Thomas’ Return to the UFC a Welcome One

Thomas’ Return to the UFC a Welcome One

By Thomas Gerbasi

For a while, it was the ‘in’ thing for mixed martial arts veterans to verbally slam the fighters who fought their way into the UFC via ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality series.

‘They haven’t paid their dues,’ the grizzled vets would growl, ‘They’re TV stars, not fighters.’

Slowly but surely though, many veterans – including those who got beaten by TUF alumni – started to come around and realize that taking a life-changing opportunity and running with it wasn’t something to be ridiculed, especially since fighters like Forrest Griffin, Stephan Bonnar, Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian, Josh Koscheck and Mike Swick had truly opened the doors for a new generation of fans to appreciate the sport, and thus, allowed more opportunities for all fighters.

One fighter who not only saw the door open back up, but who also got to experience life in ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ house, was season four participant Din Thomas.

“It’s kinda funny, but maybe I should thank guys like Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin, because while I think I paved the way for those guys to get in the game, they actually paved the way for me as far as getting where I’m at right now,” said Thomas. “They opened the doors for a lot of us to start getting some recognition, so I thank those guys for what they did and I’m glad that they did it.”

An eight year pro with 27 fights to his name and respect worldwide as one of the top 155 to170 pounders in the game, Thomas has not seen the inside of a UFC Octagon since 2003, when he beat TUF4 finalist Matt Serra at UFC 41. His record in the organization stands at 1-2, but when the three names on that list are Serra, Caol Uno and BJ Penn, there should be no question about a return.

Then the lightweight division fell off the UFC map in the summer of 2004, and coupled with the politics of the sport, his desire to get his school up and running, and also to dabble in music and get started on a family, Thomas took a leave of absence from the sport. If you hear him tell it though, his return was inevitable.

“It’s almost like a drug – I feel like a crackhead when it comes to fighting,” laughs Thomas. “I love to fight, as much as sometimes I hate the politics involved with fighting and as much as sometimes I hate doing it in front of an audience. I’d probably be fighting if I was 50 if it wasn’t for some of the things involved with it, but I absolutely love to fight. It didn’t take much to really bring me back.”

But with the lightweight division of the UFC on hold, Thomas had no place to go as far as major shows in the US in 2005. He fought locally in Florida and Georgia, winning both bouts, and also went abroad, dropping decisions to Tyrone Glover in a DEEP show in Tokyo, Japan, and to Luciano Azevedo in a World Cage Fighting show in Manchester, England. A deal to fight in Pride was also put on the table, but when the UFC called, Thomas answered, and the next thing he knew, he was living in a house with 15 other fighters.

“It was really hard to do,” said Thomas, a Delaware native who now makes his home in Port St. Lucie, Florida. “I knew it was gonna be hard going in, and I had to mentally prepare myself to almost go to jail for six weeks. So it was really difficult to do, but some of the other guys in the house made it a lot easier for you to deal with. While some guys were pretty negative about the whole thing, there were a lot of guys that kept you positive and we kinda depended on each other for entertainment, so it made it worth its while.”

Even if it’s not the non-stop drama and hilarity fest that sometimes comes through on television.

“A lot of people look at it and think they say, ‘all right guys, action, start acting like a fool,’” he said. “It doesn’t happen like that. They film everything so there’s a lot of time just sitting around doing nothing.”

There’s also a lot of time spent training, and though Thomas emerged with a .500 record on the show, beating Mikey Burnett and losing to Chris Lytle, he is probably a better fighter than when he first entered the house, and considering that he wasn’t too shabby before, the 30-year old will be a very dangerous lightweight, beginning with his bout on Saturday against Rich Clementi. Thomas is hoping for a big return.

“One of the things you’ve got to understand about the fight game is that it’s a sport and it’s not any different from any other sport – some days Michael Jordan went out there and missed a load of shots and some days he hits,” Thomas explains. “If I’m on, it’s gonna be a shutout and that’s why I’m really trying to mentally prepare now. That’s the one thing I have to concentrate on – I have to be on, I have to be on my ‘A’ game, because Rich is no joke. He’s a very good fighter, very strong and durable, so I have to be on.”

Yet despite his talent and resume, Thomas also has to understand that the UFC landscape has changed in the three years since he last competed here, something quickly realized by a man Thomas defeated in 2000, former UFC lightweight king Jens Pulver, whose triumphant return in September was spoiled by unheralded newcomer Joe Lauzon.

“I know Joe Lauzon a little bit and I knew he was dangerous,” said Thomas. “Could he beat Jens Pulver in my opinion? No. Eight times out of ten, I think Jens wins that fight, but Joe is still someone to be taken seriously, and Jens probably underestimated him a little bit. I don’t think he did it intentionally, he probably didn’t want to and he probably trained hard, but it’s hard for a guy like Jens to take a guy like that serious. He (Pulver) is the guy who beat BJ Penn and he’s been all around the world fighting bigger guys, and it’s hard to look across the ring and see this scrawny little guy and take him serious. But that guy was dangerous, and it’s a lesson we all have to learn. You have to take everybody seriously at this level.”

And maybe, just maybe, that nervous edge and realization that anyone can win any fight at this level is what Thomas needs to eventually fight his way to the title. In any event, he’s looking forward to finding out.

“The ’55 division is so stacked right now and I think that belt’s gonna change hands three times in a year because anyone can win it on any given day,” he said. “And within that year, I expect to get it at least once.”

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