'My dream come true'

Shawn Tompkins is considered one of the top trainers in his field. SUN MEDIA/Ken Wightman

Shawn Tompkins is considered one of the top trainers in his field. SUN MEDIA/Ken Wightman

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:27 AM ET

He has always been the consummate preacher, showing great faith in what he was doing and selling his sport with the same passion the preacher has for selling heaven and hell.

It's that passion and belief in his sport that kept Shawn Tompkins going, all through the dark, dingy gyms, the long days, the questions about the relevance of the sport . . . and the bills.

Now Tompkins is finally beginning to reap some rewards. He is a player in the exploding world of mixed martial arts.

His sport is one of the fastest-growing in the world. He's gone from a small gym on the second floor of the King's Inn in London to managing one of the most impressive gyms in Las Vegas.

The world of mixed martial arts knows Tompkins and the fighters he's developed, many of them at the Team Tompkins gym in London.

For the last two years, Tompkins has hopscotched between London, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. He's taken his fighters across the United States. He spends most of his time now in Las Vegas.

The Team Tompkins gym still operates in London's east end. Mark Hominick, highly regarded UFC lightweight Sam Stout and Chris Horodecki, all champions in their own right, work at the gym. When they need to really prepare for a fight, a month or six weeks beforehand they head to Las Vegas to work with Tompkins, staying in a house he's purchased.

"This is my dream come true," Tompkins said from Las Vegas. "As much as I miss London, I make it home as much as I can . . . Canada is the hotbed for hockey, Las Vegas is the hotbed for fighting. This is where you have to be."

Tompkins is considered one of the top trainers in his field. He's appeared in movies and made plenty of connections.

On Dec. 29, he'll lead 20-year-old Londoner Horodecki to Connecticut to fight Shad Lierley in the International Fight League World Grand Prix event. On Jan. 19, he'll be in Stout's corner in Newcastle, England, when Stout takes on Per Eklund of Sweden, one of Europe's top lightweights.

Recently, Tompkins, 34, merged Team Tompkins with legend Randy Couture's Xtreme Couture Mixed Martial Arts in Las Vegas.

"It doesn't affect Team Tompkins in Canada. I still manage and train these fighters," said Tompkins, who is now Xtreme's head trainer and gym manager. "But when my fighters come here to fight, they'll fight under Couture's gym."

The King's Inn seems a long way away. Tompkins has 28 pro fighters to train, including some of the best in the world.

"I opened my first gym when I was 18 in Tillsonburg," he said. "Ever since, it's been a tough sport and a tough road to travel. But I just have had such a love for what I do, that I stuck with it and seen the sport come from the ground floor . . . there are sports people saying it's the fastest growing sport in the world.

"People enjoy it more because it's more exciting. There's no foul play like boxing. It started out with men from the age of 18 to 35 who really like it. Now it's everybody. Now we see women who love the sport."

Mixed martial arts is especially big on pay per view.

"The UFC holds shows at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas that have sold out a 22,000-person venue for five years straight," Tompkins said. "They made millions in pay per view. This is a billion dollar business. People around the world love it."

But it's not an easy way to make a living. It's a tough, often brutal sport. The training consists of long hours and unforgiving training sessions. Many areas still don't allow professional mixed martial arts fights. Tompkins always wanted to train fighters but survived by competing and running fitness classes.

Things may be better now, but no less busy.

"I go from 7 a.m. until 12 at night. I do news reports, the Internet business is really taking off," Tompkins said. "I have Team Tompkins affiliate deals with eight gyms around North America, soon to be 12 by the end of the year. I have 28 professional fighters that I have to schedule to get to three times a week. Then I have to manage the gym here and make sure that Team Tompkins is doing what it's supposed to be doing."

He doesn't consider it work. He considers it his passion.

Tompkins is going to have time for some personal business next summer. He's marrying Stout's sister.

"We've been together 7 1/2 years," Tompkins said. "Just to clear things up, I knew Sam's sister way before him. He was the bonus, not the other way around. Her family is such huge supporters of what I do."

Even though more of it has gone by than Tompkins would want, there's still plenty time left to enjoy everything he's worked so hard for.

"I really did struggle. But I wouldn't give up. It's really worked out because when I see guys like Mark Hominick, Sam Stout, Chris Horodecki, all at the top of their divisions from my home town, my home gym in London, Ontario, it's all worth it. I told you, this is my dream."

A dream built by blood, sweat and tears.


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