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Meet Arguably NHL's Biggest MMA Fan: Boston Bruins Goalie Tim Thomas

Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas is such a big MMA fan that he named his dog after Forrest Griffin. (Surprisingly, though, the dog's name is Griffin, not Forrest.) And after to talking to him about his love for all things MMA recently, it's probably safe to assume that few professional athletes enjoy watching the sport more than the veteran netminder.

The winner of the 2009 Vezina Trophy for the NHL's best goaltender discussed how he was drawn to MMA, why he thinks the fighters should get paid more and whether he would ever step into a cage or ring himself. The full interview is below.

Ariel Helwani: When did you first get into MMA?
Tim Thomas: Me and my brothers used to rent the UFC videos back when they first started from the movie store. When they first started, you could either buy them or rent them from the movie store. That's the only way you could see it.

Was this back in the UFC 1 days?
Yeah, Royce Gracie. Way beginning.

Did you stop following the sport during the dark days when they were off pay-per-view?
Yeah. When they had the so-called dark period, I didn't exactly know what was going on, but I kept searching the video stores for them and just wondering. I then started searching online because I always wanted to see more and more.

What's your favorite fight of all-time?
Probably Randy Couture vs. Gabriel Gonzaga. I don't know why. I've always been a Randy Couture fan, but you know, Gonzaga, at that point, looked unstoppable. He just demolished Cro Cop, and Randy was getting a little bit older at that time, even if this was two years ago. I was actually afraid for Randy because Gonzaga looked like a beast. And he was able to come in and not just beat Gonzaga, but break his will, which I found impressive.

Given his age, do you think that it's time for Couture to retire again?
Nah. Who am I to tell anyone that it's their time to hang it up? I mean, he's still a great fighter. There's no shame in losing to Nogueira. Do I see him slowing down a little bit? Yeah. But I still think he is a fighter who can win a lot, just maybe not necessarily against the best in every division now. I'm interested in seeing how things go against Brandon Vera; that should be a good fight. But to throw him in against Brock Lesnar again, I don't know.

As a long time fan, what's your take on Lesnar? Good or bad for the sport?
I like him. I like a guy that most people hate. I'm not necessarily in the hater camp, but not in that other camp either that just loves him. I'm somewhere in the middle. I think that he's an amazing fighter. The raw strength that he displays, like how he finished [Frank] Mir where he just punched him when he had him in a headlock. I don't know if anybody has ever had that power to completely finish a fight like that before. So I respect him as a fighter, and I think he's enjoyable to watch. You know, what he said [after UFC 100], when I thought about it later, he shouldn't have said it, but when he said it at the time I thought it was pretty funny.

Do you dislike any fighters?
You know, for some reason, I never really liked Frank Mir. Rashad Evans hits me the wrong way. [But] I don't hate anybody. There's guys I want to see lose if I see them fighting other people, you know what I mean? I will definitely have my people that I want to win, but there's nobody that I actually hate. Let's put it that way in case I ever go to a UFC and run into those people, I don't want to get into any trouble.

Is your nickname "The Tank" because of Tank Abbott?
(Laughs) No. Marc Savard gave me the name "Tank," and it wasn't because of Tank Abbott. It was probably for Thomas the Tank Engine, the little train that could because I was kind of the underdog.

Well, that's not as menacing as Tank Abbott.
No. Although, he's about ready to fight Butterbean, right?

Yeah. Wow, you really do keep up with all the news. That's impressive. Do you watch all the pay-per-views and live events?
Yeah. If we're playing or on the road, I tape them at home, and then sometimes, when we're in the hotel, I can find it. But I tape them all anyways.

Are you the only player on the team that likes MMA?
No, I'm not. Zdeno Chara is a huge fan and Milan Lucic actually is to a certain extent, but not as crazy, maybe, as me. Zdeno Chara is almost as crazy as me, and then our video guy, Brant Berglund, is, I would have to say, the only one who is crazy about watching everything like I am.

Last season, you had a much talked about scrap with the Canadiens' Andrei Kostitsyn. Does watching MMA make you a more aggressive hockey player?
No. Actually, when I was younger, I got into a lot of fights. I moved quite a bit, so I was in a lot of different schools and got into a lot of fights. Even in college, I mean, I'm not proud of it, but I got into a lot fights in college. If anything, it works the opposite, and it makes me not have to be so aggressive because I can kind of get out my aggression watching those kinds of shows. It also teaches you that there's some pretty tough dudes in the world that you don't really want to mess with. You run across the wrong one, you might run into trouble. So it actually makes you think twice before doing something stupid.

So no flying armbars coming from you on the ice?
No, especially not when you have skates involved. Last year I saw a fight, somebody was called up for San Jose [ed. note: Brad Staubitz] against Jordin Tootoo, and he was purposely missing with his fist and kept hitting Jordin with his elbow pad on. So that was the closest I have seen to MMA-type striking in the NHL, and it's not good. There's a place for fighting in hockey, but to be throwing elbows, it's just wrong. And Tootoo didn't really know what was going on either, because he was dodging the fist but he was still getting hit. He couldn't figure it out.

