Aaron Simpson stepped onto the campus of Arizona State University in 1993 and nearly 20 years later, his Sun Devil roots still run deep. Simpson excelled both inside of the classroom and on the wrestling mat at Arizona State on his way to becoming All-Pac-10 in wrestling and academics.
"I had an amazing experience at Arizona State as a student-athlete," said Aaron Simpson. "The fact that i was able to be a wrestler and have that experience at Arizona State University is something that I will never forget."
Simpson graduated from Antelope High School in Wellton, Arizona, where he compiled a career wrestling record of 142-1 and was a four-time state champion.
Despite being a three-time All-American wrestler in high school, he came to Arizona State on an academic scholarship, as Simpson was a top student and wrestler in high school.
Simpson collected 110 career victories at ASU, including 53 duel career duel victories. He was a two-time All-American for the Sun Devils, placing fourth at the 1998 NCAA National Champions and eighth in 1996.
Simpson also earned Pac-10 All-Academic honors three times (1996-1998) in his Sun Devil career. He was a Maroon and Gold Scholar Athlete, and graduated in May of 1998 with a bachelor's degree in broadcasting. Simpson made sure that he focused just as much on academics, as he did on athletics.
"As a student-athlete I was involved," said Simpson. "I ended up being the president of of the Student -Athlete Advisory Council, it was something that I was on the ground floor of starting, and that is something that I am proud of."
Simpson returned to the ASU wrestling program as an assistant coach, where he guided six athletes to All-American honors in his nine years coaching. Simpson was on a staff that guided Arizona State to four Pac-10 titles, and he helped two wrestlers win the Pac-10 Wrestler of the Year award.
"I think it was just my ability to connect with the student athletes," said Simpson about the reason for his coaching success. "When they stepped on the mat, I think they realized that I cared about that match as much as they cared about that match."
Ryan Bader and Cain Velasquez both wrestled at Arizona State under the watch of Simpson, both men have since gone on to have outstanding mixed martial arts careers, with Velasquez winning the UFC heavyweight title in 2010.
Simpson made is MMA debut in April of 2000 in Payson, Arizona. After winning his first fight via submission, Simpson took seven years off to coach before reviving his career in 2007. Simpson made is UFC debut in 2009, and won his first three fights in the octagon.
However, after fighting his entire career at middleweight, Simpson will make his welterweight debut tonight at UFC on FUEL TV 4 against Kenny Robertson.
"I was just too small for that middleweight division," said Simpson about moving down in weight. "I was giving up 25-pounds in my last fight and that is a huge difference when you get into a fight."
Simpson was expected to face former title contender Jon Fitch in his welterweight debut. However Fitch was forced out of the fight with an injury, a situation that Simpson is too familier with.
"This is the fourth time that this has happened to me in my career where I have had guys back out for one reason or another," said Simpson.
"I was disappointed because I wanted to fight him (Fitch), he was great competition, he's someone I feel like I can beat, but at the same time I had to refocus, and I have a new opponent and I still have to get in the octagon and fight."
One thing that Simpson is looking forward to in his fight with Robertson is a special logo he will be wearing on his trucks. Simpson will be wearing the number 42 on his shorts, in honor of the late Pat Tillman, who Simpson got to know during their time together at ASU.
"We were at Arizona State at the same time and we spoke to each other several times, and I knew his brother Kevin a little bit," said Simpson. Simpson wrote the number 42 on his wrestling knee pads when he wrestled at the 2004 Olympic Trials, just months after Tillman was killed in Afganistan.
Simpson believes that it is a little more special that his fight is taking place in San Jose, California, which is the hometown of Pat and the Tillman family.
"I just thought it was appropriate for me to go out and kinda pay my respects to him and the Tillman family, and I just really want to make sure that people never forget, he is someone that I will always tell stories of and he is special to Arizona State University," said Simpson.
Simpson fights tonight on FUEL TV with the main card beginning at 5 PM. He is the fourth fight on the six-fight main card.