What's the Matter with Team Quest?

What's the Matter with Team Quest?

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(Randy The Natural Couture)
(Randy "The Natural" Couture)

By FIGHT! contributor Brad McCray

“People pay to watch this,” Robert Follis says. “This is practice for one of the top teams in the world. You can’t just watch the Lakers practice.”

Once a used car lot, the garage door in this poorly lit room functions as a cage wall for professional fighters pummeling under hooks. I have been sent here to find out what is wrong with Team Quest and why one of the most venerated gyms in MMA is faltering in recent years.

“It’s a sensitive topic around the gym but I think there is some merit to that question,” middleweight Chael Sonnen says. “I don’t know if it’s just normal or if something has changed.”

Established in 2000 by world-class wrestlers Randy Couture, Matt Lindland and Dan Henderson on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., Team Quest was immediately recognized as one of the best in the country. While its owners made headlines, the gym developed a strong stable of fighters and developed a Greco-Roman wrestling-centric style of fighting.

Follis was Couture’s training partner in 1997 and came to Team Quest in 2001 to run the business. The gym did well and Henderson opened a second gym in Temecula, Calif. in 2003. In 2008, Team Quest opened a third facility in Tualatin, Ore. Lindland and Henderson scoff at the notion the gyms are struggling. Heath Sims, the manager of Temecula gym, wishes they had more space.

But nine years after it was founded, Team Quest’s star has faded and many of its marquee names are gone.

“People read into things and they see people leaving and think there must be problems,” Follis says. But that’s not necessarily the case. “Your kids are going to grow up and leave the house and people will move on. This is just the natural progression of life,” he says.

Most American fans became acquainted with Team Quest during the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2005 when Couture was a coach and the cast included Team Quest fighters Nate Quarry and Chris Leben.

“That TV show was great for the sport, but maybe not as great for how guys perceive themselves,” Lindland says. “In some cases it was a detriment to their careers.”

Henderson agrees. “It’s really a big change for these guys,” he says. “They believe they are stars because of that TUF show.”

The second season featured Josh Burkman with Couture in a cameo role. Ed Herman and Josh Haynes were on season three. TUF 7 featured Jesse Taylor, Mike Dolce and Gerald Harris. Vinnie Magalhaes and Krzysztof Soszynski appeared on season eight. Henderson was a coach on TUF 9, which featured Team Quest Temecula fighter Richie Whitson.

“That show has been an absolute curse,” Sonnen says. “From Josh Haynes to Josh Burkman to Gerald Harris and Dolce. I don’t know what happens.” Of the Ultimate Fighters only Herman, Soszynski, Taylor and Whitson still represent Team Quest.

For five years, Couture was the face of Team Quest but in 2005 he left Portland for Las Vegas, Nev., re-married and became an industry unto himself with a clothing line, books, and gym franchises bearing his name.

(Dan Henderson)
(Dan Henderson)

“Randy kind of separated himself,” Henderson says. “He broke off contact with us. It was a little weird for awhile.”

Couture even opened a gym in Vancouver, Wash., 20-miles north of the original Team Quest gym.

“I was like, ‘What is he doing?’ So I asked him and he said he thought it was far enough away it wouldn’t affect our membership,” Lindland says. “He was right. We didn’t lose any fighters. It’s not like he is a coach there. All the guys he coaches are in Vegas.”

It didn’t help matters that Couture aired some of dirty laundry regarding Team Quest’s business dealings and certain people’s in his personal life in his 2008 autobiography, “Becoming the Natural.”

“The whole situation was a little awkward,” says Follis. “I wonder what happened as much as you do. Our relationship is cordial. I have no ill will towards Randy.”

“I think people read too much into it when they see people moving on and they think something is wrong,” continues Follis. “Eventually, everyone will move on. In 20 years, all the fighters will have moved on.”

Like Henderson, many fighters simply returned home. Leben took a coaching position in Hawaii. Chris Wilson returned to Brazil. Josh Haynes went to Las Vegas to train with Couture.

“Dan has a gym. I have a gym. Randy has a gym,” Lindland says. “Where’s the problem?”

