Jon Nutt, the affable CEO of Thai MMA promotion is very much a recognisable icon within the combat sports industry in Asia.
Apart from getting himself right in the thick of planning for his Full Metal Dojo events throughout the year, Nutt is everywhere – offers his promotional muscle to the likes of ONE Championship, Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts, Wednesday Fight Nights at MBK, Cage Wars and Singapore FC.
Whichever event Jon might be at, his presence would most certainly lend energy to the environment because of his genuine passion for combat sports and his commitment to building more awareness for the sports and increasing recognition for young talented fighters in the region.
Beyond his presence at these events, a testament to his support for these events was the way he would promote them across his social media platforms.
“I am a fight promoter first and foremost, so I believe in promoting all fight events in the hope that it will attract a wider audience to these events and provide better support and development to fighters.”
Nutt was most recently spotted in Singapore emceeing the second installment of SFC, held at Le Danz on Queen Street.
The event hosted a smorgasbord of young fighters pitting their skills in both amateur and professional MMA and Boxing, as well as K1 Kickboxing. This event was definitely right where Jon’s heart was and he had agreed to be part of it because it played to his proverbial song sheet of supporting the development of young talented fighters in Asia.
We caught up with Nutt before the show as he was soaking in the sights of Singapore.
Having already planned and launched eight FMD events across Bangkok and Phuket, we took the opportunity to chat about the state of MMA in Asia and reflect on some lessons he had learnt from his experience of creating the Full Metal Dojo brand right through to managing the eight shows in slightly more than a year.
MMA a Mainstream Sport
Whatever MMA enthusiasts, industry investors, promoters and fighters might think of the sport in Asia, Nutt is realistic about the fact that in this region, it was not yet a mainstream sport.
“It’s not Golf, it’s not tennis and most promoters still struggle with funding and fighters are not really earning enough money to make a living out of it,” he says.
“The sport is still very niche in Asia, let alone in Thailand.”
He had seen so many fighters harbouring a dream to be the next big thing in MMA quitting their day jobs to focus on training full time.
However, the fact was that many end up either knocking aimlessly at the doors of promoters hoping to get signed for a series of fights, or some might get disappointed at the lack of fight opportunities, often waiting for a long time in between fights even when they had already been contracted to fight for a promotion.
“Let’s face it. If fighters can’t make a decent living in Asia on fighting alone, can it be considered a mainstream sport.”
The Ego Factor
The bruising effect of ego was one of Nutt’s biggest lessons as he went from being an MMA fighter himself to a promoter.
He learnt early from his past and was keen to set a better example from his mistakes.
“We launched our first FMD event out of ego. DARE Fight Sports had its show, so we had to do ours. I managed to crush all the competition in Thailand but who cares… It didn’t do much for the sports and possibly set it back big time.
“It didn’t help the fighters who were out there hoping to find more fight opportunities in a bid to get better fight experience and develop their skills.”
He felt that the industry was riddled with ego which could only impact the sport negatively as egos breed unnecessary rivalry amongst promoters and gyms.
A typical scenario depicting this rivalry was when MMA promoters either failed to support the shows put on by fellow promoters or worse, discredited the other promotions.
Another demonstration of ego that was not constructive to the industry was when members of certain gyms did not support the show just because their fighters were not on the fight card of that event.
“The thing is, fight promoters could do a lot more to support other promotions. That is the reason why I often turn up at the events organised by other promoters and sometimes, even get involve in them in some shape or form.
“We are all part of the same industry so as much as I can support the cause, why not?
“If there is more openness amongst promoters as well as fighters and gym owners, these promoters could then invest in bigger and better shows and fighters could get paid more.”
Nutt says a greater portion of the money made by the bigger gyms were mostly through fitness and weight loss programs and not through their lineup of professional fighters.
As such, it was perplexing to him that fighters and owners of certain gyms would not support his event if their fighters were not on his event fight card. He added, “Honestly, how would that behaviour help support MMA in Thailand?
This behavior is not in the spirit of sportsmanship and healthy competition. It is so detrimental to the fighters and the industry at large.”
You got Budget?
Another invaluable lesson for Nutt was that he learnt right from the start that commitment to the industry should be a far-sighted one.
It should be governed by long term goals and not short term goals.
There’s no point budgeting for one show as there would be little or no impact to the industry. “You can’t just have one show and hope for the best.”
How can you create good content with only one show? Anyone serious about running an MMA promotion should know that content is king. The only way to make money would be through the provision of great content, branding and sponsorships.
“Do you know, there are currently only about 50 organisations which had made it past 10 shows. We learnt that right from the get go. We had to plan and set aside budget for at least five shows.”
At the inception of the Full Metal Dojo brand, everyone he spoke to bought into the concept and saw potential in the promotion.
Perhaps due to sheer naïveté and lack of experience, Jon started planning for his first event by seeking an investment amount that could sustain a series of FMD events.
However, no contract was inked and through a gentleman’s agreement, those who had agreed to invest in the property, eventually invested less than the amount he actually needed, and some were not prepared to “go all the way” with him.
That was a setback to Jon who had to cough up a substantial amount to cover the shortfall.
However, he was quick to see the positive opportunity in the situation. He was originally accorded a 37% share in the business.
Without the corresponding investment amount promised by some of his investors, and consequently causing him to dig deeper into his own events, his share of the business subsequently increased.
After launching eight FMD events, many people believed in his vision and were prepared to partner him to raise the bar of the promotion with him.
As Nutt had gamely put it: “It was not a bad place to be in after all. Really.”
MMA vs Muay Thai
The people of Thailand were very proud of the fact that Thailand was the birthplace of its own indigenous martial arts form of Muay Thai.
Jon explained that with the “old business” mindset of keeping it all within the family, MMA was seen as an external influence to be frowned upon.
However, he was slowly but surely seeing the change in mindsets as demonstrated by the expansion of Muay Thai brands like Fairtex and Twins into the business of distributing MMA apparel and gi.
Nutt hoped that more Thais in future, could open their hearts and minds to MMA, knowing that the sport could provide more jobs to Thais who could contribute to the industry as exceptional striking coaches since they had sheer depth of experience as Muay Thai experts.
“If more people in Thailand could be more opened to a wider array of fight sports, the country could set itself apart as a preferred sports tourism destination, the way Borneo had been developed as a well-known eco tourism destination.”
The Branding Game
Before calling it a day, Nutt had one final tip to share with fighters in Asia. He felt that unlike the fighters in the West, Asian fighters were not savvy in building their own personal brand.
“If you truly love the sport as a fighter, and hope to make a better living out of the fight purse, then be accountable for your own pay by promoting the shows that you would be fighting at.
“Think of yourself as your own brand that could influence the success of the MMA industry. When you promote your own fights, and create more awareness and interest for the promotions within which you would be fighting at, you would undoubtedly be attracting more ticket sales, and consequently a wider audience.”
“This would all go to contributing to your fight purse and more fight opportunities in the future.”
Full Metal Dojo
When asked what he thought his biggest success was with Full Metal Dojo, Jon said, “it’s the fact that I had done eight shows.
“And thank goodness, the shows are now making money. I am possibly the only promoter in MMA that did it on a shoe string budget and a two-man crew.”
He was proud to be a “feeder” to the bigger organisations and see up and coming MMA talent being scouted from his shows and given a chance to shine on a bigger stage.
With the lessons learnt from his past events, Jon was ready to look forward to a brighter future with Full Metal Dojo.
His next event, Full Metal Dojo 10: To Live And Die In Bangkok will be held on 19 March 2016 at Insanity Nightclub on Sukhumvit Soi 12 in Bangkok.