It's been more than a decade since the three wrestling amigos joined together, putting aside years of training and dedication to their art, to give the mixed martial arts a real go. Combined there was more than 20 years of national wrestling experience in one small gym. But wrestling was the least of their worries. Together, Matt Lindland, Randy Couture, and Dan Henderson had to learn the standup and submissions games - and learn them quickly.
Only a handful of fight teams, the Lion's Den, Brazilian Top Team, and Team Miletich among them, have done it as well as Team Quest did. Some background from The MMA Encyclopedia:
The legendary fight team from Gresham, Oregon started with three old wrestling buddies looking for a place to train. Matt Lindland, Dan Henderson, and Randy Couture were all on the same U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team in 1997, forging a bond that lasts to this day. When the three all ended up in cage fighting, a partnership seemed natural and the Team Quest Fight Club was born in 1999. Joining the three champion wrestlers was coach Robert Follis. Team Quest started in the back of a car dealership Lindland bought after returning from the 1996 Olympic Games. The wrestlers didn't see the ramshackle training grounds as a place for potential profit. Follis though otherwise and was soon helping run the business, creating a gym with more than 100 members. He also found he had a knack for training fighters. With just a year and a half head start of his pupils, Follis became their Jiu jitsu and grappling coach, as well as a strategist and corner man. Follis believed too many fighters concentrated on what their opponents did well. He focused his fighters instead on how to disrupt an opponent's gameplan and make him fight on their turf.
Saturday, for the first time, founding members Matt Lindland and Dan Henderson will fight on the same card. For Lindland, that makes this Strikeforce card particularly memorable, a celebration of an enduring friendship and two amazing careers.
"I'm looking forward to it. All these years and we have never been on the same card," Lindland told Bloody Elbow in an exclusive interview. "All great things have happened its nice to see after a decade in this sport Team Quest is still putting out top talent out of our gym and the other Team Quest gyms out there."
The two men, despite their tight bond, didn't train together for the fight. Henderson opened up his own Team Quest branch in Temeculah, California near his home several years ago. While fighters from the Oregon team frequently travel back and forth to California and vice versa, Lindland wasn't about to leave for Henderson's place this time around.
"I had so many great guys at my gym I wasn't going anywhere," the 1996 Olympic silver medalist in Greco Roman wrestling said. "I invited Dan to come out but he had a lot going on with the fighters in his gym. He couldn't break away from his regiment."
With Lindland in his training camp were two of the top UFC middleweights, Chael Sonnen and Yushin Okami, and top Japanese star Rikuhei Fujii. Young stars at the top of their games, the three pushed Lindland to the limit as he prepared for the always dangerous Robbie Lawler.
"It's great working with these young top fighters. It has always been very satisfying working with Chael and seeing him grow as an athlete and a competitors. Since befriended Yushin and being able to help coach him and prepare for his last fight against Nathan (Marquardt) was very rewarding," Lindland said. "Not only do I get to train and coach these top fighters, I get the privilege to train side by side with them and push each other. It's tough. Chael and Yushin are two of the best middle weights in the world and being in the same room really motivates me and helps push my training to the next level. I couldn't have had two better training partners to help me prepare for this fight...Its always good to see that I am right in there with two of the best guys in the world. I can really judge my conditioning when going rounds."
It's important that Lindland be able to hang with young and hungry athletes like Sonnen and Okami. Because, while his opponent is a contemporary, the 40 year old Lindland has 12 years on Lawler. Like Lindland, two recent losses have Lawler struggling to prove he's still a force at 185 pounds.
"Robbie and I did start around the same time I can't believe we hadn't meet before this. Obviously we are both much better fighters than when we started so this is a great time to match this fight up for the fans. So lets leave it up to the fans to determine how we have both changed and improved," Lindland said diplomatically. In theory the fight is a classic 'grappler versus striker' contest. While Lawler has struggled recently with grapplers like Renato Sobral and Jake Shields, Lindland believes the HIT Squad fighter is still a very dangerous fighter.
"Come on we have all seen him fight, the kid is an animal and hits like a Mack truck. Honestly I think it's his heart that impresses me most. Robbie is a fighter in the true sense of the word."