Exclusive: Din Thomas – Interview
In a PunchDrunkGamer exclusive interview, PDG’s Justin Bolduc sat down with Din Thomas to discuss charges brought against him allegedly from running illegal fights, and the subsequent dismissal of the charges. Din also spoke about “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show and where he feels he sits in the UFC’s lightweight division.
PDG: So recently it was announced that charges were dropped against you. Congratulations, it’s good to see things worked out.
Din: Thank you.
PDG: Would you like to talk about it?
Din: Yeah we can talk about it; do you want me to get into it right now [laughs]?
PDG: Yeah, why not? I’m going to bring it up eventually [laughs]. What exactly happened?
Din: With the arrest or with the droppage [laughs]? Or do you want me to just take it from the top and start flowing?
PDG: Why not just go from the top?
Din: Alright. Well, basically we had what they call a “smoker” – they’re not really events… its sparring sessions really, glorified sparring sessions with your students. We tend to use students who aspire to be fighters, and what you do is invite your friends and family to come along so they can get experience sparring in front of a crowd – like competing in front of a crowd.
So basically that’s what it was, but somehow the cops got word that there were illegal fights going on so they came by to see what was going on. Eventually about six of them showed up – four didn’t really do anything, they were just mingling in the crowd, and I was dealing with two of them the whole time. They couldn’t really see anything wrong with it at the time. They were just like “what’s going on here?” and I’m like “listen, this is my school” and I showed them the paperwork that it was my school and everything else that I needed to show them. They are like “what’s going on?” and I’m like it’s sparring. Then they are like “there are a lot of people here” and I’m just like I have 150 students [laughs], this could just be all my students really.
The fact of the matter is there was never really a head count taken, I don’t know there could have been one hundred people… but anyway, they stayed and saw the entire thing, the four matches went off – and in fact another officer was there from a different department who was also there telling [the six officers] that they already did the homework and researched it and that everything is legit. They stayed and everyone left, they watched everyone leave, and a week and a half later I received a phone call being told that they were going to arrest me for throwing an illegal fight. I’m like OK… I didn’t really understand it. So I called my lawyer and he’s just like “keep quiet, we’ll deal with this thing the right way.” A week and a half later [the police] came and booked me. So we were dealing with the state from then on, because the state received word about it. So the state did the homework and was like it was kind of a B.S. thing. I guess the statute is to kind of protect the public and if they had to protect the public [the police] should have stopped it right then and there instead of going home and probably sitting around the office conjuring up something like “oh, we can get him for this,” and I think that’s kind of what happened. “Let’s make news on this, let’s get him for this,” and they got me and tried to become superheroes from it. But in the end justice prevailed because the state researched [the law] and said [the case is] B.S. and dropped the whole thing.
PDG: Yeah. One of the things I heard mentioned was that admission was charged for those in attendance.
Din: There was no admission charged. What we did was earlier that day I went out and bought some ipods and I had some other stuff to give away – like American Top Team apparel… I mean when people come into my place I want to make it comfortable for them. There are a lot of people like friends and family I’m looking to sign-up and I want them to that we’re givers, you know [laughs].
So we had a little raffle. I raffled off two ipods and a couple [American] Top Team t-shirts, and that was it. The police may have looked at that and said “oh, he’s charging admission,” – and one of [the officers] even said there was a sign in the door for the fights, and the only sign in the door for a fight was the poster for me and Kenny Florian, so this is what I’m talking about. They took a situation and kind of turned the whole thing around to make it sound like they busted some illegal fight ring that was going on. That wasn’t the case at all.
And if there were an illegal fight ring going on anywhere I’d be the first guy to try to get that shut down because I’m in mixed martial arts for the long haul, I’ve been around for the long haul, and I’m going to be around for a long time. I want to see things done right and I want to see our sport portrayed in the right way.
PDG: Here in Florida there is no amateur fighting…
Din: Yeah, that’s the thing too – when you have a guy that isn’t very experienced, where does he go? In between the time of the show (The Ultimate Fighter 4) and me being arrested I drove to Louisiana with three amateurs just so these guys to fight; I had to drive twelve hours so these guys could fight. So where do these guys go? What do they do? Do you just throw them into a professional league and to the wolves? It’s very ridiculous to have a professional sport with no amateur level.
And not only for the skill level, but the fact of the matter is these guys need experience to deal with crowds, because the fight game is very much so mental. You can be as good as you want in a gym when nobody is watching you, when you don’t have that pressure on you, but when you get in front of a crowd it’s different. It’s like public speaking, I mean anybody can say a sentence but when you stand up in front of a crowd your mouth starts getting dry. It’s the same thing with fighting. That is why there is a need, in my opinion, for amateur fighting. These guys need to be able to compete against other guys at their skill level where the stakes aren’t as high and where it’s not going to count against them as badly as opposed to where you go into the professional world of fighting and start racking up all of these losses and ruin your career really.
PDG: Is there anything the fans can do to help push the message with the lawmakers in Florida?
