From Asia to the world? MMA music nights rock Bangkok

Full Metal Dojo is a high-octane blend of mixed martial arts, live bands, DJs, food and booze, turning cage fighting into a full-on party experience. The American behind the Bangkok bouts thinks it's a formula the world is ready for

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 September, 2015, 9:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 September, 2015, 3:00pm

Jon Nutt has a reddish beard and a piratical air, although he professes no family connection to 17th-century English pirate John Nutt 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 Full Metal Dojo was held towards the end of August, in the Sukhumvit Soi 12 club Insanity, packing in a capacity crowd in excess of 600 people.

MMA is a fighting style that 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.

Full Metal Dojo follows a similar model, but Nutt has made it his mission to spice up the showbiz pizzazz. His shows are a full metal racket that combines bare-knuckle fighting with hucksterism, live bands, DJs and copious quantities of food and booze. The Insanity show, Full Metal Dojo 6 - For Those About to Rock, was the sixth outing in just over a year - justification, in Nutt's world, for his seemingly rather ambitious and exaggerated claim.

Six weeks earlier, Full Metal Dojo 5 took place at a venue called Live House, tucked away in an area called JJ Green - a warren of bars with bands, art-and-craft shops and independent fashion boutiques, near the popular Chatuchak Weekend Market.

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 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 rants.

However, he doesn't just talk the talk. Later in the evening, in a bout billed the "battle of the beards", he will take on a fellow American, Thammasat University lecturer, PhD student and MMA coach Dana Blouin, a squat bear of a man with a beard more Orthodox Jew than piratical bristle.

Blouin, when not getting down and dirty or keeping things clean in the dojo, conducts research in low power 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, taekwondo, 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 jiu-jitsu.

I meet Nutt again in between Full Metal Dojos 5 and 6 and he still seems amped on the lesson he handed Blouin - a knockout in just over a minute of round one.

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 the 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 at Full Metal Dojo events, and Nutt says MMA has been backed all the way by the military junta still running the country."What can I say? They are very anti-corruption, and I'm very anti-corruption, and we've had a 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, flitting 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 is a passionate advocate of combat sports over team sports, which he says cause more 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.

"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."

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, playing Metallica, System of a Down songs."

Part of Nutt's mission, longer term, is to build on Thailand's reputation as one of the world's best places to train and fight in MMA. He is also planning a longer-term assault on the world of MMA, drawing 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, 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."