Din Thomas is a retired mixed martial artist who is best known for his stint in the UFC and is currently a coach to a number of high profile athletes including Tyron Woodley and Gillian Robertson. Thomas also co-stars in Dana White’s Looking for a Fight alongside Dana White and Matt Serra.
Din Thomas: All right Manuel will gets fooled to jump right into it. Man, so I know Royce. Gracie played a huge part in why you got an MMA. What was it about Royce that really inspired you to join MMA? Well, I was small and he was small. So I remember watching UFC 2 when he fought. You know he just ran through all those different guys, and you know MMA was a lot different than it is today, so it was no weight classes, and you know when you see a 175 pound guy beat up all these big guys you’re like damn. I weigh 120 pounds. I got ta learn how to do that, so it was it just like resonated would be right then, and there that I wanted to that. I needed to learn how to do this. So rest is history yeah I mean I’m same thing. I’M smaller definitely never competed in the UFC, never got there just do a bit of jiu-jitsu, but but I feel that that was one of the biggest things that got me on to it. That and Rampage Jackson was another factor that got me into the sport. A guy like that is just next-level in terms of personality. Well, when you look back on your career, is there one fight that stands out to you among the rest is like that one there’s something special about that fight. You know not really I mean I wish. I could say that it did, but because, like all of them have like some significance to them that made me who I am today and it just so. No fight really stood out because they all had like something special about them. That I can look back on ago, yeah, that’s what I got from that fighter. Yeah that was cool. That was cool. That was cool, but I can’t think of any one fight that just did it there. I wish I wish I had one, but there was no one fight. There is one fight to me that stands out and not for any reason other than it’s a win over a good friend and Matt Serra. How does it feel to you know? All these years later be able to be like look. I got this win on you, man. Well, I’m extremely proud of that win not because! Well, because me a met, Sara are like best of friends, but I’m extremely proud of that, and I got the tattoo to prove it. It says: hey Matt, I want to. I can see there, but I got that we got that got that on Dana White. Looking for a fight but um know that that fight was weird because a lot of things happen like first, they raised his hand in the middle to fight the lights went out. I mean it was just a wild event, but um it was a good night. You know, I think that um, you know not that I ever want to do it again. That would kick my butt now, but yeah it was. It was a good fight, speaking of Dana White, looking for a fight, what what’s it like, traveling all over the United States, with those guys I mean Dana White, obviously very, very big personality and even bigger, is Matt Serra. What’S it like traveling with those guys, it’s crazy man like I, you got to know your role and you got to be able to keep up and that’s the thing is it they. It moved so fast like we’ll be in a hotel and everybody I’ll be downstairs at 11:00 and if you’re not enough down at 11:00, you know they’re gone dirt dirt. There we’re gon na leave you you know. So it’s it’s. It’S a very tough schedule, film schedule, but there are a lot of fun. I mean Matt’s a lot of fun if you’ve. Never I mean, if he’s a friend of yours, you know what he’s like he’s a lot of fun he’s, always on he’s the only guy. No, this always on I’m like dude. Don’T you ever turn it off? He never turns it off. He he’ll call me up he’ll start off serious. Then here come the jokes. I’M like you know you’re always on. I don’t know how he’s always on, but he’s he’s. So funny he’s funny he’s, God know by far you’ve seen a lot of places, you’ve seen a lot of fights. Is there one place that you’ve been for Dana White looking for a fight that stands out? Among the rest, obviously, I think Abu Dhabi, when we, when we filmed over there, that was a place that uh I mean it was just the only thing I can compare it to is like any image of heaven that you have in your head of what heaven Might look like or feel like or be like? That’S it because and and part of it was because we got treated so good, like the the people of Abu Dhabi treated us like royalty, and you know we had a lot of leeway to do different things and but besides the heat, it was just like the Most remarkable place like it seemed like everybody was rich and there was it seemed like everybody had gold like the coffee like had gold in it like gold chips like it was just like and we’re eating gold like what does that say about your economy when you Eat gold yeah: it was crazy onto your onto your coaching career, which i think is kind of where you’re at now I mean. Obviously, you had so much success in fighting but you’re even having a lot of success. Now, as a coach, your style is very different because, unlike a guy like Royce Gracie or a guy like Brock, lesner or Daniel Cormier, you didn’t have a set background. Like you, weren’t even come from wrestling background or a Muay Thai background, you kind of have it all. What does that mean for you as a coach and how is it easier, or I guess, even more difficult, sometimes to teach guys or to show them techniques without that specialty? No, I think I think it helped me yeah when I look at a lot of coaches in a game. A lot of them come from backgrounds like especially this generation of coaches, because most of this generation of coaches come