Aaron Simpson (right) file photo: Sherdog.com
Aaron Simpson wasn’t sure how he’d react to hurting a friend when he fought Mark Munoz on Saturday at UFC 123. Now he knows.
“It was a hard deal for me,” Simpson said Monday during a “Savage Dog Show” interview on the Sherdog Radio Network. “That week leading up to it was just a strange thing. I had weird thoughts. Even in the fight, I had weird thoughts of fighting Mark. I don’t know how to put it, but we put on a show and we knew we would. I just think in the back of my mind, I had a tough time with it. I don’t know how to describe it. I felt maybe a step behind or I wasn’t pulling the trigger on things.”
After a hard-fought 15 minutes, Munoz edged Simpson via a unanimous decision (29-28 on all three cards). The bout between the standout wrestlers did not win the $80,000 Fight of the Night award but arguably deserved it.
“He definitely had a good game plan, especially with his leg kicks,” Simpson said. “I’m hobbling around right now. Got a little swollen quad here. It was a little disappointing we didn’t get Fight of the Night. I thought we really put our hearts on the line out there, especially being friends and having to fight each other.”
Before the fight, Simpson described Munoz as a “close friend” he trains with whenever he gets a chance. Asked if he might hesitate to hurt Munoz, Simpson said he hoped he wouldn’t. After the fight, he suggested that he had hesitated at times, though both men also clearly went at it during the bout.
“There was a time when I had a position where I think I could have thrown an overhand,” Simpson said. “He was on his back. And I looked at his -- I should have. I think he moved or something maybe, so I couldn’t have thrown it at the time, but it was a weird thing.”
It wasn’t a matchup Simpson wanted. To make it worse, both men were coming off losses and needed a win.
“It was just a weird thing having to go out there and actually hurt my friend,” Simpson said. “I think Mark was probably the same way. I don’t think he was too high on it either. We did it, and I don’t necessarily recommend it, but his corner even said before the fight, ‘You guys are going to be a lot closer because of this.’ I think we were pretty close before that, and maybe we will be closer, but it was still just a weird thing. We just did it, though. Our boss asked us, and we went for it. We don’t have any place to question something like that.”
Even though the defeat was Simpson’s second in a row, it was not a bad performance. He expressed some concerns about his spot on the UFC roster but also argued that for now he should be protected as a fighter who delivers entertaining bouts.
“It’s just something where I’ve got to put this year behind me and get this next fight and train hard for it and win,” Simpson said. “I wallowed around a little bit yesterday and had to do some soul-searching, but I’m excited now.”
Simpson acknowledged that he should have let his hands go more against Munoz. That might be easier in his next fight, when he isn’t fighting a friend.
“I just have to be a little more physical and a little more brutal out there,” Simpson said. “Before all I did was throw my right. Now I feel like I’m throwing my left a little bit more and I threw some knees and I left the floor and threw maybe a couple of flying knees. It’s somewhere where I’m getting better. I’m using my athleticism and I’ve got coaches that are teaching me how to do this stuff. Against Mark I don’t know that I really wanted to throw an elbow and try to hurt him. I knew I had to, but just in the back of my mind, I kind of think I might have even questioned it a little bit. … Hopefully I’ll get out there in my next fight against someone who I haven’t developed a friendship with, and I’ll go out there and try to take their head off.”
Listen to the full interview (beginning at 1:02:20) with Simpson, who also discussed the future of college wrestlers like Bubba Jenkins in MMA.