Gym of the Month: Team Quest

By Julien Solomita & U of MMA Staff
Photos courtesy of Team Quest MMA & Fitness, Ashley Cook/Valley News

The iconic green fist has long been associated with Team Quest's rugged reputation.

From the arrival of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu on American soil in the early 1980’s, Southern California has long been a mecca for MMA, playing host to a myriad of elite MMA schools and gyms, such as Team Punishment, Gracie-Barra Jiu Jitsu, Team Oyama, CSW Training Center, and Millennia MMA. Amidst all those gyms, Team Quest has led the pack with its own niche brand of fighting.

Born from the highly-decorated Greco-Roman wrestling trio of Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, and Matt Lindland, Team Quest is synonymous with a wrestling-based fight style. In particular, their expertise with Greco-Roman clinchwork was the basis for developing a technique of striking later named “dirty boxing,” characterized as short punches and knees thrown from the clinch in order to wear down the opponent while controlling his body. This and the use of wrestling to control the pace and location of a fight became fundamental parts of Team Quest’s fighting arsenal, which led to an unprecedented string of world championships in almost every MMA promotion imaginable.

Among Team Quest’s biggest MMA credentials include Couture’s combined five reigns as UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion, respectively, and Henderson’s ownership of the PRIDE FC welterweight (183 lbs.) and middleweight (205 lbs.) championships, as well as a being the PRIDE FC Grand Prix welterweight tournament champion (2005), but the list doesn’t stop there. In 2005, Evan Tanner captured the UFC middleweight (185 lbs.) championship, while Gabe Ruediger reigned as World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) lightweight champion from 2004-2005. Likewise, middleweight Matt Horwich and lightweight Ryan Schultz captured the International Fight League (IFL) belts in their respective weight classes.

While the original Team Quest gym was set up in Portland, OR, it was Dan Henderson’s return to his California roots in 2000 that led to the existence of a Southland sister branch, which has seen its own growth and expansion throughout the years.

Murietta Mayor Randon Lane (left) pronounced February 15, 2011 as 'Team Quest Day.' Accepting the award was Dan Henderson, Heath Sims, & Frankie Lester (far right).

“Initially Dan and I just trained together, and we went to Japan when he fought there,” said longtime coach Heath Sims. “Once Dan moved back to California we opened up the gym in Murrieta. That’s when I got more involved with coaching and managing the fighters.”

For years, Team Quest fighters had two different homes where they could hone their skills, in the warm sun of Southern California or among the giant evergreens of the Pacific Northwest. During that time, both locations turned out a who’s who of fighters with dangerous striking and notorious ground game. Besides the aforementioned champions, Quest has helped develop the likes of Jason Mayhem Miller, Ryo Chonan, Krystof Soszynski, Ed Herman, Nate Quarry, Chris Leben, Thierry Sokoudjou, and one of the most recognizable fighters in the sport today, Chael Sonnen.

Coach John Azevedo teaches wrestling on Monday and Wednesday evenings.

“We teach a lot of wrestling, and while there have been a few fighters like Joe Warren come to Team Quest equipped with a wrestling background, most of our guys learn wrestling through us,” Heath Sims said. “Tarec Saffiedine was almost a pure striker and jiu jitsu fighter, but once he trained with us he added wrestling to his arsenal.”

Saffiedine is one of the team’s second-generation big name fighters and a six-time Strikeforce veteran. After a six-month stint at Team Quest in 2008 that was cut short due to a visa issue lasting till 2009, the Belgium welterweight has since become a full time Quest fighter.

“When I fought in Belgium, I never really trained wrestling. Eastern European wrestling is not anywhere near the level of the United States,” said Saffiedine. “I realized I needed wrestling, and upon moving to the U.S. and tried contacting a couple of gyms, but when the chance came to be on Team Quest, I jumped at the opportunity.”

Saffiedine, in being part of the integrated Team Quest training format, feels as though working with amateurs is beneficial to both parties.

“When an amateur is preparing for a fight, we can work with them sparring, or on technique to get each other better,” said Saffiedine. “It’s great to be able to interact and help one another.”

Saffiedine defeated Tyler Stinson at Strikeforce’s January 7th event, Rockhold vs. Jardine, stacking up his second straight win inside the Strikeforce cage.

Today, the SoCal Team Quest group has become its own franchised system much like the original Portland-California connection from years before. With gyms in Murrieta, Oceanside, and Encinitas, Team Quest in Southern California enjoys the ability to train more fighters in those separate regions while still maintaining a larger unified team that comes together for big matches and expanded training.

Steve Egg, Quest’s amateur team manager, trained at here for four years before becoming a manager in 2010. Having fought once for the team, Egg understands how important the professional-amateur integrated training is for the athletes.

“I have my amateurs train with the pros, which I believe makes everybody better,” said Egg. “My fighters and I are based out of the original Team Quest gym in Murrieta, and we all get to train with some of the best pro fighters out there.”

Team Quest's grappling class, as taught by Ricardo Feliciano.

Team Quest also has a Brazilian jiu jitsu team that is competes regularly and is run by Ricardo Feliciano, a Grapplers Quest and Pan-Am champion.

“The team loves Feliciano, and it has turned into a real friendly group of athletes of all ages,” said Egg. “The team is huge now, and with a coach like Feliciano, the team continues to thrive.”

Amateur fighter Autumn Richardson has been with Team Quest for her entire MMA career. Richardson, who aims to debut as a pro sometime around November of 2012, feels that Team Quest’s environment gives many opportunities for younger fighters to succeed.

“The pro team trains at the same time as the amateur team. So when we have a fight coming up, we go through a training camp with the pros,” said Richardson. “It’s rigorous training, and you have to be strong-willed, but you are going to get some of the best training possible.”

Richardson, who main evented the first University of MMA show, I Will Be Victorious, also explains why the interaction between pro and amateurs is partly what makes Team Quest so special.

Recent Team Quest team tryouts.

“They are amazing role models. I get to train with Dan Henderson, who isn’t like some of the other fighters that aren’t even aware of who goes to their gym,” Richardson said. “Henderson cornered me in my fight, in an event where he cornered all of the Team Quest amateur fighters.”

Undefeated featherweight Jacob Unger is another fighter competing in the U of MMA, and has enjoyed his experience with the team thus far.

“As soon as you are a part of the team, you are immediately involved with all the professional fighters and coaches. All of this high level training gives a huge advantage in amateur fighting,” said Unger. “This is really something that I love about Team Quest.”

Unger is currently 2-0 in U of MMA and has yet to be assigned his next opponent.

To date, Team Quest is 10-5 in U of MMA action, including a solid 3-1 team performance at I Will Be Victorious and a 3-0 clean sweep at November 2011’s Storm Cage Fights in Lake Elsinore.

For more information on any of the Team Quest branches, visit one of the following locations:

Team Quest Encinitas
1465 Encinitas Boulevard, Unit A
Encinitas, CA 92024
(760) 633-1993

Team Quest Murietta
41561 Date Street
Murrieta, CA 92562
(951) 677-1684

Team Quest Oceanside
318 N. Horne Street
Oceanside, CA 92054
(760) 722-3122

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