Din: As of right now [the arrest and charges being dropped] just got over with so I think I’m going to take the next step and see what I can do to get some legislation changed. I don’t know how much time I’m going to have to devote to that. I will devote as much time as I have and see what we have to do, like get a petition going or whatever – maybe that is something we need to do, but I think this will help tremendously for these guys (the fighters). There are a lot of shows popping up in Florida and I see a lot of guys that shouldn’t be fighting. These guys may train wherever they train and they are going up against some pretty decent guys. And with records of both 0-0 they both are 0-0, but clearly one guy shouldn’t be in there getting his head pounded by the other because he has no other place to fight. There needs to be something else there – there needs to be an amateur league where the rules are modified a little bit so these guys aren’t getting hurt. Obviously the disparity between skill levels won’t change, but if the rules are a little different a guy can still fight without necessarily getting hurt as an amateur.
These things (injuries because people should not be fighting) are popping up all the time. These guys are watching it on TV and think they can do it so they just jump out there – and especially in Florida you can call up a promoter and be like “hey man I want to fight,” the and promoter will say “we need a guy for our up-and-comer, we need a win.” So he takes this guy and throws him out there and this guy has five ounce gloves and five minutes to get his head beat in. And if it was an amateur league where a guy had an opportunity to fight the guy could have modified rules a bit so he wouldn’t get seriously injured even against a much better guy – it’s much safer that way.
I’ve had my academy for three years and in that time have only had two guys fight pro. I’ve had about a dozen where we traveled to fight amateur.
PDG: Not to mention a lot of new schools keep popping up that are calling themselves mixed martial arts schools. And like here in Florida there are some high quality schools, like The Armory and the American Top Team schools, but then these guys fighting out of smaller schools are jumping in there against guys they shouldn’t be fighting.
Din: You’re right, they are popping up everywhere – all these little garage schools all over the place. And to be honest with you I think this little garage school called and tried to tip the police off and were like “what are you going to do about these fights?” A little bit of hating going on in the community, and again it is coming from one of these little garage schools that are jealous and want to take me down. But at the end of the day truth prevails.
PDG: Let’s change gears a bit; how is your knee doing?
Din: I just started training this week. I’ve been rehabbing and training a little bit with stand-up stuff and on the ground with much smaller guys to get the work in. I was on the phone with my doctor and he was like “do whatever you can tolerate,” and by January I should be full steam. That is what he’s saying so I’m thinking if I can do something about that I’ll try to be full steam in about two weeks [laughs]. But I want to take my time with it though. I’d really like to fight in March though.
PDG: You were towards the top of the division when you fought Kenny Florian. Do you think you’re still in the same standing since it was a fluke injury, or do you think the loss is going to be held against you like any other loss?
Din: Well because there are a lot of other guys nipping away at the heels I am assuming it is going to knock me back a little bit. I don’t think they are going to look at it and say “you know what, he did get hurt, let’s give him another shot.” I think they are going to say “he lost and is going to have to work his way back up.” If that is what I have to do, then that is what I have to do; but really it’s a moot point man. I’m just trying to make some noise. I’m not necessarily looking for the gold; I just want to make some noise at this point actually.
PDG: So there is a big match-up coming up in your division between B.J. Penn and Joe Stevenson. What do you think of that fight?
Din: I think it’s a good match-up. I think both guys are very good at what they do. B.J. is pretty much good at everything, and Joe is very good on the floor and his stand-up has come a long ways – and he’s effective in all positions. I don’t think people are giving Joe much of a chance, but I think it’s anyone’s fight at this point. I don’t think either guy has a clear advantage in this one.
PDG: Who wins the rematch between you and B.J. [laughs]?
Din: It’s hard to say, I’d like to say I would, but I’m sure B.J. would say he would. We could fight one hundred times and it could be split even. But I do know that it would never happen again like it did the first time.
PDG: Yeah, I thought you’d have him the first time then that knee came out of nowhere.
Din: Yeah. Everybody likes to bring that up, but that was in 2001 – that was six years ago. There are guys fighting in the UFC that weren’t even fighting back then. A lot can change in six years as far as what’s going on in the game and me personally – my style.
PDG: So you were obviously a part of The Ultimate Fighter show. How do you think the show has been progressing? They’ve been bringing in a lot of relative nobodies and guys with little experience, there are guys that are like 2-1… do you think they’ll bring in more guys with more “talent”?
Din: Well its tough these days, I don’t think there are many more guys left for them to pick from that aren’t already with another organization. I think the problem is now it is hard to create stars from these guys. It’s almost like everyone is a little desensitized to The Ultimate Fighter. Even after my season I think the mystique was kind of lost. I think why with season four, my season, that we were able to make a name for ourselves was because we were already out there. It’s hard for some of these guys now because everyone still remembers all the guys from season one, some from season two, and a few from three – but then four some, but with five and six you’re like “who is that guy?” So it’s kind of hard for them to create some stars out of these guys. And again, there hasn’t really been a stand-out guy really from the talent pool of those guys. So I think they have their work cut out for them as far as how far they can go.
PDG: Yeah, and it’s all been pretty much the same thing with people trashing the house and throwing stuff in the pool.
