Din Thomas is one of the original bricklayers in mixed martial arts, one of the guys who fought in dark, unsanctioned theaters when the fear was that the cops might shut things down quicker than his opponents could (read: the late-1990s). And after 16 years in the fight game, in which he faced some of MMA’s most iconic names and defeated his share, he’s walking away.
Thomas announced his retirement from the sport on Jan. 2, in part because at 37 years old the lure of becoming a champion is no longer as realistic as it once was.
"It was a variety of factors," Thomas told MMA Fighting. "And as I’m getting older, I want to do a lot more things. The window is smaller. Once you get too old…I mean, I’m starting to get gray hair. People aren’t taking me as serious as they used to. Got to get on with things while I’m still young."
Thomas, who trains at American Top Team, recently signed a deal with the World Series of Fighting promotion. As a southern Florida-based guy with "a name," he had hoped to fight on one of the promotion’s Miami area cards. When that didn’t materialize, he decided it might be time to walk away. "Dinyero," as he was known throughout his fight career, last fought Georgi Karakhanyan at Legacy Fighting Championship in April of last year, a fight he lost by decision. His last appearance in the UFC happened in April of 2008, when he lost to Josh Neer (also by decision) in Broomfield, Colo.
Yet, having won three in a row in 2009-10, Thomas was rolling along fine until an automobile accident sidelined him for more than year. Yet the dawning that it might be time to move on truly happened while he was watching UFC 168, when he saw some of the fight game’s name brands go down somewhat ingloriously.
"Watching Anderson Silva and Josh Barnett go out like that, I was like man, it’s going to be tough for me," he says. "I had to be honest with myself. I didn’t want to go out like that."
Thomas, who fought a who’s who in mixed martial arts, and holds victories over Matt Serra, Jens Pulver, Clay Guida and many others, will now turn his focus on other pursuits. As one of fighting’s notorious cut-ups, he still performs with an improv troupe in south Florida called Mod 27. He has also started up an MMA scouting company, alongside fellow fighter Roli Delgado.
"We started a project called MMA Scouting Report," he says. "So basically we’re scouting fighters for other fighters if they’ve got a fight coming up. I’d scout guys and I’m thinking, ‘how would I fight this guy?’ And I’m thinking of all the things I’d need to do to beat these guys. Ten years ago I was like, yeah, keep that jab popping, use that movement, so on and so forth. But as I’m scouting guys I was like, man, there’s no way I can physically do this for three rounds."
Now, rather than gather information for himself, he’ll relay information to fighters who want to forecast.
"What we’re trying to do is what Mike Dolce does with dieting, only we want to do it for guys who have fights coming up. I just help guys out and give them an advantage if they want it."
Thomas competed in multiple weight classes in MMA, yet at the end was fighting as a featherweight. After staying in shape for so long, he says he’s excited to take the restrictions off the diet a little bit.
"Now I just never have to worry about making weight or getting punched in the face and being angry all the time. I feel like I’ll be much better off."
Though many fans will remember Thomas’ run on The Ultimate Fighter 4: The Comeback season, there are many moments throughout his career that stand out to him. At one point in 2010, he’d signed on to face the Nicaraguan boxing champion Ricardo Mayorga in a crossover battle for Shine, and the bad blood between the two drew a lot of attention (Mayorga promised to knock Thomas out in the first two minutes; Thomas said he’d steal Mayorga’s woman after he choked him unconscious).
But Don King put the kibosh on it before it could happen.
So, what’s the thing that will stand out most for Thomas himself, now that he has punctuated his career?
"I think about this all the time, and I want to make sure I put this down on paper the way I put it down," he says. "I mean, I fought in what was considered the first official lightweight tournament in the UFC for the title. I fought BJ Penn, Matt Serra, Clay Guida, some greats, I did the Ultimate Fighter, I had a submission of the night award…but the one thing that will stand out in my career is that stupid dance that I did at the end of UFC 71."
That dance occurred after his armbar submission against Jeremy Stephens in Las Vegas, and it’s now -- for better or for worse -- etched in people’s minds forever.
"Everywhere I go, people say do the dance, do the dance," he says. "It don’t matter where I go that’s the one thing that’s going to stand out. That’s the one thing people will remember me for is the Harlem Shake. I pulled off a beautiful armbar, and they just want to remember the Harlem Shake. Crazy. You got to love MMA."
Thomas’ overall record in MMA was 26-9 (with one no-contest).