Have you ever been to a live MMA event?
I've been to one live one here in Massachusetts. I get the Lauzon brothers mixed up, but one of those guys fought on it, and his fight was pretty quick. He finished it in about 30 seconds.

So you've never been to a UFC event?
No, I wish. Our hockey season is so long, and it's not sanctioned in Massachusetts, but I've heard that they're working on it hard. If there is one at the Garden, where we play, hopefully we would be home. We played at a couple of rinks the day after the UFC had an event -- one in Montreal and one in Columbus -- but I never had a time period where I could go. Relatively soon, whether they have one in Boston or whether I have to go to Las Vegas in the summer, I would love to go.

Are you surprised that Massachusetts is taking so long to legalize it?
Well, yeah, I am. The people that carry massive head injuries with them for the rest of their life is far more prevalent in boxing than it is in MMA, and boxing is sanctioned. I don't understand the difference. It is a sport. I mean, I was drawn to it at the beginning because it seemed like flat-out brawling, but as it developed, and as I saw what was going on, the cycles that it went through where the first guy who could deal with the small jiu-jitsu guys was the 150-pound wrestlers that were too strong to be held by a 185-pound guy with jiu-jitsu moves. Then it went from there to strikers that could beat the wrestling guys, and then to jiu-jitsu guys who could strike. It kind of went that way with the early Vitor Belfort era. And then it went back to wrestlers with Randy Couture and those types of guys. And then it went to the strikers who were very good at not being taken down, like Chuck Liddell.

It's constantly evolving, and for a while it seemed like one technique always seemed to be the one winning, but now it seems like you never know which is going to win against the other because everybody is so good at every single thing.

What's your take on Kimbo Slice in the UFC? Do you think he deserves to be fighting in the top organization out there?
Am I OK with him making money and being in the fight world? For sure. It's good for him and it's good for his family. I've been watching The Ultimate Fighter, and he seems like a pretty cool dude, actually. He said it two episodes ago that, People think I'm this crazy dude, this and that. I'm a family guy. I love being at home with my family. I'm just a family guy who loves to fight. And I do think that he is definitely going to draw fans that are going to want to watch him, I would just like to see some development. I think he could have a place in the UFC if we could see him stop the takedown or be able to get off his back once he gets taken down because we know he can throw hard punches. But he's been in MMA now for two years, and I don't really see that much improvement as far as his ground game goes.

So you don't think he should be learning on the job, so to speak, while fighting for the biggest MMA organization in the world.
Right. Exactly. He's still in The Ultimate Fighter, so you never know if he is going to come back and fight again, but he's going to be there, like, five more weeks. If he can pick up enough to show improvement in whatever fight the UFC puts him in next, then if he puts on an entertaining fight, I think it would be OK if he stays in the UFC. As long as you see a progression and he's putting on entertaining fights. Not everybody in the UFC wins all the time. There's guys who are entertaining fighters who lose quite a bit, like Clay Guida, for example.

I heard your dog was named after Forrest Griffin, which makes me think you're somewhat of a fan of his. Did his post-UFC 101 behavior bug you?
You know what? That's one of the ones I didn't get to see. I don't know what was going on ... you know what? I didn't have cable. I moved and it took six weeks to get cable, so I actually missed that fight. But you know, people do funny things when they get hit in the head. I've been in enough fights and I've been rocked enough times that sometimes you don't know what you're doing. Now he says that isn't what happened, but I'm going to let him off for that one. I guess it was embarrassing from the articles that I read. ... It's tough. Being a professional athlete, I can put myself in his shoes and it's not easy. You get humiliated, and it's not easy to sit there and suck it up in front of the fans. Not that I would ever want to run, but you know, I've been known to leave the ice pretty quick if we get scored on in overtime or something.

I'm always interested in hearing what other professional athletes think of Dana White. Do you like him?
He's obviously taken this sport a long way and helped grow the sport. The UFC has made a ton of money where I don't know necessarily if the fighters have gotten paid exactly what they deserved. He's more than a commissioner; he's a commissioner and owner, sort of, which changes everything. He has so much power. He doesn't mind tearing guys down in public when they're negotiating.

Would you like to see the fighters get paid more?
Yeah -- for what they're doing and the time that they have to put in training and for the number of fans that they are drawing. I mean, UFC is getting comparable numbers to boxing in viewership, but the fighters aren't getting paid anywhere near what the boxers are. Is that the way it's gotta be until it grows bigger? Maybe. I'm not saying it's all Dana White's fault; I'm not trying to jump on that wagon. Obviously, he's done some big things for the sport, but he has so much power that I think it's made it difficult for some fighters.

It seems like a lot of pro athletes have been talking about getting involved with MMA lately. Would you ever consider fighting when your career is finished?
I don't think so. If I would have started actually training when I was younger, possibly. But I'm 35 years old, and unless they open up a 40-to-50 year old MMA category, then I don't think I would be able to take those young bucks on. But you know, I would like to do the training. I thought about doing it in the summer, because as far as conditioning goes, those guys must be some of the best all-around conditioned athletes on the planet, but I haven't done it because of the chance of injury while training is too high.

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