Thus began a career that took him all over the world and has included victories over Matt Serra, Jens Pulver, Clay Guida, Jeremy Stephens and Rich Clementi. He has also shared the cage with B.J. Penn, Kenny Florian and Caol Uno.
Over the years, Thomas’ goals changed. During two separate stints in the UFC lightweight division, he had his heart set on fighting the best and perhaps even challenging for championship gold. The transition to professional fighter also meant that money was always a driving force.
But now that the 36-year-old MMA pioneer is preparing for potentially the final run of his career, his main concern is that winning performance.
“Now it’s come full circle,” Thomas said. “At the very beginning, the goal was the performance. As the sport developed and evolved it was about getting in the UFC, staying in the UFC, winning a UFC title and sometimes it was, ‘What do I have to do to get money and get paid?’ Sometimes those were the goals, but now it’s back to the performance.
“At this point, I don’t care anymore. It’s not like I’m 21 years old and I have to prove myself ... I look at fighting as an art and I’m trying to create the best picture that I can create.”
Of course, if this is truly the twilight of his career, Thomas wants it to mean something. Considering his high-level experience, it makes little sense for him to undervalue himself. As far as he’s concerned, he can walk into the gym, work hard and be completely satisfied without ever facing another opponent. MMA is about competition and the Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt wants to prove he can still hang with the best.
“Obviously my goal is to get back into the UFC,” Thomas said. “I actually talked to (UFC matchmaker) Sean Shelby and he said, ‘Just get out there, get a fight and see what happens.’ I did that and it was just bad timing because the UFC is flooded with 145-pounders. The featherweight division is just tremendously overwhelmed.
“It’s very difficult to get in at 145 now. Maybe I have a better shot at 155, but that was something I told myself I was never going to do. I not going to fight up anymore.
“Fighting for me at this point is not about taking a step down and fighting in a night club just so I can stay busy. If that’s the case then I’ll just retire right now.”
Following a 28-month layoff, which included a cancelled MMA bout against boxer Ricardo Mayorga — promoter Don King was granted an injunction that prevented Mayorga from competing — Thomas submitted Cody Bollinger with a first-round armbar in May.
However, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission later ruled the bout a no contest after Thomas tested positive for Ambien, a medication used to combat insomnia. He was suspended 30 days and fined $100, though he wasn’t aware the substance was banned.
“I have a hard time sleeping,” Thomas said. “I have medication to help me sleep, that I’m taking, that I wasn’t aware was against (PSAC) policy.
“If anything, it certainly wouldn’t enhance my performance.”
With his suspension behind him, Thomas is looking to make the most of his current window of opportunity. In order to get the right fights that will earn him a spot in a major promotion, he recently signed with Apex Sports Agency, headed up by retired fighter Jason Chambers. Should he return to the UFC, Thomas feels bouts with Leonard Garcia and Chan Sung Jung would be great for the fans.
“I’ve known Jason for a while,” Thomas said. “I know he’s a hustler and if his intention is to hustle, he will hustle for me. He’s going to put me out there and he’s going to be able to get me some decent fights that I can hopefully put a stamp on my career with.
“Right now I have to be a bit greedy to get another shot with the UFC. I know there are a lot of people who want to get there, deserve it and have been working really hard and I’ve had two opportunities. The first was in 2004, then they dropped the division and got rid of us. Then I came back in 2006. So I’ve had two opportunities with them and I think in order to get back involves getting a bit greedy.
“Well, not necessarily greedy, but hungry. I want to prove that I can do it three times, but if it doesn’t happen, it’s not going to destroy me. I feel good about what I’ve done in my career and now I’m just trying to put a stamp on it.”
WEIDMAN’S HOME DESTROYED
Chris Weidman’s home in Long Island, N.Y., was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
UFC light-heavyweight Ryan Bader first broke the news on Twitter.
“Thoughts go out to @ChrisWeidmanUFC & his family,” Bader wrote. “Lost his home in the storm on the east coast. Please show him your support.”
Prior to the storm, Weidman began posting updates to his Facebook account (tinyurl.com/WeidmanFB), as well as a YouTube video of people canoeing on his front lawn. After his account went silent, the UFC middleweight contender was contacted via text message by MMA Fighting.
“Everyone is good,” Weidman texted. “My family was out, and I stayed back to manage the damage going on. First floor, garage, backyard, deck all pretty much destroyed.
