Din Thomas needed a new challenge. He’s 33 years old, but feels 25 – except for a few gray hairs on his beard.
“I don’t attribute that to fighting. It’s girls. It’s my wife,” joked Thomas. And while acting in independent films has provided creative outlets, Thomas (25-8, 3-0 since his 2008 release from the UFC) has plenty of reasons to stay in the fight game.
After being cut from Zuffa, Thomas dropped from 155 to 145 and considered a WEC run. An owner of wins over Clay Guida, Matt Serra, Jens Pulver, Jeremy Stephens, and Rich Clementi, Thomas thought he needed a fresh start. One day Shine Fights approached him with a chance to headline their May 15 pay-per-view against former WBA/WBC Welterweight and WBC Junior Middleweight champion Ricardo Mayorga and his MMA debut.
“I needed this, it’s good for me. It’s something different. It’s not the same old thing,” Thomas said. “You have a guy coming from boxing looking to make his mark in MMA and I said this is something new and interesting. It motivated me. Otherwise it’s kind of hard to get motivated in the fight game.”
Hundreds of Thomas’ family and friends are making the drive from his home in Port St. Lucie, Fla., to Fayetteville, N.C., to see two fighters who have each competed against some of the best in their respective sports. It’s a risk for Mayorga, who is putting his boxing reputation on the line. It’s a risk for Thomas, who is looking to prove he’s still relevant and marketable. It’s a colossal risk for Shine Fights and their first journey into pay-per-view’s murky waters.
The enormity of what’s before Thomas isn’t lost.
“I’m just glad all I have to do is show up and fight,” Thomas said. “I couldn’t imagine the position they’re in. They’re taking a big risk on this card not only with the fight I’m in, but they have some other high-level guys on this card. They’re putting their nuts on the line. They get one shot at this for the whole card and then the main event. I’m actually honored that they put me in a position to where they put everything on the line based on the card and I’m headlining it.
“I know it’s a pay-per-view event and I’m excited about it. I do understand the magnitude of the event. I like pressure. I perform better under pressure. As long as I put it behind me and not think about it too much, no pun intended I’m going to shine.”
He’s been there, done that. Thomas made his octagon debut in 2001 as a 12-1 prospect. He lost by TKO to B.J. Penn and worked in and out of the UFC before competing on Season 4 of the Ultimate Fighter (the comeback season). Upon his return he scored top contender status with victories over Clementi (submission) Guida (decision) and Stephens (submission). Another win and Thomas may have secured a title shot, but he injured his knee on a takedown attempt in the main event of UFC Fight Night 11, a submission loss to Kenny Florian. Another defeat in his next fight to Josh Neer and Thomas was handed a pink slip.
Looking back, Thomas believes he was a victim of a numbers game.
“There’s a lot of guys waiting to get their name out there and get brought up, and especially with the older guys like us they were like, this guy’s had his chances and he’s been with us for a long time, so we can let him go and do his thing,” Thomas said. “I’m just glad that Dana White and them, they have so much power in the industry, they didn’t put a hit out on me and blackball me within the industry.
“It shocks you and does hit home. I remember reading it on the internet and was like, ‘Man, is this what I’ve been reduced to?’ But I don’t hold any hard feelings against them. I’m glad that I’m with a company that’s taken care of me and doing big things. I’m getting more exposure with this company now than I ever did with the UFC, to be honest with you.”
As of now Thomas has no plans with Shine beyond the card on May 15 but is interested in staying with the organization. A win over Mayorga would add polish to his name – and more accurately avoids a stigma of established veteran losing to an MMA neophyte. Between the Mercer’s knockout of Tim Sylvia and the debatable merits of James Toney’s impending UFC debut, Thomas is entering the fight carrying the entire MMA community on his shoulders but he’s shrugging it off.
“At the end of the day it’s an MMA fight,” Thomas said. “I’m sure people will still say it’s MMA versus boxing, but it’s me versus Mayorga. He’s a professional fighter, and he’s not going to be that stupid to think it’s going to come down to me and him in the middle of the ring throwing hands. He can’t be that stupid.
“We’re going to get it on and somebody’s going to get embarrassed – and it ain’t going to be me.”