According to some former Team Quest fighters, the problem is Lindland, or more accurately, the lack of Lindland. The middleweight fighter competes, manages fighters, coaches, runs the Sportfight promotion, his gym and made a failed state congressional bid in 2008. It’s a lot to juggle and Lindland catches heat for not providing enough individual attention.

After a UFC title shot, Quarry left after Lindland denied his demands for more discipline-specific coaches. “I felt like I needed to be selfish about my career,” Quarry said.

On the flip side, Follis, who is hands-on, has taken the blame for poor performances because he is not a fighter himself. At least one of Follis’ former charges point to boring, repetitive practices reason that he left. “I love Team Quest, but on my first day back from the TV show, they were doing the same practice as before I left,” Dolce says.

But according to Team Quest loyalist Sonnen, Follis knows everything necessary to train successful fighters. “The NBA and NFL are beset with coaches that were not decorated athletes,” say Sonnen. “They were sitting on the bench studying the game. Robert is knowledgeable. He studies everything. He knows everything about fighting. He really does.”

In his own defense, Follis says, “It’s not like these guys were black belts when they came to us. We have taken a lot of guys that were green and turned them into fighters. We took guys who were willing to grow and work and made them into fighters.”

(Matt The Law Lindland)
(Matt "The Law" Lindland)

Sims, co-owner of Henderson’s Temecula gym, takes a similar view of the complaints. “We have a lot of guys who started with us and made fighting their career,” Sims says. “Look at all the guys we’ve taken from scratch. Take (Matt) Horwich for example,” he says, referring to the 37-fight Extreme Challenge, Sportfight, Strikeforce, International Fight League, World Extreme Cagefighting and Ultimate Fighting Championship promotions. “Horwich. Everyone thought that guy was crazy and he would never be anything. Look at him now,” Sims says.

In the end, Team Quest may just be a victim of its own success. In 2005, Couture held the UFC light heavyweight title, lost it and retired in 2006 only to return in 2007 and win the UFC heavyweight title. In 2007, Henderson became first man to hold titles in two weight classes when he held Pride’s middleweight and light heavyweight belts. Lindland was considered a top middleweight until his recent knockout loss to a resurgent Vitor Belfort. From that zenith anything less seems like a failure.

In spite of all the changes, Team Quest still boasts a healthy roster of professional fighters including six who are under contract with the UFC – middleweight contender Henderson, Herman, Sonnen, Soszynski, Jake Ellenberger, and Ryan Jensen. Jesse Taylor fought for Strikeforce on Aug. 15 as well as for Japanese promotion Dream earlier in the summer. Pride FC and UFC veteran Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou has found a home in Dream as well, and Ryan Schultz, who had success in the IFL, currently fights in Japan for World Victory Road.

“We pride ourselves on helping guys further in their career,” Follis says. “When they get further along, they may want to open their own gym or whatever. That’s fine. That means we’ve done our job.”

To learn more about the key players in the Team Quest story, check out Matthew Ross’ March 2008 cover story on Dan Henderson, Donovan Craig’s March 2008 profile of the Randy Couture, and Craig’s September 2007 profile of Team Quest Temecula. When you’re done with that, check out our exclusive photo gallery of Henderson, FIGHT!’s photos of Couture at work and play, and this gallery of Team Quest’s Temecula facility.

FIGHT! Fans: Do you think that the idea that Team Quest is more perception than reality?

11 COMMENTS

  1. Right now Xtreme Coulture is getting all the publicity, but Greg Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts Gym is the best camp around with guys like GSP, Rashad Evans, Nate Marquardt and Keith Jardine. However, I think all camps have an ebb an flow to them and it’s just a matter of time until Team Quest is at the top again. Hendo has the charisma to bring new hungry fighters to Team Quest to train.

  2. Josh – Ah, I think Greg Jackson and his gym get tons of credit and lots of publicity that are on par with Xtreme Couture. Actually, I think Randy’s gym doesn’t get much publicity unless Randy has an upcoming fight, or Gina Carano, or Kit Cope says something about the gym, lol.

