Simpson has been blessed multiple times
Aaron Simpson had always a lot to be thankful for in his life.
He had been one of the great wrestlers in Arizona State University history. He was a two-time All-American, was the outstanding wrestler in the Pac-10 in 1997 and twice advanced to the U.S. Olympic Trials, finishing fifth and fourth.
His academic achievements at ASU surpassed the greatness he displayed on the mats. He was a 4.0 student and earned a degree in broadcast journalism and then a master’s in higher education.
He’d spent 10 fulfilling years as an assistant wrestling coach, nine of them at his alma mater, where he said he forged incredibly close relationships.
In high school, he was 142-1 as a wrestler, was all-state as a football player and won the state title in the triple jump in track.
He and his wife, Kendra Sirignano, had opened their home to a teenaged girl who had been in and out of foster homes. After three years of treating Claire as a member of their family, they adopted her and made it official.
Some of the wrestlers he coached had gotten into mixed martial arts and Simpson slowly gravitated toward the sport. In less than two years, he’s made it to the sport’s highest level and will make his debut in the Ultimate Fighting Championship on April 1 when he meets Tim McKenize at Ultimate Fight Night on Spike TV at the Sommet Center in Nashville, Tenn.
Still, despite everything that was good in his life, there was one huge, gaping hole.
“We wanted children,” Simpson said. “We tried so hard, but no matter what we did, it wasn’t working.”
Simpson and Sirignano saw a fertility specialist and tried in vitro fertilization treatments, which he said cost $10,000-15,000 each, which weren’t working.
“It was the hardest thing to be so hopeful and then to get the negative test,” Simpson said. “We did it three times, and each time, we were hoping it would be the one. You’d just hope this one would be it. You’d wait the 10 days and they’d call you up and say, ‘No. Sorry.’ We were in shock each time. I can’t describe how much it hurt. My wife was beside herself.”
They were crushed, as were their families. They began to consider the real possibility of life without babies. They would talk to each other about the things they could do, the freedom they would have, without babies.
Each, though, knew the other was just attempting to spin a bad situation.
“We thought about traveling the world and getting Claire into college and then enjoying our lives without children,” he said. “It was a very hard thing to have to accept.”
Sirignano’s mother, Crystal, was as crushed as the rest of the family. She was 51 and ran a health and fitness center.
She approached Aaron and Kendra with a proposition: What if I would be your child’s surrogate mother?
The young couple was hopeful it could be the answer to their prayers, but they had more questions than answers, most of them centering on Crystal’s age. But Crystal Sirignano’s doctor said she was in phenomenal health and there was no reason she couldn’t do it.
So, Simpson’s semen and Kendra Sirignano’s eggs were placed together to create an embryo, which was then placed inside of the surrogate mother.
On June 18, 2008, by Caesarian section, 52-year-old Crystal Sirignano gave birth to her twin grandchildren, Domenico and Mia.
“When she said she’d carry for us, we were blown away,” Simpson said. “It was one of the most gracious things anyone could do. It was so selfless. And when we got the call that she was pregnant, you can’t even imagine what it was like.”
It hardly seemed real to Simpson, who admitted to more than a few doubts along the way.
He had been blessed with many gifts in his life, but he was uncertain about this one.
“I don’t know that I really knew for sure that this was happening until I was in the delivery room and they were doing a C-section and pulled two little babies out,” he said. “That’s when it really hit. I was like, ‘Holy crap! This is real. We really have our babies here.’ It was a happy time around our house, you might imagine.”
The year 2008 was a banner year in many ways for the couple. Aaron established himself as a legitimate mixed martial artist, winning all three of his matches and earning a contract in the UFC.
He taken a fight in the World Extreme Cagefighting promotion against black belt David Avellan in September on just two weeks notice, which he knew would be a dangerous proposition.
As had been the case throughout his magical year, he got a break. Hurricane Ike forced a two-month postponement of the card. Simpson got a full training camp as a result and wound up knocking out Avellan in 18 seconds.
It was that kind of year. Even their adventures turned out wildly successful. They decided to try out to appear on the NBC series, “The American Gladiators” and were shocked to be selected.
In a curious twist, Kendra would up facing women’s MMA star Gina Carano – also known as the Gladiator “Crush” – in a variation of a wrestling match.
Simpson gleefully recounted his experience of playing basketball 30 feet in the air as men the size of small pickup trucks tried to knock him to the ground.
He’s hoping his luck hasn’t run out in 2009, though since he gets to see his children every day, he said it’s already a success no matter what happens in the fight.
He knows McKenzie will present serious problems, but he’s eager for the fight.
“I know he’s going to throw a lot of punches, a lot of hard punches, and I want to see how I’ll react,” he said. “I train with a lot of beasts and I feel I’m prepared. I feel comfortable standing in the pocket.”
He’s 34 and only has two years of experience training in MMA. He is fully aware of his limitations and what he’ll be up against.
But he also believes in his competitiveness and his athletic ability. And he also understands that MMA is generally kind to wrestlers and is forgiving of age.
He’s sparred with some of the game’s best – UFC fighters Ryan Bader and C.B. Dollaway are his regular training partners and he’s also worked with Thales Leites and Joe Riggs – and thinks he can become a significant force at 185 pounds.
“Stick me in the cage with Anderson Silva right now and it’s going to be ugly,” Simpson said. “There are aspects of it … well, he’s far and away better than most anybody. The guy is the best fighter in the world in any weight class.
“I feel I have the potential to be great in this sport. … Maybe I’m crazy, but I just believe I’m young enough, I’m healthy enough and I’m athletic enough to pick a lot of aspects in this sport and really become an exciting fighter.”
The odds are against it, but it’s been like Simpson has been walking around with a gold light shining upon his head.
Given how things have gone for him in the last year, it might not be the wisest move to bet against him.