from a specific discipline. The next generation will be a little bit more well-rounded, but this generation of coaches come from a specific discipline for the most part, and what that did for me was didn’t. Allow me to have a filter in which to process information through in terms of playing the game, for instance where, in terms of like wrestling, let’s say I had a wrestling background. I would always look at the game of MMA from a wrestling standpoint and go our. This is like when they shoot in on you defend the rest of the shot like this. I never did that. I always looked at it like well, if he’s a wrestling trying to shoot it on me, what can I use that he’s not used to I’m gon na choke him he’s not used to that? He won’t know how to defend it. I’M gon na elbow him in a head he’s not gon na had a defendant so, but not having a background. It didn’t. I didn’t process the information through that filter, so it was always open-minded in his box of of everything all in one as opposed to okay. I’M doing this doing this doing this, the one is doing that, so I think it helped me as fer for the fighters you coach, do you find it easier to coach a fighter who doesn’t have a like a wrestling background, for example, or do you find it Easier to just kind of pick apart, someone who’s so focused on wrestling and being like look you’re doing this right, but it doesn’t really apply to MMA, what’s easier for you, just picking someone up from the start, without any experience or someone who’s, a specialist uh, I Mean that’s such a difficult question, because there’s so many different factors involved because certain people like to do certain things I mean if, at the end of the day, I would prefer to get somebody who’s a decent enough athlete they don’t have to have a combat sport Background but just a good enough athlete that understands body positioning and the way the body moves. You know having decent balance, because I could have a background in wrestling. But if your balance is a little often like or you can’t stand in a position to throw punches, then I don’t want you so so it just just you know what I would probably prefer to have more than anything else, someone who can dance like a lumen Chenko type thing yeah yeah, because fighting is so much is so specific to body movement and being able to create angles with your body that, and that goes for punching kicking wrestling jujitsu. It’S all about body, positioning and body movement, and the answers can really contort themselves and put themselves in positions that, like most people can’t and we get it, we get it confused because we think a bit like big muscles is the thing that does it. That’S not what does it big muscles? Is? That’S the look but really it’s about positioning, and I think I would prefer to have someone who can dance yeah. You see that a lot, even I know, Dominick Cruz, doesn’t have a dancing background, or at least I don’t think he does, but his footwork is so so unique and I think that’s a good. That’S a great example of what you were talking about. Well, look at Israel out of Sanya, I mean he he’s a dancer and when he’s in their plan, you can’t catch his rhythm and he’s like he’s in these different spots, and you can’t find him. So I would much prefer to have someone who’s got rhythm and condensed and someone who’s wrestled. Speaking of your fighters, you have to well. You have one fighter fighting this weekend. I think right, Jillian Robertson. Yes, what’s your thoughts on her as a coach and what have you seen and developments in her game from her last performance where she lost in a sea barber? Well, first off she can’t dance so that it hurts no, no I’m just kidding, but she can’t dance. But um but she’s she’s the hardest worker. I’Ve ever worked with she’s the most diligent worker that I’ve ever coached, which is why you know when I left American Top Team. I was like you got to come with me because I got need you because, like you work so hard like you’re, the reason why I want somebody to work with somebody who works his hard and she’s just the hardest worker I’ve ever you know coached and um, And since that loss to Macy well, the first thing is like I don’t want to take anything away from AC, but you know there were times in that camp where I was like gentlemen, you sure you want to take this fight because she had hurt herself and Shusui and not that the fight may have been could have been different, but she just we had too severe to sacrifice some training for that fight. So, like you know, there was some some mishaps and training and we had to sacrifice a bit. But so we worked a lot in this camp and she has that fourth sense, then that was a long time ago. So since then, you know, we’ve did a lot. We’Ve done a lot of stand-up. We did a lot of work. Transitionally, we’ve just really sharpened her up in all these different areas and just gave her it’s just this amazing confidence to fight to fight anywhere and do everything and she’s just she’s as good as she’s ever been right now and she’s in better shape than I’ve ever Seen her in so she’s stronger she’s got better balance. She’S even runs after practice, something she’s never done before so yeah. I’M really excited to see her do her thing tomorrow. I think this is gon na be a great fight for it. It’S it’s a tough test, but I think I think she’s she’s shown a lot. Obviously the Maisie Barbara fight and I think anybody on that night may see looked incredible. So I mean, I think I think Julian Robertson is very, very talented and she’s Canadian. So you know I have got my heart for I always root for Canadians, another one of their fighters. Tyron woodley, I love