Jon Nutt Reflects On Lessons Learnt After 8 Instalments of Full Metal Dojo
Jon Nutt, the affable CEO of Thailand’s largest and foremost Mixed Martial Arts promotion is very much a recognisable icon within the combat sports industry in Asia. Apart from getting himself right in the thick of planning for his Full Metal Dojo events throughout the year, one could catch him at other Asian MMA events like ONE Championship, Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts (MIMMA), Wednesday Fight Nights at MBK, Cage Wars and Singapore Fighting Championship (SFC). Whichever event Jon might be at, his presence would most certainly lend energy to the environment because of his genuine passion for combat sports and his commitment to building more awareness for the sports and increasing recognition for young talented fighters in the region. Beyond his presence at these events, a testament to his support for these events was the way he would promote them across his social media platforms. To this, he explained, “I am a fight promoter first and foremost, so I believe in promoting all fight events in the hope that it will attract a wider audience to these events and provide better support and development to fighters.”
Jon was most recently spotted in Singapore where he was emceeing at the second instalment of SFC, held at Le Danz on Queen Street. The event hosted a smorgasbord of young fighters pitting their skills in both amateur and professional MMA and Boxing, as well as K1 Kickboxing. This event was definitely right where Jon’s heart was and he had agreed to be part of it because it played to his proverbial song sheet of supporting the development of young talented fighters in Asia.
We managed to catch up with Jon before the show as he was soaking in the sights of Singapore. Having already planned and launched 8 Full Metal Dojo events across Bangkok and Phuket, we took the opportunity to chat about the state of MMA in Asia and reflect on some lessons he had learnt from his experience of creating the Full Metal Dojo brand right through to managing the 8 shows in slightly more than a year.
MMA as A Mainstream Sport in Asia
Whatever MMA enthusiasts, industry investors, promoters and fighters might think of the sport in Asia, Jon was realistic about the fact that in this region, it was not yet a mainstream sport. He said, “It’s not Golf, it’s not Tennis and most promoters still struggle with funding and fighters are not really earning enough money to make a living out of it. The sport is still very niche in Asia, let alone in Thailand.” He had seen so many fighters harbouring a dream to be the next big thing in MMA quitting their day jobs to focus on training full time. However, the fact was that many end up either knocking aimlessly at the doors of promoters hoping to get signed for a series of fights, or some might get disappointed at the lack of fight opportunities, often waiting for a long time in between fights even when they had already been contracted to fight for a promotion. He added,” Let’s face it. If fighters can’t make a decent living in Asia on fighting alone, can it be considered a mainstream sport?”
The bruising effect of ego was one of Jon’s biggest lessons as he went from being an MMA fighter himself to a promoter. Jon learnt from his past and was keen to set a better example from his mistakes. He said, “We launched our first FMD event out of ego. DARE Fight Sports had their show, so we had to do ours. I managed to crush all the competition in Thailand but who cares? It didn’t do much for the sports and possibly set it back big time. It didn’t help the fighters who were out there hoping to find more fight opportunities in a bid to get better fight experience and develop their skills.” He felt that the industry was riddled with ego which could only impact the sport negatively as egos breed unnecessary rivalry amongst promoters and gyms. A typical scenario depicting this rivalry was when MMA promoters either failed to support the shows put on by fellow promoters or worse, discredited the other promotions. Another demonstration of ego that was not constructive to the industry was when members of certain gyms did not support the show just because their fighters were not on the fight card of that event. He added, “The thing is, fight promoters could do a lot more to support other promotions. That is the reason why I often turn up at the events organised by other promoters and sometimes, even get involve in them in some shape or form. We are all part of the same industry so as much as I can support the cause, why not? Likewise, the managers and fighters of the different gyms could also support these events by attending the events or helping to promote these events with the objective of helping create awareness for a platform that develops fight talent and get more tickets sold. If there is more openness amongst promoters as well as fighters and gym owners, these promoters could then invest in bigger and better shows and fighters could get paid more.”
Jon observed that a greater portion of the money made by the bigger gyms were mostly through fitness and weight loss programs and not through their lineup of professional fighters. As such, it was perplexing to him that fighters and owners of certain gyms would not support his event if their fighters were not on his event fight card. He added, “Honestly, how would that behaviour help support MMA in Thailand? This behaviour is not in the spirit of sportsmanship and healthy competition. It is so detrimental to the fighters and the industry at large.”
