JON A. NUTT: From Boston to Bangkok, Velvet to Metal
JON A. NUTT: From Boston to Bangkok, Velvet to Metal
Ear crunching upon ear, foot ricocheting against temple, an upside down human being hurtling towards you. Jon Nutt was no stranger to these movements. He was always involved the artistic tussle for supremacy on the mat. His path to Thailand was far from typical. An outstanding athlete in his naval prep school Tabor Academy, he went to Trinity Liberal Arts College before dropping-out to pursue his dream at the prestigious USC film school in L.A. After that he was a student at the legendary Groundlings improvisation theatre, whose alumni include Will Ferrell. Incidentally he was also employed by Dr. Dre’s security company I.M.S. before being made redundant by the rap superstar, a fateful turn of events which would catapult Jon towards South East Asia.
Today, he is the owner of Full Metal Dojo, a rapidly accelerating MMA organization in Thailand, which predominantly showcases South East Asian fighters, propelling previously unknown mixed martial artists into the limelight. If you are watching an MMA event in South East Asia, you will either see Jon in the stands, refereeing, or perhaps just bounding around the ring making noise, doing whatever he can to help promote local MMA. His harnessing of homegrown talent will be exemplified in October this year as he puts on an all amateur Thai tournament ‘Made in Thailand’ throughout four regions (Pattaya, Phuket, Ubon Ratchathani and Chiang Mai), with the final winner gaining an all-expenses paid trip to the IMMAF (International Mixed Martial Arts Federation) World Championships in Las Vegas. This is the only amateur federation in the world to be sponsored by the UFC and Nevada State Athletic Commission. That’s a very tasty, juicy burger for the eventual winner.
Despite Nutt’s extraordinary journey, his initial motivation to travel to South East Asia was no different from millions of other ex-patriots. He was allured by the enchanting Muay Thai culture. Elbows, knees and clinches reign supreme in this unique fighting style, which breeds human fighting machines who have seemingly steel-plated shins and an inhuman willingness to receive crushing physical punishment with a wry smile. Ex pats flock to Muay Thai gyms for various reasons; some to endure the extreme training regime, some for catharsis, some because it looks cool and some who are mixed martial artists hoping to assume these weapons in their fighting arsenal. Jon Nutt’s youth was entrenched in fighting.
“My mom put me into Taekwondo when I was seven, then I wrestled in high school. In college I got into Capoeira, Brazilian Jiu Jitzu and then when I got to Los Angeles I trained with some good fighters like Matt Danzig, Frank Trigg and John Marsh (Pride) who got me into Muay Thai.”
Following his dismissal at the hands of rap god Dr Dre, Nutt went to Thailand and trained in different Muay Thai gyms, with “Sityodtong” in Pattaya being the gym he connected with most. However, he had no plans to stay.
“When I first came to Thailand I didn’t like it at all, but I had a friend who was backpacking so I ended up travelling to Koh Phi Phi, which is where I found Thailand.”
In December 2004, as Jon was mid-air, travelling home from his first, and probably last Thai experience, a devastating Tsunami swept over Thailand’s south coast. It completely obliterated Koh Phi Phi, the island Jon had left just two days previously. With approximately 4,000 killed (out of its 10,000 occupants) and 70% of its infrastructure wiped out, Nutt was compelled to return.
“I came back on March 9th 2005, the day that Biggie died, and I helped out with High PP a non-profit relief organization. I fought and announced at stadiums and that’s when I got into Muay Thai. That was my tipping point. I was back and forth to the states but I knew I wanted to come back to Thailand. I thought; do I want to be working for 50% of my life in a job I’m not inspired by? It’s a hippy mindset and I definitely had that. I was trying to be a bigger and better man.”
“My first two years as an expat, I owned a bar, guest house and a company called SoThai that made apparel. Some of these made money and some didn’t. Was I successful? It depends what you call success. I don’t believe success is based on numbers. I definitely owned the coolest bar on Phi Phi: “Sugarmandango’s Velvet Dojo.”
Nutt’s Velvet Dojo on the gorgeous Phi Phi island was eventually sold as he pursued his vision of a Full Metal Dojo in the city of Angels, Krung Thep (Bangkok). Tens shows later, FMD is gathering serious momentum. The last show was a spectacular sell-out, with nine out of ten fights finishing inside the distance via submissions or strikes. Sponsors are beginning to take heed, as Four Points by Sheraton and Movenpick just hopped aboard the FMD train, to join the already boarded Singha, Ducati, Jack Daniels and Oakley to name a few.
“We’re on an upward plateau, but everybody’s very grounded and cool with keeping it as a kind of better-than-hobby business. We started small enough so that anything we achieve is great.”
The Full Metal Dojo team are a group of expat MMA fans, partnered with American educated Thais, who already had established professions in Thailand before they got involved with the FMD project. They still approach their work with the same vigour as when they first started, and with the same, fighter-centered ethos.
“We’re all about fighter development. We stepped in with a goal, to have a morally sound, unbiased fight organization whilst maintaining the bad-ass element. If these fighters were in a field, fighting to the death, who would win? That’s the excitement we’re trying to create.”
“On my first show we sold over 540 tickets and had no well-known names at the time. My goal after that first show, once I realized the loss, was to replicate that four times. Now we’re selling out, all my fighters are fighting at a high level and we have a package that real fight fans want.”
Fighters enter the Dojo smiling, deliver spectacular brutality against their foes, smile when they are struck in the face, and show the utmost respect to one another when the fight is over. As well as some talented International fighters, many of Nutt’s warriors hail from ancient martial arts traditions such as Silat (Malasia), Khun Khmer (Cambodia) and Lethwei (Burma). Explosiveness reigns supreme in these disciplines and makes for some awe-inspiring spectacles in the Dojo when they clash. It is this investment in South East Asia which appears to be paying dividends for Nutt’s organization. By the end of the year Full Metal Dojo will have put on seven shows in 2016, and with “Made In Thailand” just around the corner and the release of Full Metal Dojo’s entire catalogue to be screened on True Visions (Thai cable TV) on June 9th,Jon Nutt’s freight train is showing no signs of slowing down. He represents a new American dream, for those who have been chewed up and spat out by their political system, but still have a lot to offer this world.
“We represent a community of expats who have forged a new life in Thailand. When I started I had a following, people who believed in me and I knew would support me. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I speak Thai, and I have five Thai partners who know that if FMD really takes off, it’s going create more jobs, will be great for Thailand, and great for combat sports.”
Thailand welcomes with open arms those who are willing to give. On May 27th you can witness Thai mixed martial artists, and former Full Metal Dojo fighters, Pongsiri Mitsatit, Kritsada Konsrichai, and Shannon “One Shin” Wiratchai fighting in the prestigious One Championship: Kingdom Of Champions event at Impact Arena.
Full Metal Dojo: Sweep all the legs takes place on June 4th at Insanity nightclub. FMD premiers on Thai TV five days later, with a primetime 7pm slot for those who like to feast on flying knees and front kicks with their fermented crab somtums.
NCTJ accredited Journalist