“We lost a lot of stuff but as long as we are healthy that’s all that matters. I actually documented a lot through video and pics. We had water up to my chest in some parts of my house.”
Stephan (American Psycho) Bonnar has decided to hang it up.
The decision comes on the heels of Bonnar’s first-round TKO loss to middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 153 in Rio de Janeiro on Oct. 13. The bout was contested at light-heavyweight.
UFC president Dana White confirmed the news during a Metro PCS chat with fans.
“Yes, Bonnar will be retiring now,” White said.
Though Bonnar never challenged for UFC gold, he engaged in one of the most important fights in promotion history. His war with Forrest Griffin at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 1 in 2005 is largely credited with kicking off the North American MMA boom.
After dropping a close unanimous decision to Griffin, Bonnar spent the next seven years competing in the UFC light-heavyweight division. He holds wins over Keith Jardine, Krzysztof Soszynski and Igor Pokrajac.
ALDO GETS EDGAR
Frankie (The Answer) Edgar will challenge featherweight champion Jose (Scarface) Aldo on Super Bowl weekend.
The bout was announced on Tuesday’s edition of UFC Tonight. The two will headline UFC 156 in Las Vegas on Feb. 2. The card will also feature a light-heavyweight scrap between Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Rashad Evans. A venue has yet to be announced.
The former UFC lightweight champion was set to face Aldo at UFC 153 on Rio de Janeiro. However, Aldo was forced from the card after injuring his foot in a motorcycle accident. As a result, a light-heavyweight scrap between Stephan Bonnar and Anderson Silva filled the main-event spot.
Aldo is currently riding a 14-fight win streak with victories over Chad Mendes, Kenny Florian, Mark Hominick, Urijah Faber and Cub Swanson. His sole loss came via submission to Luciano Azevedo seven years ago.
Edgar held the UFC lightweight championship for 22 months, picking up wins over B.J. Penn and Gray Maynard during his reign. He was dethroned at UFC 144 in February, losing a thrilling unanimous decision to Benson Henderson. He then lost a controversial unanimous decision in the rematch six months later.
TUF: BRAZIL GETS COACHES
Antonio Rodrigo (Minotauro) Nogueira and Fabricio (Vai Cavalo) Werdum have agreed to coach the upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.
Brazilian TV network Globo broke the news Tuesday. The show is expected to feature a cast of welterweight fighters, with the coaches facing each other once the season has finished airing.
The two originally met at PRIDE Critical Countdown Absolute on July 1, 2006 with Nogueira winning a unanimous decision.
After having his arm snapped by Frank Mir in December, the former PRIDE heavyweight champion and interim UFC titleholder returned at UFC 153, submitting Dave Herman via second-round armbar.
Since rejoining the UFC roster, Werdum has won his last two outings. In February, he bloodied Roy Nelson en route to a unanimous-decision victory. He then picked up a first-round TKO win over Mike Russow four months later.
THE ONE IN DEEP WATERS
British submission wizard John (The One) Maguire has agreed to face Matt (Deep Waters) Riddle on the undercard of UFC 154 in Montreal on Nov. 17.
Originally, Stephen (Wonderboy) Thompson was set to meet Besam Yousef. When Thompson was forced off the card due to a knee injury, Riddle agreed to step in as a replacement. Soon after, Yousef bowed out, opening the door for Maguire.
Riddle’s last outing saw him submit Chris Clements at UFC 149 in Calgary on July 21. The bout was later ruled a no contest after Riddle tested positive for marijuana. The Ultimate Fighter 7 cast member holds a medical-marijuana card issued by the state of Nevada and claims he ceased treatment 12 days prior to the bout.
After picking up impressive victories over Justin Edwards and DaMarques Johnson, Maguire dropped a lacklustre unanimous decision to John Hathaway at UFC on Fuel TV 5 last month.
BELLATOR 79 CARD
Bellator 79 goes down Friday at Casino Rama in Rama, Ont. Canadian fans can stream the prelims, main card and post-TV bouts live on Spike.com.
Richard Hale vs. Thiago Santos
Mike Richman vs. Shabulat Shamhalaev
Douglas Lima vs. Jacob (Kobe) Ortiz
Ryan Ford vs. Kyle Baker
Christ Franck vs. Marcus Aurelio
Vladimir Starcencov vs. Vitaly Minakov
Josh Pulsifer vs. Magomedrasul Khasbulaev
Jonny Carson vs. Guillaume DeLorenzi
Ed Carpenter vs. Josh Appelt