EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Din Thomas – Telling Jokes and Triangle Chokes

Jens Pulver. Clay Guida. Matt Serra. Three huge names that fell victim to Din Thomas inside a mixed martial arts arena. The former UFC fighter was a force to be reckoned with inside the caged entrapment of the Octagon, securing 26 wins across his MMA career and became an eminent figure in the sport.

Now retired, Din is still firmly rooted in his passion for the sport and coached an abundance of formidable competitors with American Top Team and his gyms in Port St Lucie, Florida. However, the fighting game is not the only thing “Dinyero” is fervorous about; spending his time performing in improvisational theatre and making people laugh, a signature trait of Din’s.

Now the star of the hit show Dana White: Lookin’ For A Fight, and beloved by viewers for his humorous nature, Thomas is an ever-present figure in the MMA scene with his prominent role on the show as well as his commentating of mixed martial arts events. Din happily agreed to answer some questions on the scene he is habitually apart of as well as his other endeavours.

“You had a prolonged and successful career in MMA, finishing with an incredibly impressive record of 26-9. What caused you to first take up Jiu Jitsu and then make the move to MMA?”

“I started doing our version of MMA back in 1995. We called it NHB or Vale Tudo. In Japan they called it Shootfighting. It was essentially a sloppy version of what MMA is today. I didn’t start in a background of striking or grappling. That gave me an advantage back then because I was able to read between the lines. It’s the same advantage I have today as a coach, being able to read between the lines. But the funny thing is I started all from watching guys from Royce Gracie to Jose Pele Landi fighting. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Din may not have started in a background of striking or grappling but he certainly showcased those skills throughout his career. His 7 knockout stoppages the power and technique Din had with his fists, but the outstanding 15 submission victories boasts his Black belt level Jiu-Jitsu under Ricardo Liborio.

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Din Thomas fighting Matt Serra at UFC 41 – A fight he was eventually declared the winner.

Din’s BJJ skills are much more sufficient than that of Nick “The Tooth” Gullo; formerly a host of Looking For A Fight who was kicked off the show for denigrating Matt Serra’s Jiu-Jitsu skills and subsequently getting mauled on the mat by the former UFC champion. Many people agree that Din is a huge enhancement on the previous host.

“You’re currently working on the show Dana White: Lookin’ For A Fight, a show you were brought in as a replacement for the departed Nick “The Tooth”. How did the call play out that told you that you were wanted on the show and how did you feel?”

“I was in the gym watching Amanda Nunes spar because I was working with her before her Miesha Tate fight. I got a call from Dana White. But I didn’t have his number, I didn’t know who it was, so I didn’t answer it. I thought it was a bill collector or something. So Matt Serra sends me a text and says, “Dude, pick up the phone. Dana is trying to call you”. I’m thinking, “What the hell did I do now? Who did I piss off”. So I was nervous about calling him back. But I gut checked myself and I called him. He told me that they needed a guy for the show but the catch was they needed me in 2 days. I was like “you can send me a flight right now, I already keep a bag packed in the car”. The rest is history.”

“You and your former opponent/TUF roommate Matt Serra star on the show together alongside Dana White and it seems the relationship you two have filters into the show. Do you feel that has contributed at all to how well received the show has been?”

“Me and Matt have a deep history. We’ve known each other for over 15 years. We’ve always competed against each other. But through that, we’ve grown into the best of friends. I can say he is one of my best friends and he is the funniest guy I know. What you see on the show is genuine and nothing can be more intriguing than the honesty of our relationship.”

Both Din Thomas and Matt Serra have a fantastic relationship that transfers on screen to the show too, but their encounter in the Octagon at UFC 41 was shrouded with controversy. After 3 hard fought and agonisingly close rounds, Serra was declared the winner by split decision because of a calamitous judge’s error where he scored Din’s points in the column reserved for Serra. The result was later overturned and Thomas was given the victory, something that is still the subject of banterous comments between the two till this day.

“The both of you fought at UFC 41 and ended in controversy due to a judge’s mistake scoring the round. What was going through your head when Matt was initially announced as the winner?”

“I just knew how hard and diligently I trained for that fight. I trained exactly the way the fight played out. I executed what I wanted to do. So when they announced him the winner, I felt like my game plan was flawed. I was in shock.”

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Din Thomas, Matt Serra and Dana White venturing Los Angeles in Dana White: Lookin’ For a Fight.

“Is there a chance that Lookin’ For A Fight may venture across the Atlantic and have an episode set in the UK?”

“I hope we can take our show on the road. I’d love to go to the UK and all over the world with the show.”

“You’ve done quite a few episodes on the show now and in that time you’ve entered a hot dog eating competition, drag raced in a Ferrari and made donuts. Is there any singular activity that sticks out as the most memorable to you?”

“Performing at the Laugh Factory was incredible. That’s the same stage that iconic legends of comedy have performed on. So for my first time to ever do a set and have it be on the same stage as Richard Prior was on is unreal. Besides that, we do a lot of challenging things that test your comfort zone. Some haven’t been aired yet so you will just have to see them when they air.”

“Speaking of the Laugh Factory and your ventures in comedy, do you want to go down the comedy route as a career or are you focusing more on a path in coaching?”

“Even when I was fighting, I had always seen myself as an artist. I used fighting as a way to express my art. Now that I am retired, I use improv theater as a way to express my art. Coaching is more like a job now and I am good at it, but I am not as passionate about coaching as I am about expressing my own art. With coaching, there’s definitely elements of art to it, but its reliant upon your athletes’ abilities and cooperation. When I’m on stage and doing improv, It’s totally on me. If I fail, its on me. If I succeed, its on me. But either way, it’s a way I express myself and my art. In essence, theater is what I do to live. Coaching is what I do to make a living.”

Din has been performing improvisational theatre for a couple years and is zealous about the arts. He is a huge part of the Take Heed Theater in Florida and seems to have always had a lovable comedic nature to what he does, unless he is choking someone unconscious on the Octagon floor. As for his coaching path, Din successfully coaches some of the best and most dominant fighters in the sport today including UFC champions Amanda Nunes and Tyrone Woodley, the latter Din co-hosts a radio podcast with called The Morning Wood Show.

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Din Thomas performing stand up comedy at the Laugh Factory on an episode of Lookin’ For A Fight.

“We’re only a couple episodes in to Season 2 of Lookin’ For A Fight, what can we expect in the later episodes?”

“We have the best crew around that produces LFAF. Dana White is a one of a kind human being. He’s awfully misunderstood in the sports world. With them in charge, I know we will have a successful show. We just keep getting better and better.”

“Finally, for someone who had a highly respected career in MMA your advice can be precious for some people. What advice would you give to any aspiring fighters looking to get into the sport?”

“Love what you do and treat your craft with respect. This game is ever evolving and you have to be flexible to stay on top of it. Think outside the box and avoid turning down fights. Obviously some fights are just bad for your career and every situation is different. But train so hard and be so good that you never have to turn down an opportunity to showcase your skills. You never know who is watching and what that opportunity might bring you.”

Judicious words from a man who has experienced the artform of MMA through an extended and successful career. Din Thomas conquered his journey through the sport and finished with a profound record, now he is looking more and more like one of the most distinguished characters in the mixed martial arts without competing in the cage. On top of that, a prosperous career in comedy and theatre is looking imminent for the former fighter, an industry he seems to be as passionate about as his time inside the eight sided arena of combat.

However far he gets, we can only hope to see more of Din Thomas on our screens in the future.

Harry Robinson

Catch Dana White: Lookin’ For A Fight on YouTube as well as The Morning Wood Show on ITunes and Soundcloud.

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