Another invaluable lesson for Jon was that he learnt right from the start that commitment to the industry should be a far-sighted one. It should be governed by long term goals and not short term goals. There was no point budgeting for 1 show as there would be little or no impact to the industry. He emphasized, ” You can’t just have one show and hope for the best. How can you create good content with only one show? Anyone serious about running an MMA promotion should know that content is king. The only way to make money would be through the provision of great content, branding and sponsorships. Do you know, there are currently only about 50 organisations which had made it past 10 shows. So he learnt that right from the get go, that he had to plan and set aside budget for at least 5 shows.
At the inception of the Full Metal Dojo brand, everyone he spoke to bought into the concept and saw potential in the promotion. Perhaps due to sheer naïveté and lack of experience, Jon started planning for his first event by seeking an investment amount that could sustain a series of FMD events. However, no contract was inked and through a gentleman’s agreement, those who had agreed to invest in the property, eventually invested less than the amount he actually needed, and some were not prepared to “go all the way” with him. That was a setback to Jon who had to cough up a substantial amount to cover the shortfall. However, he was quick to see the positive opportunity in the situation. He was originally accorded a 37% share in the business. Without the corresponding investment amount promised by some of his investors, and consequently causing him to dig deeper into his own events, his share of the business subsequently increased. After launching 8 successful FMD events, many people believed in his vision and were prepared to partner him to raise the bar of the promotion with him. As Jon had gamely put it, “It was not a bad place to be in after all. Really.”
MMA vs Muay Thai Rivalry
The people of Thailand were very proud of the fact that Thailand was the birthplace of its own indigenous martial arts form of Muay Thai. Jon explained that with the “old business” mindset of keeping it all within the family, MMA was seen as an external influence to be frowned upon. However, he was slowly but surely seeing the change in mindsets as demonstrated by the expansion of Muay Thai brands like Fairtex and Twins into the business of distributing MMA apparel and gi. Jon hoped that more Thais in future, could open their hearts and minds to MMA, knowing that the sport could provide more jobs to Thais who could contribute to the industry as exceptional striking coaches since they had sheer depth of experience as Muay Thai experts. He added, “If more people in Thailand could be more opened to a wider array of fight sports, the country could set itself apart as a preferred sports tourism destination, the way Borneo had been developed as a well-known eco tourism destination.”
Fighters Must Own Their Own Brand
Before calling it a day, Jon had one final tip to share with fighters in Asia. He felt that unlike the fighters in the West, Asian fighters were not savvy in building their own personal brand. He said, “If you truly love the sport as a fighter, and hope to make a better living out of the fight purse, then be accountable for your own pay by promoting the shows that you would be fighting at. Think of yourself as your own brand that could influence the success of the MMA industry. When you promote your own fights, and create more awareness and interest for the promotions within which you would be fighting at, you would undoubtedly be attracting more ticket sales, and consequently a wider audience. This would all go to contributing to your fight purse and more fight opportunities in the future.”
Full Metal Dojo
When asked what he thought his biggest success was with Full Metal Dojo, Jon said, “it’s the fact that I had done 8 shows. And thank goodness, the shows are now making money. I am possibly the only promoter in MMA that did it on a shoe string budget and a 2-man crew. After toiling through that blood and sweat throughout my experience, I now have content to sell and it had been gaining a lot of interest from both the media outlets like Skynet and True Vision, as well as the larger and more established promotions.”
There was perhaps a bigger reason that drove Jon’s success. His consistent messaging and tireless marketing that he made certain would never go against his integrity as one who truly loved the sport and the country that he had come to call home, was what drove that success.
He was happy to remain as the MMA promotion that held its “underground fights at a club and promised its audience an awesome cage-side experience”.
He was proud to be a “feed” to the bigger organisations and see up and coming MMA talents being scouted from his shows and given a chance to shine on a bigger stage.
With the lessons learnt from his past events, Jon was ready to look forward to a brighter future with Full Metal Dojo.
His next event, Full Metal Dojo 10 – To Live And Die In Bangkok will be held on 19 March 2016 at the Insanity Nightclub on Sukhumvit Soi 12 in Bangkok.
Tickets are available through https://www.ticketmelon.com/event/fmd10