Meet Jon Nutt, the brash Full Metal Dojo frontman
Asked who the best promoter in fight sports is, a typical answer might be Dana White, Bob Arum or even Vince McMahon. But as quick as those names might leave the lips of most fans, the answer comes even quicker, and shorter, when you ask Jon Nutt the same question: ‘Me’.
Who is Jon Nutt? He may not be a household name like the aforementioned trio, but if you’ve had any kind of involvement in combat sports in South East Asia in recent years, chances are you will have met, or at least seen, Jon Nutt.
You know the guy. He’s the tall, barrel-chested, archetype of a loud American in the trademark lumberjack shirt, pulling a wrestling-poster facial expression from behind a macho beard that he grew out years before every second guy in combat sports had one.
He’s the guy opening the MMA show by walking to the cage singing Enter Sandman, or opening the Muay Thai show by standing in the ring singing the Thai national anthem in Thai. He’s the guy in the boxing match, channeling his inner Hulk Hogan with outrageous showboating while a heavyweight is trying to take his head off.
He’s the guy on Fox Sports Asia, he’s the referee and/or judge, he’s the guy hanging out at every fight event that’s not his own. And he’s the promoter, frontman and face of Thailand’s leading MMA company, Full Metal Dojo (FMD).
Best small show
Still, none of that puts him even remotely close to the Whites and Arums and McMahons of the world. Why does Nutt make such a bold pronouncement about himself?
“Pound for pound, I’m the best,” he says. “And that’s not pound for pound in terms of weight, that’s in terms of currency. Value for money. I run the best small or smallish show in the world, and always make a profit.”
FMD shows are typically held in a small Bangkok nightclub; an apt setting for a promotion that presents itself not just as a sporting event but also a party. There are live DJs, hyperactive introductions and booze, lots of booze, and lots of encouragement to drink it.
“Most of the reason why FMD makes money is because I make my shows for a live audience,” Nutt says.
Indeed, the live event is fast-paced and exciting. Nobody is sitting in the bleachers, ringside is not the reserve of rich people just there to be seen, and there are no lengthy delays for TV if the undercard runs short. Everyone is up close and personal with the action, the beer is flowing and the atmosphere feeds off Nutt, a man who never wakes up in the morning and says he doesn’t want to go to work.
Go to more than one FMD event and you will likely see a lot of the same faces. FMD generates the most valuable kind of business: repeat business.
Of course, success didn’t come overnight. For all the confidence Nutt exudes he too has had his setbacks, namely in the MMA promotion he ran before FMD which was called Dare Fight Sports.
Dare ran between 2011 and 2013, in much the same format, but unlike FMD it did not stand the test of time.
“Nothing really went wrong with Dare,” Nutt says, “other than a clashing of a few heads and a growing up and maturing of the people that were in the founding.”
“What goes wrong with any small startup? Y’know, thousands of promotions fail, all the time. That’s just normally because they didn’t have a good business model, get a return on their investment. These things happen.”
Dare was a critical success, if perhaps not a commercial one, but clearly the lessons learned have been put to admirable use with FMD.
“What went right with FMD is that we haven’t gotten too big for our britches. I don’t have millionaire investors on board but my shows are not only different and original in the industry, they are also profitable,” said Nutt.
A history of violence
The underdog rising up by dint of sheer hard work is a combat sports trope, and true enough, Nutt’s own beginnings, and the reason for him being in Thailand in the first place, was his pursuit of fighting glory of his own.
Born and raised in Marblehead, Massachusetts, a small town of fewer than 20,000 people, the now 39-year-old Nutt was lured to the Land of Smiles in 2004 for the same reason as any number of unknown farang fighters, a chance to train and compete in the birthplace of Muay Thai.
“I’ve been coming to Thailand since 2004 but 2007 was when I really moved here. I came here really for Muay Thai, my Mom put me into Tae Kwon Do when I was like 7 years old, I got into wrestling, Brazilian Ju Jitsu, different stuff like Krav Maga and Kung Fu, Wing Chun as well but Muay Thai was where my heart is.”
Nutt’s first stop in Thailand was Phuket, and while his Muay Thai career didn’t especially take off (he estimated having had about 10 or 12 matches), he gravitated towards the bar scene on Phi Phi island where he managed a successful beach pub and ran nightlife events. Thus, a passion for partying and pugilism combined to eventually form FMD as we know it today.
FMD might not physically grow a great deal more, and perhaps that’s for the best, given the nature of the event, but Nutt’s policy of being at, or involved in, every event of every fight sport he can possibly attend, means he inevitably has further plans aplenty.
Next up is the impending launch of Kumite 3000, an FMD spin-off and a hybrid concept merging MMA with video gaming, and organised as a team tournament of nations. It looks set to be more family friendly than its predecessor,
“We’re doing four Kumite 3000s next year and it looks like we’re going to do three or four Full Metal Dojos. Full Metal Dojo is going to get darker. It’s going to go back to more like the Dare Fight Sports days. Whereas Kumite 3000 is kind of rated PG-13 or even PG, Full Metal Dojo will be the dark horse of the Asian MMA community and will stick to being very underground looking.”
Nutt embraces combat in all its forms and this includes including video gaming,
“You have to realise a promotion makes its business the same way. It’s selling one guy against another guy whether it’s one guy playing a video game against another guy playing a video game, throwing axe against throwing axe you’re selling two individuals.”
He’s ostensibly an MMA promoter, but has ongoing involvement with Muay Thai superstar Buakaw’s All Star Fight promotion as well as Ringstar boxing in Singapore, Kunlun Fight in China and numerous other events.
Nutt doesn’t see these as rivals, but as peers. He understands that boosting the profile of all fight sports will boost MMA, and MMA’s fortunes are of course linked to his own.
Dana White, Bob Arum and Vince McMahon are probably not losing any sleep over Jon Nutt. But it’s hard to think of anyone who genuinely loves combat in all its forms quite as much as Nutt.