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SB Nation Exclusive Interview With UFC's Aaron 'A-Train' Simpson

The UFC's Aaron Simpson tells us about handling the first loss of his career, becoming a vegetarian, opening his new state of the art training facility, and his philosophy on fighting.

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Coming off the first loss of his professional career, Aaron Simpson is on the road to recovery in more ways than one. Shortly after his fight with Chris Leben back in June, Simpson was stricken with a staph infection severe enough to hospitalize him. Planning for a return to the Octagon in late 2010, the 'A-Train' looks to get back on track and begin his climb back into the mix of the UFC's middleweight division.  

How are you recouping from your recent staph infection? Have you been able to get back into training or are you still strictly no contact?

I'm actually recovering pretty well. I have a PICC line in which is basically a line that goes from my bicep to my heart. I was giving myself antibiotic through an IV every day for about an hour for about 14 days, and I just got that out on Friday. Now I'm on a pill form of Zyvox, which is a pretty heavy duty antibiotic, for the next three weeks. I swam a few days ago, ran some stadium stairs and did a little cardio today, so I'm taking it slow but getting back in there. It's a slow process. I was originally only supposed to have the IV in my arm for four weeks but I was actually able to take it out after only two. I'm working back into training. I was getting a little anxious, so it's good to get out there and sweat a little bit, get my heart rate up. I'm still pretty much at no contact, but that's really to make sure it doesn't get re-infected, to make sure the infection is killed. I've pretty much just stuck to doing cardio, but I can probably start lifting on it pretty soon.

What are your plans for making a return to action? Have you spoken with Joe Silva and the UFC about possible opponents or cards coming up later this year?

Not just yet. My manager Dave Martin has relayed the info to Joe Silva that I'll be ready by November or December at the earliest. I need about a month to get back into some kind of training shape and then about two months for a camp. I'm looking at either Nov. 20 or Dec. 11. I don't have an opponent yet, but I've got to take whoever they give me. We'll see. Obviously I want to start fighting some top guys because I feel I belong up there with Nate Marquardt and Chael Sonnen and those guys. It's one fight at a time right now and after that loss to Leben I've been re-motivated. It was unfortunate that I had this infection step in because I was really looking forward to getting back in there with Dave Branch in September.

How have you coped with your first professional loss? What sort of re-evaluation process did you and your team do to try to figure out how to improve?

If I could have fought three weeks after like Leben did against Akiyama, I would have in a second. My hat's off to him for doing that, it was pretty impressive. I didn't have my best performance. I felt like I had a great first round and felt like I just needed to replicate that for two more rounds, but there wasn't much of a reevaluation process aside from doing some blood work and trying to figure out why I hit a wall like that. I'm not used to something like that. I want to get back in there, but the infection set me back and it wouldn't be smart to jump right back into the cage in September or October. I'll be ready by November.

Speaking of hitting the wall, Kenny Florian, who was doing color work in place of Joe Rogan, was commenting throughout your fight with Chris Leben about your fast paced tempo. Do you think your work rate was too high during that first round and that led you to hit the wall?

There's a lot to be said for that. With my wrestling background we're go go go. You only compete for six or seven minutes depending what style you're in so you want that fast pace. You want to put the pressure on. In order to make that a 15 minute fight, and eventually a 25 minute fight, we need to fight smarter. I like to try to compete at a pace not many fighters can keep up with. A lot of guys just cant handle it. I think the biggest example of that would be Cain Velasquez. I think Lesnar is going to have a fight on his hands because of the type of pace Cain can keep. That's the kind of tempo I want to keep. I feel I can, and that's how we trained at Arizona State. It's much more exciting that way. I don't want to slow it down and tip toe around and lay on someone. I want to make it exciting out there, but sometimes it opens you up to what happened with me with Chris Leben. He fought a smarter, better fight that night. 

Leben is pretty amazing about how he draws fighters into brawling with him.

Maybe I didn't respect his toughness as much as I should have. In the fight I was saying to myself 'jeez this guy is legit. He can really take a punch.' I hit him pretty hard with something that would really hurt a lot of people, and it didn't drop him. He is who he is for a reason and he's where his is for a reason. He has a ton of experience and has fought some great fighters. He's probably right where he needs to be on his climb to the top.

Were you OK with the stoppage? What did you say to Josh Rosenthal when he stepped in?

