As odd as it may seem to those who remember Din Thomas as one of the top lightweights in the world during his prime fighting years, there are some who see him on the Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight series and wonder just where that funny guy who knows the fight game came from.
“It’s very weird for me,” Thomas laughs. “I fought professionally for about 15 years. I’m 40 now and I started fighting at 19, so more than half my life, I’ve been involved in MMA. So when people look at the show and think it’s just this funny guy and wonder why I’m on there, it’s weird because I fought a long time and when it comes to being on a show like this, I feel like it’s built for me.”
It is. The perfect foil to former opponent Matt Serra as they go around the country with White and get into all sorts of trouble while scouting new talent, Thomas is not only an astute follower of the sport (he has to be as a coach at American Top Team), but he’s got one-liners for days. Just listen to some of his quips on the latest episode (which premiered on YouTube earlier this week), which are instant classics that will likely be stolen and reused by those hearing them.
And while landing the gig came at the perfect time for Thomas, it’s just the latest chapter in a story that began as soon as he fought his final fight in 2013. Sure, the Delaware native could have stuck around and kept fighting and picking up paychecks thanks to his name value in the sport, but he’s not built like many of his peers. When he was done, he was done, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I never get the itch,” he laughs. “I don’t even train anymore. I go into the gym and I strictly coach. I’m a dummy for the guys, and I study more now than I ever did when I was fighting, so I understand fighting a lot better now, but I will never fight again. I’m totally done with it, and I’m totally happy with what I did in my career. It’s on to the next thing. I don’t want to live in the past. I don’t want to be that guy that’s talking about what I could have done or look at what I used to do. For me, it’s all about what I’m doing right now and what can I do later this year or next year.”
In any combat sport, to have that attitude and stick with it is a rarity. But when Thomas says he’s happy with his body of work in the Octagon and ring, he should be. Owner of a 26-9, 1 NC record, Thomas was an elite lightweight back when the division wasn’t as big as it is now in the United States. A victor over the likes of Jens Pulver and Dokonjonosuke Mishima early in his career, Thomas was a staple of the division in the early part of the Zuffa era, going 2-2 with wins over Fabiano Iha and Serra, with his only losses coming to BJ Penn and Caol Uno.
The Serra win was an interesting one, as a judging miscalculation saw Serra being announced as the winner before the error was discovered and Thomas was told of his victory in the locker room. Not surprisingly, the two still have some discussions about that night in 2003.
“That’s the only thing we still argue about,” Thomas laughs. “But I tell you right now, I will never get on the mat with Matt now because he’d murder me on the mat. He still trains every day and he’s still an animal. Me, I got a minute in me and then I’m done.”
Back then though, Thomas had plenty of gas in his tank, and whether fighting in Japan, England, the United States, or on season four of The Ultimate Fighter, when “Dinyero” was on the card, you saw MMA at its highest level.
Of course, nothing lasts forever, and while that comes as a shock to many fighters, it didn’t to Thomas, who was already preparing for life after the final bell.
“When I was fighting, there was a buddy of mine, Glenn Mincer,” Thomas said. “He runs an ATT academy in Kissimmee, Florida, and he had been with me throughout my entire career. We always used to talk about big megastars, like pop stars, and the way they were relevant throughout decades of time and it was because they constantly reinvent themselves. And I felt like even in my fight career, I constantly reinvented myself as a fighter. Despite what anybody might think, I always felt like I was always reinventing myself as a fighter. So when I retired, I needed to find other outlets to reinvent myself. So it was an easy transition for me to go, ‘You know what, I’m no longer a fighter, but I need something to reinvent myself and be passionate about.’ So that’s when I started doing improv comedy and coaching and different things like that.”
Today, Thomas has his spot on the show, he’s helped coach two of his fighters (Tyron Woodley and Amanda Nunes) to UFC titles, and he’s still as funny as ever. It’s the kind of success story you hope to hear about every fighter, but decades of combat sports history have proven that it’s not always the case. But if Thomas has his way, his fighters will be ready for that next chapter.
UFC Unfiltered: Din on working with Nunes
“A lot of fighters limit themselves as human beings and that’s a mistake to do,” Thomas said. “One thing me and Tyron Woodley talk about all the time is that if you take fighting away from him, he’s still a person with a lot of other things to offer the world. And a lot of fighters don’t do that. A lot of fighters put their eggs in that basket of fighting, and that’s something I never did. Even when I was fighting, I was taking acting classes and I was trying to be as well rounded as a human being that I possibly could. And it wasn’t as a fall back plan. I never had a fall back plan. It was a ‘When I’m done’ plan. And that was the key.”
But what about the million dollar question? Is it tougher to fight or to bomb on stage after a comedy set?
“I still think fighting’s harder,” Thomas says without hesitation. “There’s something about going into a fight thinking, ‘Man, I might not look the same when this is over.’ I’ve been doing improv for about five years now, and I’ve done sets that were just God awful, but when it was over, you feel bad for a little bit and then you laugh about it and it’s over. When you go into a fight, I might get my tooth knocked out, I might get my jaw broken or get knocked out. There’s something about that that’s very difficult to deal with. Every fight I’ve ever had, in the dressing room, I would always take a minute to look in the mirror and tell myself, I’m not gonna look like this when I come out. I don’t do that in comedy. (Laughs) Whether they laugh or not, I’m coming back looking like me.”