Tyron. I was really hoping he’d get back to to his ways against Gilbert burns and taking nothing away from Gilbert. Gilbert, looked really really good, but what are your thoughts on untier and I know he’s got a lot of criticism. People saying you know, like he’s, got one foot out the door he’s rapping he’s doing all this other stuff. Some people say you know what it probably makes his game better as a coach and as a friend as a mentor. What I mean, what do you have to say? I guess like to the critics of tyron woodley? Well, tyrants, a hustler, you could say what you want about him, but he’s he’s the most hustling guy I’ve ever met. Like he’s a hustler man, dick he he’s never gon na be broke. He’S always gon na find a way to to find the money and that’s what he does in terms of his fighting career. It’S just it’s tough. You know when I was 36 years old, I had my last fight against Georgie carrot, Canyon, and I remember that fight. I remember being in somewhere in that fight and the third round just thinking I don’t really want to hurt this guy. You know like what am I doing here, I just I’m just cruising and after the fight I’m like man, I can’t believe I just let that guy beat me and it’s just. There comes a point in your life when you get to a certain age you’re, just like yeah. What’S whatever, and I think Tyra might be battling that a little bit you know they might be. You might be fighting that a little bit where he’s just kind of like man, I’m he’s 38 years old, he’s like 38 years old he’s just like, and is this you know this. What I really want, I mean you see it. You see the difference like in his eyes from now to from before, like it’s just it, it’s a different, it’s a different. I you know don’t don’t have to either tiger as much, but that doesn’t take away from his skill set. The thing is that we just have to get that back. You know we just have to get that eye of the tiger back in. Can it happen at this age? That’S the question, I don’t know: what do you think the wouldn’t motivate him? Is it a guy who he hates like a Colby Covington, or is it just something? That’S internal he’s gon na have to figure that out. I think he’s got to figure that out, because if he, if he allows Colby to motivate him but couldn’t get motivated for Gilbert burns or Guzman, you know that’s a problem. That’S a problem in itself, you know, that’s you got bigger issues, then then, then that so, but I think it’s got to be. It’S got to be in within himself to find it. You have a former opponent of yours fighting this weekend as well. Who’S kind of arguably over the hump just similar situation and Clay Guida. What sort of advice would you give to a guy like that who’s nearing the Ender’s? You know almost that 40-year or whatever, as someone who left the game relatively early, what what advice would you give just be safe? You know the problem with clay. Is that he’s? Never fought safe and he doesn’t have a safe style and he can end up getting hurt. The good news is that he’s fighting somewhat of an older type guy, like Bobby Green’s no spring chicken Bobby Green, has been around the block or bid, but Bobby green could still do damage Bobby green is still dangerous. So for clay, I would just say you know just fighters say as safe as possible and but that’s not really. His style, like clay, is always looking to entertain. First win. Second, so he’s gon na go, you know, guns blazing, but if you know, if I was coaching him, I would just want him to be as safe as possible. You know just don’t get hurt. One of the one of the people you’ve worked with throughout your career. Had incredible performance a couple weeks ago and Amanda Nunez as someone who’s, seen her inside the gym and is someone who’s almost like a friend almost oh, what are your? What are your thoughts on her performance and what do you think is next for her like? She seems like she’s done it all. Like she’d beat Ronda, she beat Holly, she beat every name, that’s ever won a belt, you know, as a friend and as a as a mentor former coach. What sorts of advice would you give to someone like that? Well, she’s she’s great, you know I think, um I love Amanda to death. She yeah. I still work with her a little bit. You know like I did her her scouting reports and ever since I left the team, I still did it for her for Felicia. She asked me, and man like he said, a man is a friend of mine, she’s great. I mean I’m just I’m blessed to be a part of her success at some level and – and I can say that I was a part of the success of the greatest ever. You know, and she’s she’s just done amazing things now uh her fight against Felicia. I think that if, if she wanted to, she probably could have put Felicia away. You know if she really was like yo. I’M gon na hurt this girl, I’m gon na put her away, but amanda has so much respect for her opponents that she’s, like she’s, a nice girl and I’m not gon na, hurt her I’m just gon na. I just want to win. You know. If that’s it. That’S how she was winning tonight fighting the kind of show like they were time to her like a man is just like backed off a little bit and just I don’t want to kind of want to kill the girl. So I’m just gon na well, but she fought cyborg. She was like come on, I’m gon na kill you and she did so almost but um. The only fight I was kind of critical of her was against the Jermaine fight. I didn’t think she looked that great in that fight. Jermaine posed some problems physically for her. That um, I don’t think she was a hundred percent prepared for but um she still dominated the fight, but I thought that she could have. She could a little bit better than that fight. That’S the only fight I ever