No, not necessarily. I jumped up after being knocked off balance. I wasn't knocked out or anything. I jumped up and the ref came over, looked at me, and I told him I was fine. He looked at me like he knew he had made a mistake calling the fight like that. He thought I was out. I had fallen and I was all the way across the cage so I had time to recover before he came across. I recover very quickly. I got lit up against Tom Lawlor and I was fine. I was totally recovered and ready to continue the fight. I just needed to get out of that round and into the third. I was a little disappointed by the stoppage but it is what it is. You end up on the floor, you can't really complain about something like that.

You touched on Cain's high work rate. How do you see his upcoming title fight with Brock Lesnar going?

I see Lesnar being a problem because of his size and the fact that he can throw very heavy hands, but unless he does something right off the bat and takes Cain out early, Brock will be in trouble. Cain will take him into deep waters and do serious damage while he controls the later rounds. He could also win a decision. Cain's standup is far and away better than Lesnar's, his wrestling is equal in my opinion, and BJJ I'm not too sure about. I don't know what Lesnar brings on the ground but I know Cain has an awesome camp working with Dave Camarillo. He's dangerous in every aspect. The difference maker will be Lesnar's size to Cain's motor. Cain will be go go go, and 25 minutes is nothing to him. He does not get tired. I can't explain it, and I have no idea where he got that gas tank, but I've never seen him get tired. At ASU he was one of the hardest working guys to ever come through that program and being a heavyweight, that's very rare. He used to wrestle like he weighed 155 lbs. It's definitely going to be interesting. I can't wait to watch it.

How do you work to maintain that pace? Are you doing Brian Davis' cardio program with Ryan Bader?

Yes, we're all up there with Brian Davis which is absolutely ridiculous. That's why I feel as though my cardio is the backbone of my fighting philosophy. I had such a difficult time with the loss because I was questioning myself about how I could have possibly hit that wall. I felt like I was in great shape so we're looking into other reasons. I've got my thyroid medication and my iron levels up, which were way down, so we'll see how much of a difference that makes.

Tell me about your diet. I know you probably eat pretty clean all through your training camp, but what is your diet like year round?

I'm really trying to find ways to increase my protein. I've been a vegetarian since February and I've only ever eaten chicken sparingly over the last few years. I'm trying to eat healthier which means more vegetables and greens, much more than I was in the past while I was eating meat. I have to be very aware of where I'm getting my proteins and keeping those levels up. I eat pretty healthy in and out of camp for the most part. I have a really tough time with killing animals, that's my worst thing. Especially some of the factory farmed meat that's going on out there with the things they put into animals. I'm not sure how safe that meat is anyway.

How did the opportunity of opening up your own gym come about? Is POWER MMA something that you and your training partners like Ryan Bader and CB Dollaway have been planning for awhile?

We left Arizona Combat Sports because we had this opportunity to move forward and develop our own camp, bring the right trainers in, and open up our own state of the art facility. It's moving a little slower than we anticipated but that's just how things get done. It's a much slower process when you have the paperwork of the bureaucracy behind it. We're looking at a grand opening in about 8-10 weeks. Mike Miller, who just signed with the Miami Heat, is also a huge part of this gym. He's a friend of ours through our manager, so we're all partners in this gym. It should be great. We're going to have an elite wrestling program for youth and high school kids, get them traveling nationally to compete. We'll also have BJJ, boxing, and muay thai so we'll have everything. It's also going to be a fitness center so people can come and improve their cardio and strength on top of training if they want. The gym will also have a physical therapy area where people can pre-hab and rehab their injuries. Erik Larkin will be coming over to work and train there. Robbie Lawler will be running our MMA program for us, as well as training there. Carlos Farias will be there as well. He's a black belt and a big heavyweight. We've also had quite a few guys tell us they were interested in leaving their camp to come join us, but I can't name names. It's going to be a premier facility, and Arizona is always a great place to train, especially in the winter. Aside from Ryan and CB's big fights coming up, this gym has been our main focus.

Lastly, I had heard that you and your wife had adopted a teenage girl and I thought that was a pretty incredible thing to do for someone.

Yes, we have an adopted daughter. She recently moved out after graduating from high school and is living with her biological brothers. She is looking at applying to some colleges. When we originally adopted her she was 12 years old. We knew her since she was about eight years of age, and she was moving in and out of the foster care system. We became foster parents to her when she was 12 and fully adopted her at 13. She was a handful at times but she was a great addition to our family. She was just really in need of something more permanent. We just hope we taught her some life lessons along the way.