Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Mr Dojo Rising ... Meet MMA's hardest Nutt

My latest piece in the South China Morning Post, on the full mental racket that is Full Metal Dojo, a potent cocktail of brutal cagefights, hot girls, hard rock, full beards and cold beer. Jon Nutt is the Dojo's high priest of hucksterism and hype. I meet him in 'the coolest city in the world' - Bangkok, says Nutt - to get the lowdown on throwdowns, takedowns, staredowns, and shakedowns, not to mention System of a Down.  Link to the SCMP story is here: http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/arts-entertainment/article/1857244/mixed-martial-arts-and-rocknroll-hit-thailand


SWASH & TURNBUCKLES: JON NUTT, MODERN DAY
SAMURAI AND PIRATE OF PIZZAZ MEETS PT BARNUM AT THE NEW
 CIRCUS FOR MODERN GLADIATORS, FULL METAL DOJO
Jon Nutt has a reddish beard and a piratical air, although he professes no family connection to the 17th-century English pirate who cut a swathe through Newfoundland and Labrador before his capture in 1623.

The latter-day Nutt is content with cutting a swathe through the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) with his Full Metal Dojo show, which he somewhat breathlessly extols as the ‘fastest growing show on the planet, in the fastest growing sport on the planet, in the coolest city on the planet’ – his adopted home of Bangkok.

The most recent incarnation of Full Metal Dojo, two weeks ago, was held in the Sukhumvit Soi 12 club Insanity, formerly known as Insomnia, packing in a capacity crowd in excess of 600 people.
The first, although probably not the second, of the two conditions is almost certainly a boon in the world of MMA, a fighting style which sees two men or women of more or less equal weight (although often from wildly different fighting backgrounds) enter an octagonal cage and, with few rules and no holds barred, ‘get it on’ over three to five five-minute rounds.

The fighting discipline reached its global apotheosis with the show Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), in which the leading exponents must bring to the ring a mix of striking and grappling skills to have any chance of success.

Full Metal Dojo follows a similar model, although Nutt has made it his mission to spice up the showbiz pizzazz; his shows are a full metal racket that combines the bareknuckle fighting with hucksterism, live bands, DJs and copious quantities of food and booze. The Insanity show, Full Metal Dojo VI – For Those About to Rock, was the sixth outing in just over a year for the Full Metal Dojo machine – justification, in Nutt’s world, for his seemingly rather ambitious and exaggerated claim.

WAI A SWORD?  JON NUTT PERFORMS AN ARCANE RITUAL
 IN THE DOJO INVOKING THE WARRIOR SPIRIT OF THE SAMURAI,
BEFORE PERFORMING A SEK LOSO SONG, HIP HOP STYLE
Six weeks earlier, Full Metal Dojo V took place on Bangkok’s outskirts, at a venue called Live House, tucked away in a warren of local bars with bands, art-and-craft shops and independent fashion boutiques known as JJ Green, near the popular Chatuchak Weekend Markets.

I walked into Live House, after 60 minutes wandering in fruitless if entertaining circles trying to find the place, to see a fight start and end, with a brutal uppercut and a knee to the head, inside four seconds.


Nutt is on stage, red beard bristling, wild-eyed and spouting a Barnum-esque hype which is utterly bombastic and strangely compelling. The DJ throws on bursts of songs, veering from the traditional ‘luk thoong’ folk genre to grinding heavy metal and industrial noise to sugary pop, in between Nutt’s stream-of-cagefighter rants.

He doesn’t just talk the talk, however. Later in the evening, in a bout billed the ‘Battle of the Beards’, he will take on fellow American, Thammasat University lecturer, PHD student and MMA coach, and FMD umpire and friend, Dana Blouin, a squat bear of a man with a beard more Orthodox Jew than piratical bristle.

TIST UP: BAR OWNER AT JJ GREEN
GOES STRAIGHT FOR THE MARKETING JUGULAR
Blouin, when not getting down and dirty or keeping things clean in the dojo, conducts research in low power IPv6 wireless networks, Total Recall-style memory devices and the ‘Internet of Things’.
Blouin is a straight grappler, Nutt more of a striker, with kung fu, tae kwon do, karate and Muay Thai under his black belt, not to mention high school wrestling and latterly, the go-to-style of the successful cage-fighter, Brazilian Jujitsu, or ‘BJJ’.