    This happens often. Fighters branch off to train at different gyms hone their skills, or find some other avenue to gain more money. I think its a little bit of both, perception and reality. Lindland has extended himself a bit much and lost a little bit of connection with the fighters. There is no doubt about it, fighters will find the gym that has the big names within it. While some of the members have moved on and created their own gyms, I don’t think there is any animosity between them, though their actions were questioned at one time or another. Members and former members are still communicating with each other, so I guess there are no problems.

  3. Let’s remember that, in the beginning, there were only a handful of gyms, Team Quest, and Miletich Fighting Systems (MFS), just to name two, so options were limited during MMA’s “Dark Ages”. Nowadays, talent is spread over a wider field, with gyms seemingly all over the country, as well as all over the world (Xtreme Couture, Cobra Kai, Jackson’s MMA, BJ Penn, Red Devil, Chute Box, BTT, ATT, WolfsLair, Black House, Golden Glory, Sitdyatong, The BodyShop, Capital City Fighting Alliance (Otherwise known as Team Alpha Male), Hammer House, and Joker’s Wild are a few [Now THAT’s an understatement] of the next generation of MMA academies potential fighters can choose from.

    But, to fully answer the aforementioned question, one has to look at the various MMA Academies mentioned above that are available for up-and-coming fighters. But, HAS Team Quest lost much of its luster? Absolutely, but not entirely through any fault of its own when you consider how many fighters have switched camps/gym hop.

  4. The top two training camps are ATT – American Top Team in the US and Casa Preta – Black House in Brazil. Third is Jackson’s.

  5. That’s funny, because Ellenberger is no longer with Team Quest…. And I completely disagree with Follis’ reasoning. Fighters, for the most part, are very loyal to their gyms and teams. Unless they move to another city, the only reason for leaving a team is because there are problems. As was this case… I personally know why Leben, Quarry, Dolce, Harris & Ellenberger left TQ. And it has nothing to do with getting a big head, or moving. There was, and is a problem with their management.

    • Can you tell us where Ellenberger is now? When I edited the piece all sources I found listed Ellenberger’s affiliation as TQ. Any help would be appreciated.

  6. Just a few comments. I have been a member of Team Quest in Gresham since 2002. While it is true that Team Quest at one time lacked ” discipline-specific coaches”, that certainly is no longer the case. Fabiano Scherner, Ricardo “Pantcho” Feliciano, and Bryan Harper are all BJJ belt coaches, several black belt judo coaches, and boxing coaches have all been added in the last couple of years. This is in addition to the well rounded submission wrestling, kickboing, MMA format that has always been there. If someone would tell me that they are bored with what is offered at Team Quest now, you’d really have to wonder about them (Mike Dolce and Nate Quarry left prior to the expanded curriculum).

    One only has to come out and see how many people attend classes at Team Quest in Gresham (suburb of Portland) to see the successful venue. At times I don’t think the gym could hold more people, and it’s a large facility.

    The list of excellent pro fighters has already been mentioned, and there are many more ready to break through the ranks to be top contenders. No, i really don’t think Team Quest has lost anything, I believe they are steadily improving on what is a excellent format. I’m just so lucky to live in the same area that has a Team Quest, and luckier yet that I’m able to work out there.

    Tom Palmer

  7. PEOPLE MOVE ON, REGARDLESS OF MOTIVES, THEY JUST DO, THEY HAVE DREAMS AND ASPIRATIONS. SOMETIMES THAT JUST NEED CHANGE, MAYBE SOME OF IT WAS PERSONAL, WHO KNOWS THE POINT IS THIS, WHO ARE WE TO CONTROL PEOPLE.

    ITS GOOD TO BE LOYAL, BUT MOVING ON IS A PART OF LIFE.

    OH, AND ONE MORE THING……………NOBODY WANTED TO FIGHT DAN HENDERSON AFTER HE KNOCKED OUT BISPING. ESPICALLY ANDERSON SILVA, ED SOARES MADE SURE OF THAT. CHICKEN………………………………….WHOS GOT TWO THUMBS UP AND SCARED AWAY ANDERSON SILVA FOR A REMATCH…………..THIS GUY!!!!!!

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