be critical of her with but uh moving forward. I don’t know I mean she might even just retire. You know, but I mean so cuz there’s, but you don’t know what what a person fights for she’s fighting for money just keep doing it, but if she’s fighting for legacy, it’s done. It’S done. There’S nothing else to do. There’S no there’s! No one even close, like Germaine, was her last challenge and like when you look at the next ten girls in either division. There is nothing it’s gon na like motivate her to they can seal the deal like it’s already. The deal is been sealed. Yeah yeah. I agree yeah she’s, definitely in the Mount Rushmore for me of greatest fighters. I have her. I have George, I have Anderson and I’m Jones, who are your Mount Rushmore, for I mean you’ve. You fought through an era with guys like Forrest Griffin and all these great guys. You grew up watching Royce, Gracie and now you’re, coaching guys in the tyron woodley era, so you’ve kind of seen all the fighters who, for you would make the Mount Rushmore. I would have to go Amanda George Jones and DJ DJ yeah it’s hard, because Demetrius is relatively irrelevant right now. So it’s hard to remember him at times and from the outside perspective, you would look at his division and say: oh that’s, the weak as a weak division, but I would, I would say to his division. 125, in terms of like skill for skill, is as strong as almost any other division. It’S just not popular, and it’s just so when Anderson was beaten, guys they were popular, but I think the DJ’s opponents were just as good, if not better than Anderson’s opponents yeah. I agree I mean DJ was, in my opinion, the best martial artists of his era, the way he dominated fighters, it’s just guys like ray Borg, aren’t Forrest Griffin. You know, and I think that’s the one knock on right. Yes, exactly you don’t say, like Forrest, Griffin, isn’t a better fighter than Ray Bourque like in terms of skill for skill he’s just it just name wise so like so you know. Obviously Anderson gets credit for beating guys that have we’re just more popular and I don’t want to take anything away from Anderson. It’S just you know when he started fighting better guys and he got a little bit older he’s been doing it too long so like to me that just kind of takes a little bit away from him. Yeah Oliver I’ll ask a couple more non MMA questions here. Just to end it, I don’t want to take up to too much more of your time. So obviously you’re, probably one of the busiest men in MMA. What sorts of things did you do in quarantine to kind of keep your mind occupied? Oh man, we trained a lot, we trained. That’S what so, you know I quit my job like in the middle of quarantine, and so I was just kind of bouncing around going from like gym to gym in in South Florida, with my little crew of guys that I had with me and we would go To a gym and we were trained and we go to another gym and train and then about the same time, tyron woodley was in camp for Leon Edwards. So I drove up to st. Louis with Jillian Robertson and we drove up st. Louis and then we trained at his place for two weeks and came back so I mean it’s just we just I trained a lot dark horn team. I just really. I really did it was. It was great, actually yeah, it’s that’s great yeah. I hear that a lot of a lot of Fighters are like yeah we’re staying busy as busy as we can. I think a lot of them actually spent more time training, especially guys. We have a job on the side, yeah yeah. What’S well, that’s you know, that’s why I think before I start my Jillian, like she’s so prepared right now, because that’s all we did during quarantine was training. You know we we would. You know it was. You know a lot of Fighters, they were a top team, they couldn’t, but we gave because we were just like yo setup. We’Re gon na train now we’re training here, but training here we’re training. So she trained a lot. One of the one of the things I find is especially like a team like elevation. There’S such a small group of guys. Do you think that’s the future. Having a small group? Do you think that’s key to this? The fighters success? It will always be that way the big teams help for resources and bodies – and you know it’s just you know – embodies and there’s this a lot of resources, but in terms of developing really good fighters. You’Re gon na need individualized attention and I think eventually, it’s gon na turn into the boxing model, where you know if the thing is like, if you’re making 10 million dollars a fight you’re not showing up to Monday’s wrestling practice with, you know a bunch of guys. You know a guy who works it Texico. You know what I’m saying you’re not doing that like if you make 10 million dollars a fight, you’re going hey I’m training at this time and I’m hiring these guys to work with me and that’s it and that’s really. Where this game is going into, is it’s gon na be camps? Are gon na be built around the athletes? That’S just the way it’s gon na be can’t built through any athletes, but, prior to now it had to be the other way, because nobody could afford that. Yeah, so it’s gon na end up being like this, you know, camps are gon na, be built around the athletes as opposed to athletes jumping into big rooms of people all right. Thank you for, for taking the time man, I’ve been a fan of yours for a long time. So I appreciate you jumping on here. I’M actually still a little bit shaky from from interviewing you man, but yeah, you you make sure you probably later and we and we do this again, sometime yeah, we will for sure man. I really appreciate it all the best and good luck with Jillian tomorrow night. Thank You Man. I appreciate you thanks all right.