I meet Nutt again in between Full Metal Dojos Five and Six, and he still seems amped on the lesson he handed Blouin … a knock out in just over a minute of round one. “My wrestling coach sent me a message, saying that was a classic ‘Sea Wolf’ move right there,” he enthuses. “I had him in north-souths, I sprawled, grabbed the head and swung around, this is the ‘battle of the beards’, right? I was going to go for the guillotine but I didn’t have it, he was holding my wrist, he had wrist control, I wasn’t going to grapple with him.

“I grapple and it’s all over. I mean I was doing so much at that event, production, announcing, refereeing, line production, singing – I do a mean Thai national anthem, and a hip hop version of (popular local singer) Sek Loso – so the most relaxed I was all night was actually getting taped up for the fight and waiting for the bell.

PICK AND MOVE: THE FULL METAL DOJO MOVES UPTOWN WITH A POST-DOJO 
POOL PARTY AT THE HIP NEW MOVENPICK BANGKOK SUKHUMVIT SOI 15  

“I knew that if I didn’t relax, the lactic acid builds up, so be calm, stick to the game plan, focus on your breathing, and from first strike of the match, me kicking him in the leg, and I knew I was going to throw two combos, low kick and a hook, at whichever side he was circling, so I hit him with left low kick and left hook, and he had come out like I did with high hands, I hit him with the kick and his hands dropped, you could see it shook him up, and then the hook. I backed up to put on a show and get my breathing going, he came in and shot (tried to take Nutt down), I hit him with a punch, he grabbed my leg. Then another strike, and I submitted him.”

PLEASED AS PUNCH: NUTT INTRODUCES TWO THAI
FIGHTERS ABOUT TO 'GET IT ON' IN THE DOJO.
The pair had a drink afterwards, and remain good friends, Nutt says. “I’m not an asshole, so I’d never hold it over his head.” His whole argument is that it’s a sport, not a brutal, barehanded fight, and that combatants should be best of chums afterwards.

“We want to break this into Thai market and have this considered a sport, not a fight. Thais haven’t jumped on it as Muay Thai is their national sport. It’s not because they don’t like MMA, but they don’t know how to gamble on it, and they’re not sure of the rules.”

Gambling is strictly forbidden in the Full Metal Dojo, and Nutt says Mixed Martial Arts have been backed all the way by the military junta still running the country and responsible for a period of mixed martial law.

“What can I say? They are very anti corruption, and I’m very anti corruption, and we’ve had military presence to help out at all of our shows in Bangkok, which I’m grateful for,” says Nutt.

He is a veteran of 11 years in Thailand, the first half of that stint dividing his time between Koh Phi Phi and Phuket, with flits back to his home in Los Angeles, although he hails from Boston originally. “What tipped me over to Thailand all the way, last time I was back in LA, my friends took me out to Koi or some fancy place like that, and the first girl I said hello to, the first thing out of her mouth was ‘What kind of car do you drive?’. “

Nutt says he’s a passionate advocate of combat sports over team sports in terms of lasting damage to the body. “Combat sports lead to bumps, bruises and broken noses, other sports lead to major life-altering injuries. American football has given me a shoulder that will never be the same, my L5, L1 and L6 are so jacked up it’s going to be a problem later in life.

“Oh and did I mention that it’s a thrill? When that bell goes off, and the other guy goes into action, you take a deep breath, and it’s a rush, man.”

METAL MACHINE MUSIC: NUTT FINDS
MOJO IN DOJO AT MOVENPICK BANGKOK
SUKHUMVIT SOI 15 PRESS CONFERENCE
 
His longer-term mission is to take the live buzz of his shows to television, and to have them shown on a respectable regional show, at least for starters. “I’ll take my Full Metal Dojo, and put it up against any other fighting show in the world, even Ultimate Fighting or King of the Cage, for sheer energy and entertainment value.

“We try to promote local bands and DJs. So at the last shows, I used a band called Silly Machine, Metallica, System of a Down songs, and the singer was nailing all the high notes.”

Part of Nutt’s mission, longer term, is to build on Thailand’s reputation as one of the world’s best places to come and train and fight in MMA. He is also planning a longer-term assault on the world of MMA, from the deep ranks of talent of Thailand’s Muay Thai fighters. “I’m certain of this – the future of the lower weight classes in MMA is the Thai fighters.

“I’m on a mission to find the best from the four regions of Thailand, and beyond, those in Burma, Cambodia, Laos, the Malay peninsula. This is where warriors live, true Nak Muay. Give me three to five years, and we’ll have Thai fighters dominating the lower weight divisions of the UFC.”


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