life of a wrestler’s parent is pretty crazy!
Do you still keep up with the sport of competitive wrestling? Were you parked in front of the TV for wrestling in the Olympics last week?
I do not follow wrestling very closely anymore. I am always interested and supportive of our (USA) team of wrestlers at the Olympics because it is the biggest stage. The wrestlers from other countries I know little about. I was excited to watch and was wishing them the best!
Can you tell me a little bit about the evolution of Team Quest and your involvement in MMA?
I met Dan Henderson at the JETS wrestling club when I was 15. We eventually became best friends and trained and traveled the world wrestling together. I was living with Dan when he choose to begin fighting MMA. We saw our wrestling training partner Randy Couture doing well and making money so he gave it a shot. I began training with Dan in MMA and also found a group of fighters to train with in Huntington Beach. Tito Ortiz, Rampage Jackson, Fabiano Iha, Tiki, Razor Rob, and many others lived and trained together so I started to mix in with them.
Our Team Quest gym was started in 2006 in Temecula, California. Dan Henderson and I opened the gym together. Dan started Team Quest in Oregon but later moved back to California to live and raise his family. Team Quest went bonkers when we first opened. All the top fighters wanted to train together there. We had a good facility, coaches, and training partners all in one location.
What are the best qualities a wrestler brings to the sport of MMA?
The best qualities of wrestlers is that they are tuff!!! They have years of experience with competition. They know how to train effectively. Wrestlers learn techniques and apply them very quickly. They are familiar with how to condition there bodies for competition. Finally one of the most important is they have the mental skills to prepare and compete on a big stage immediately. Many of these things people don’t think about until you start coaching a young athlete with little competitive experience. They need much more guidance and coaching to reach the same level.
Does the Greco-Roman style of training with no leg attacks have any detriment to MMA training?
The good thing about Greco-Roman wrestlers is that they all grew up wrestling College style and Free Style – Greco-Roman wrestlers know how to attack the legs. I was a State Champion and a National Junior College champion in College. But, most Freestyle wrestlers do not learn Greco-Roman to much extent.
How do you run a typical wrestling class for the pro fight team at Evolve? Do you stick to Greco-Roman style or do you mix it up with other takedowns and BJJ?
I would say our wrestling techniques and practice are 70% leg attacks and 30% upper body attacks and control. It is based for MMA. Many wrestling positions and moves are great but not practical in MMA or Submission Wrestling.
When you start training MMA athletes in wrestling, what are some of the challenges?
The challenges are the same as with anyone learning wrestling. Those with an open mind and willing to learn will progress very quickly. Wrestling is different because it requires tons of repetition to not only learn the move but to make it work. So some athletes that are not used to this type of training get frustrated. It is much easier to learn how to sprawl than to actually setup a shot and shoot successfully.
Who are some of the pro fighters you’ve worked with – non-wrestlers – who really took to it?
Tarec Saffiedine is a great example. He is now at a level he can go into a college wrestling room and be very competitive wrestling takedowns. We have many of our fighters at Evolve who are now applying wrestling very well for only 6 months of consistent coaching.
Tarec is tough. After he beat Tyler Stinson, I heard him say he broke his arm in the first round! So, will Shinya Aoki be doing any suplexes at ONE FC 5?
Aoki is a very good wrestler with a very unique style. You can always expect some crazy technique with him!
Are you going to be in Dan’s corner on the 1st of September? This must be a conflicting weekend for you, with ONE FC on the 31st right before it
I will be leaving for 2 weeks to work with Henderson for his UFC title fight. Unfortunately, I will miss the ONE FC event in Manila. I am confident that our fighters have prepared well and will be in the good hands of Chatri and all the other world class trainers at Evolve.
How did you decide to move to Singapore? What do you think about the city-state?
I decided to move to Singapore for Evolve Mixed Martial Arts. Chatri and the entire staff at Evolve are amazing! I believe Evolve is the best academy in the world! I am thrilled to be a part of something amazing and be able to contribute my piece to the puzzle.
Is coaching at Evolve anything like coaching at Team Quest? Tell me about your experiences there.
Yes of course! Coaching is very similar. We are training athletes to compete. That will not change significantly. What is different is the enormous amount of coaching talent we have at Evolve. The instructors available for the fighters is insane!!!
Can you tell me if the Evolve fighters are training differently since you’ve arrived? How do they approach wrestling?
Our morning training is now separated daily to incorporate all disciplines through out the week. We incorporate Wrestling with Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and Sparring. But the focus is on MMA and how to use all aspects together. The fighters work directly with Evolve’s Muay Thai World Champions in the afternoon training. It is phenomenal to see the room! So much talent in one location is amazing!
What do you think of the growth of MMA in Asia, outside of Japan? Do you think the sport will gain in popularity, based on what you’ve observed since moving here?
MMA is Asia is growing at a very fast pace! It is exciting to be part of the movement! ONE FC is a major driving force!
Do you think MMA should be – or ever can be – an Olympic sport?
MMA will not be an Olympic sport any time soon. The Olympic Committee has many prerequisites for sports to enter into the Olympics and MMA is not even close!
Is there anything you;d like to say in closing?
Be sure to check out all the action at ONE FC 5 in Manila on August 31st!
I asked Evolve Founder Chatri Sityodtong about how Heath’s appointment to the coaching roster was going, and he had the following to say:
“I spent over a year scouring the globe for the perfect person to head our Wrestling and MMA Programs. I interviewed tons of Olympic medalists from the US, World Champions from Eastern Europe, and I didn’t give out a single offer. I believe in waiting for the perfect candidate. Heath Sims was a blessing from above. Not only is he an incredible coach and US Olympian with deep MMA experience as Dan Henderson’s long time coach, but Heath is a wonderful human being. Heath did a ton of research on me as I did on him before he officially joined Evolve MMA. Needless to say, it has been a marriage made in heaven. From Day 1, he has made a tremendous impact on the Evolve Fight Team and on everyone at Evolve. I truly feel so blessed to work with Heath every day.”