“I’m not even supposed to leave the house, apparently, according to the government. It is what it is, we’ve just got to make the best of it.” That’s where now-former American Top Team coach Din Thomas is at these days.
Where he’s not at is ATT. In the wake of a cancelled card that was to be headlined by student Tyron Woodley, the UFC’s former welterweight champion, Thomas announced that he was leaving the gym that he had long called home. A gym where he had worked with the likes of double-champ Amanda Nunes, among others.
We caught up with Thomas just after news of his departure broke. And just days after what would have been the UFC London card. Thomas described the chaos of that particular event being relocated, then cancelled on short notice. Or postponed, at least.
“Everything at that time was just touch and go,” Thomas recalled. “Just be prepared for anything.”
“We were actually in Atlanta in camp. And then we left Atlanta, we were still planning on going to London,” he explained. “[Woodley] went to St. Louis, I came back to Florida. We were still planning on going to London, then the next thing I know, they were like ‘London is off, but we’re going to do it here in the states.'”
Thomas revealed that he kept his bags packed, ready to go within the hour. “Then we didn’t have an opponent. Then it was like, ‘okay let’s try to get Colby Covington, Colby said he would do it.’ Then for whatever reason he couldn’t make that work. Then they wanted [Woodley] to fight Gilbert Burns. Tyron called me and said ‘what do you think?'”
Thomas and his fighter agreed to take the bout. “Then they scrapped the whole thing and cancelled the next three UFCs, just because it wasn’t in the best interest of, I guess maybe, the world.”
Given how quickly and exponentially the coronavirus pandemic has spread, he’s probably right. Woodley, reiterated Thomas, was ready to fight however. “It really was down to the point where I had my bags packed, my passport, and it was like ‘just tell me when to go to the airport and I’m gone.'”
There was no concern from the pair about getting stuck overseas. “No, no not at all,” Thomas said of the notion. “Part of the reason why is, that I knew I was leaving American Top Team. So if I got stuck somewhere, I’m on vacation. So I wasn’t concerned about getting back quickly. In fact in London— I had planned to stay in Europe for a couple of days, maybe even weeks. I was going to be in Germany, hanging out with my friends over at MMA Spirit, Daniel Weichel and the boys. I was going to hang out with them for a little while, just kick it with them. I was prepared to be gone for however long I needed to be gone.”
As for Woodley, being an active fighter, “Tyron’s a focused dude. If he got stuck somewhere, I’m sure he wouldn’t have liked it,” admitted Thomas. “But it’s his job. His job, he’s required to fight, he wanted to fight, he hadn’t fought in a year and he was looking forward to it. We went through camp. Camp is never cheap. Fighting is — you’ve got to fight. You’ve got to get paid.”
“We weren’t even thinking, ‘what if I go somewhere and get stuck?’ That was never a thought in our mind,” continued Thomas. “For me it kind of was, and I was like ‘I hope so, I don’t care, it’ll just give me another reason to chill out somewhere else.’ But for him, I don’t think he was even thinking about that.”
Woodley, explained Thomas, was focused solely on getting a win, and then getting another fight after that. That, of course, probably won’t be happening any time soon. Instead, three weeks worth of fights are off.
Talk has swirled about the UFC compensating fighters. Rival Bellator MMA did that immediately after pulling the plug on Bellator 241 earlier this month. Thomas hopes the promotion does something, but he’s doubting athletes who were on the UFC London, UFC Columbus, and UFC Portland cards will receive their full paychecks.
“It would be nice if they took care of them, but I can’t imagine them taking care of them to full capacity, and saying ‘your contract says you’re getting a hundred grand, here’s a hundred grand,'” he said. “I can see them saying ‘you know what, I understand you went through camp and you probably haven’t fought in a while, here’s ten grand, here’s five grand.’ I can see that. But I can’t see them paying everybody their show money because of this whole situation. I can’t imagine that.”
Still, he expects UFC President Dana White to make something happen. “I know Dana, Dana’s a very generous guy. He never wants to see anybody go broke. He really, for as much heat as he takes, he does try to look out for the guys as best as he can, without being taken advantage of.”
A story that likely would have been bigger had it not come during a global pandemic was that of Din Thomas leaving American Top Team. There’s a couple of reasons behind the move, he revealed. Thomas has a radio show on ESPN, and he wants to expand into acting, as well as do more analyst work. He also wants to change how he trains fighters — and who he trains. “In terms of training fighters, I want to be able to dig into fighters, and really invest in fighters that I want to. And not treat them like products, sometimes,” he explained.
Treating them like products, Thomas added, was “just the nature of my coaching, the way I was coaching at [American] Top Team— I’d be there coaching, and I’d have my favorites that I worked with a lot. Then they’d suffer, because we’d have some guy come in from Brazil that I had to work with. That was my job, to work with fighters! But at the end of the day, I want to build something. Build relationships with a couple fighters and go ‘we failed, or we made it, but we did it together.’ I’m at the point of my career now where I can do that.”
Thomas sees it as a collaborative project. And he wants to collaborate with specific individuals. “I’ll be honest, there’s a lot of fighters I don’t give a damn about. I don’t care about them. And I don’t like that.” Instead, the coach wants to maintain his integrity, and work with people that he likes — in the way that he wants to work with them.
If it sounds like Din Thomas wants to open his own gym, however, he doesn’t. “I don’t want my own gym. That’s one thing I don’t want.” That would require running kids programs, women’s classes, and so on to keep the doors open, he pointed out. “I never want to do that. I’m more interested in working with these fighters. We’ll use some other gym to work with them.”
“I do want to work with fighters, and I want to make them better, but I don’t want to have my own gym,” Thomas added.
Check out our full chat with coach Din Thomas below!