Din: Yeah, and that too. It’s cool to see that sometimes, I mean I’m not going to lie I like watching that stuff sometimes too [laughs]. But I still kind of question the motives for that. I really do think you can have a good show without that stuff. I watched that 24/7 show with Floyd Mayweather and it’s cool seeing him talk shit, but it’s also cool watching him train and all the stories behind it. With the exception of him talking a lot of garbage there isn’t a lot of crazy, childish foolishness going on there. And even on The Contender they have made a pretty successful show without having a lot of immaturity and backbreaking of the house. I’m not saying that that doesn’t work; I mean it is entertaining at times, but I don’t think a show should be built on that premise. And I don’t know if it is going to be based on that after this season; but I’m just stating that I would watch it even if they didn’t do that.
PDG: I know with some of the seasons that the crew didn’t discourage trashing the place and other behavior.
Din: Right, right. That is the thing though – when I filmed the season they didn’t get involved at all. They didn’t say “do this; do that,” they were really just like “we’re going to sit back and monitor this, see what happens.” What they chose to show is really what they want to see. If a guy is breaking the house up they show it – I mean there is a lot of stuff that goes on that they don’t show, so I mean they can kind of play with any story that they want. It will be interesting to see how they do it in the future, if they continue with that format of just showing a bunch of guys acting all wild, or are they going to change it to show guys being more professional. Maybe that is what people want to see, people acting childish. As for me, maybe I’m a little older and don’t need to see that all the time, but I’m more interested in seeing guys fight and train.
PDG: Yeah, that’s what I’d like to see more. If I want to see all the childish stuff I can just go to MTV’s Real World or something.
Din: Yeah, and that’s kind of what it is. It almost looks like it should be on Real World now [laughs]. Now when I watch it I’m like this looks like it should be an MTV show.
PDG: I’ve heard a lot of funny stuff though, like guys singing all the time in front of the cameras. The crew would tell them to stop because they can’t air it, but he kept doing it anyway.
Din: Yeah, it’s true, you can’t be singing on camera. When we would talk about music or movies they would actually turn the cameras off at that point because they were like “we can’t have you all talking about that” [laughs]. But they did a good job of not really intervening of how we lived and what we did. But it just gets to me sometimes watching it. I mean obviously these guys are going to act like buffoons at times, but there is more to MMA than that. There is a lot more than that “experiment” and I wish it would come across a bit more because it seems like every season you’re wondering who is going to kick a door down this time, you know?
PDG: Or who is going to fight who inside the house this time.
Din: Yeah, who is going to fight who, or who is going to yell at who? Who is doing this and who is doing that?
PDG: Something else that is encouraged is pre-fight trash talking. How much do they actually try to push on you guys to trash talk your opponent?
Din: They do that a lot actually. That is something they encourage a lot really [laughs]. An interview will last as long as it has to until they get the sound bite they want to get. I mean they will ask you the same question over and over, sometimes rewording it, just so you can give them a good sound bite. I guess the bottom line is when they are trying to hype up a fight they don’t want you talking real nicely about the guy, they’d rather you talk shit. I guess maybe that hypes it up a little bit more. I guess they have there reasons for that, maybe it does sell a little bit better if you hear two guys talking trash about each other. I’m not sure if it makes people want to watch it that much more though if they are already watching it anyway.
PDG: It kind of depends, I mean look at Tito Ortiz – he made a career out of it. But then look at someone like Nick Diaz – he has his fans, but his career seems to bounce up and down.
Din: I think even more than that, if you are fighting good fights and people remember your fights they are going to remember it, whether you called his mother a bitch or not.
PDG: Do you have any thoughts on the New Year’s card from the UFC (UFC 79)?
Din: Who is on it?
PDG: Matt Hughes is fighting Georges St. Pierre, and Chuck Liddell is fighting Wanderlei Silva.
Din: I think Georges takes care of Hughes again, I don’t see how Hughes can win that fight really. I think that Georges beats him again. I think Wanderlei and Chuck will be interesting to see. Chuck has had two losses – the first was like, they could happen, but the second maybe he didn’t prepare himself properly. I don’t want to say that because maybe he did, but maybe he wasn’t mentally… [the UFC] has Chuck running around everywhere. Every time I turn around I see Chuck on a video or in a magazine and that stuff takes a lot out of you as far as your warrior spirit. Maybe that has something to do with why he couldn’t pull it together with Keith Jardine, but hopefully with this fight he can get it together and get back on his game and fight a good fight. As for Wanderlei, it will be interesting to see if Wanderlei can adapt to the UFC and the cage and the crowd. It’s not like fighting in any other event. And actually, the rule changes too. Wanderlei made a career using his knees and kicks to the head on the ground, but he won’t be able to do that this time. It’s going to be an interesting fight to watch.
PDG: We can wrap things up here, is there anything else you’d like to say?
Din: Nah, I’m all good. I just want to especially thank my attorney, Corey Sucher, for allowing me to be heard without having to talk. He did a good job of that, and got this wiped away without going any further than it had to. Now I can get back to doing what I do best, that’s training, teaching, and building champions. I’m looking to get right back on my horse. And that is really all I’ve got to say.