Trainer to the Stars
Din Thomas has become one of the more respected names in the mixed martial arts coaching field over the last decade. As a longtime mentor to Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight titleholder Tyron Woodley, he grew in prominence, and his role as a part-time trainer for two-division UFC women’s champion Amanda Nunes cemented his place among the elite instructors in the industry. Despite his success, Thomas continues to work with the latest crop of highly touted prospects who have walked through the doors at American Top Team, including former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy.
Woodley and former interim UFC welterweight champion Colby Covington have appeared to be on a collision course for nearly a year. They have fired shots at each other on social media and in interviews, creating easy matchmaking scenarios for UFC executives. However, Woodley defended his title against Darren Till at UFC 228 in September, despite the fact that Covington was in possession of the interim championship at the time. Entering the New Year, the situation has remained the same: Woodley will put his welterweight crown on the line against Kamaru Usman at UFC 235 in March, while Covington sits on the sidelines.
“I felt like it was a missed opportunity,” Thomas told Sherdog.com. “I felt Colby deserved the fight, but there’s obviously things going on behind the scenes that I don’t know about. I don’t know all the details about why Colby didn’t get the fight.”
Some observers view Usman as a more difficult challenge. Thomas does not see it that way.
“It’s not necessarily a tougher matchup, because Colby does bring a lot to the table in terms of pressure, his conditioning and just his ability to win fights that you might not assume he would win,” he said. “Under the lights, Colby will perform and get it done. You can never underestimate him.”
Still, Thomas understands that Usman brings a unique set of dangers to the table.
“He’s a different challenge,” he said. “I think Usman is a little bit better defensively. He moves his feet a little bit better. I think he is a better overall striker and has a more diverse skill set, but I don’t find him to be a tougher matchup.”
Sometimes, the challenge comes more from the fighters the coach has elected to train than the opponents they are preparing to face. Hardy started his professional MMA career with three consecutive sub-minute knockouts, only to lose his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut at UFC Fight Night 143. The 30-year-old heavyweight connected with an illegal knee to Allen Crowder’s head, resulting in his disqualification 2:28 into the second round. While Hardy enjoyed some early success, Thomas saw flaws in his strategy, and those mistakes, in his view, led to his eventual failure.
“From a coaching perspective, I always want to be honest. During that fight, where he was strong, I felt he was sloppy and he wasn’t doing exactly what I know he’s capable of doing,” said Thomas, citing inexperience as one of the factors in Hardy’s downfall. “I think that’s why he gassed out, because early on in his career, he’s been knocking guys out in 30 seconds. When he didn’t do it this time, it got worse, and he tried harder to knock the guy out; and he got really sloppy and he got tired from doing that.”
Meanwhile, Thomas has a different kind of working relationship with Nunes. Along with being a good friend and part-time coach, he has served as a scout since she captured the women’s bantamweight championship with a rear-naked choke submission on Miesha Tate at UFC 200. Thomas believes Nunes has established herself as one of the 10 greatest fighters in the sport’s history, male or female.
“Definitely Top 10, no matter the gender,” Thomas said. “I can’t say Top 5 because of strength of schedule.”
In addition to Nunes’ wins over Tate, Cristiane Justino, Germaine de Randamie and Valentina Shevchenko, Thomas points to the Brazilian’s 48-second technical knockout of Ronda Rousey at UFC 207 as fodder for her inclusion in the Greatest of All-Time conversation.
“The fact that she beat Ronda Rousey, who was packaged as the greatest of all-time during her run … Those on the inside know that’s not true but she still had a tremendous run, and Amanda busted her up,” Thomas said. “You have to put Amanda on that list of the greatest of all-time, male or female.”