One of the wildest, weirdest, and most remarkably ridiculous recent entries into the world of combat sports has been Full Metal Dojo’s Fight Circus events. Based out of Phuket, Thailand, it’s not Muay Thai, and it’s not MMA. FMD is putting together hybrid contests of strength, skill, and absolute clownery straight out of a sadistic teenager’s imagination.
How about the two combatants don’t know the rules of a fight until they spin a wheel right as they are about to step into the ring? How about a guy with a backpack full of cash has to stop his opponent from taking it from him? What if the backpack guy now has to defend his cash against two guys?
On paper, it hardly seems like the kind of thing that should work at all—at least not beyond the novelty of one or two events. But with the sixth Fight Circus event incoming this weekend, it feels like things are just warming up.
Fight Circus isn’t just looking to fill some kind of competitive ‘new sport’ void in the combat landscape, but rather to accelerate into the absurd, and away from all of the seriousness of martial arts. This isn’t about chivalry or honor, or determining who is better than who. It’s spectacle, pure and simple.
Massachusetts native and FMD CEO Jon Nutt was kind enough to give Bloody Elbow some of his time, to talk shop about the his own background in combat sports—as well as the unlikely creation of one of the strangest, most compelling shows in the business. And, of course, to answer the most important, pressing question: Just how weird is too weird?
Victor Rodriguez: You’ve got a bunch of bouts set up that are very not conventional exhibitions of martial arts…
Jon Nutt: Unique.
VR: What started your interest in martial arts? Where did that begin and how?
JN: Ah man, I guess I’m technically a lifelong martial artist, you know? My mom put me in Taekwondo when I was seven because my brother was—I have a brother who’s four years older than me—she put in with a guy named Brian Malik in Boston, and I started doing Taekwondo at a young age. Then in high school, I got into wrestling. I was in high school when the first UFC came along, so that got me into BJJ in college. Then I moved out to Los Angeles.
In LA, dude… I worked a bunch of weird security jobs. Not just bouncing, just weird security jobs. And some of the guys that I worked with were, like, I worked with Frank Trigg, I worked with Mac Danzig. I worked with a bunch of guys that were in the UFC back—pre the TUF days, pre the Zuffa days. So yeah, I’ve always been into combat sports. I love it.
And then obviously Muay Thai, coming (to) and living in Thailand, got huge into Muay Thai. Muay Thai is a passion.
VR: And what led to you uprooting your life and moving to Thailand?
JN: After 9/11, when there was loads of problems kind of like we have now in the States, I was traveling quite a bit. I was going to Amsterdam a lot to go out there to like Vos Gym, Mejiro Gym, gyms like Ernesto Hoost’s and that type of thing. We had a guy named John Marsh, he fought in PRIDE, he fought in the UFC. He was like, “You should go to Thailand and and start doing Muay Thai.” So I came over here in October of 2004.
Then I was here when the tsunami happened. I left Ko Phi Phi and I flew back home on Christmas Day. By the time I landed in LA, the tsunami had wiped out basically 60% of the island. If it wasn’t for the tsunami, I wouldn’t have come back to Thailand to live. And again, most expats, most Americans, if you’re out of the states for like six months, it’s tough to go back to the States. There’s a lot of personal freedoms here that I feel like I have. I love it here, man. I still go back and see my family very regularly, but Thailand’s home.
VR: Once you’d set up a new life there, where did you plant the seeds to start your own series of fight events? What led to them being so unconventional?
JN: That has to do with the whole industry. We were the first ones to do ‘real’ MMA. I wouldn’t say sanctioned, because it wasn’t sanctioned. But we were doing MMA events that were covered by, like, Sherdog, by Tapology, everybody like that in 2010. We were pre-ONE Championship, even. They were at our first show.
We did a series of shows for Full Metal Dojo—actually it was called Dare Fight Sports back then—from 2010 to 2013/2014. We started doing Full Metal Dojo shows in 2014, and more regular MMA events in the future. But for right now, man… there’s a lot of politics. You have to jump through a lot of hoops with organizations and all that type of stuff. And there’s a lot of organizations that are bigger than us and have a lot more money than us. I just kinda think I don’t feel good about us getting picked off.
Every time we pay a lot of money to market a fighter he goes someplace else. In 2010 to 2016, we were unique because it was like underground Muay Thai, and that was rated R and very cinematic. Very dramatic. And then we just became just, like, a regional. As the sport got bigger we just became a regional promotion, and I never wanted to be just a regional promotion. I wanted to be standing on my own two feet and doing my own thing. And when the pandemic happened that’s when we were very able to just—“Let’s do whatever we want, let’s have fun,” because people were getting weird, right?
And so we just decided to roll with it. Who knew it was gonna kick off and people were gonna like it so much?
The first two events did shockingly well, the third event did OK. And then the fourth event crushed it out of the park and then my fight went viral. A lot of people want more of that. And so that being said, when I was doing regular MMA shows, it was tough to sell it. Over here, everybody is into Muay Thai, so they don’t want to give you sponsorship, help you out with finances and all that other stuff for MMA. The moment that I changed into saying that I was not sport—that I was like the satire of the sport that I was comedy, that I was entertainment—people are asking to be on board right and left. That’s kind of how it happened.
I don’t just try to get sponsors on board just to get a spot on the canvas, you know? We make commercials for people, we do content for people. From about 2016 to 2020 we had a show on Fox Sports Asia called Eat, Play, Fight for them and I was a pundit for Fox Sports Asia for many years. On a COVID story… We signed a huge deal with a network to do this travel MMA show where we’d try to have me try to be like the Anthony Bourdain of fighting and go to all these different shows.
So January 9th we went back and covered Conor vs Cowboy for Eat, Play, Fight and it did very well—to the point where they wanted me to cover soccer. They wanted me to do Manchester United vs Leicester City (on) March 24th, but March 19th everything got locked down. So our contracts with Fox got furloughed. When that happened, man I started reaching out to everybody. We brought bare knuckle here. We did the first bare knuckle boxing shows here. We did Fight Circus.
And it just so happens that everybody’s an artist here. Everyone’s creative. Norbert’s a dork, Brandon’s a dork, and they all just wanted to do something that was a little more fun and a little bit more wacky. Controlled chaos is what we tried to do, especially with MMA symmetrical and doing tag team stuff, 3 vs 1 and that kind of thing. It’s just organized chaos and after all the years that we’ve been doing this we were able to make a safe environment—make sure nobody was getting too injured, if you will. Injuries still happen, of course.
I wanted to start giving another outlet [for fighters]. Bellator’s the other outlet, then there’s PFL—and the BKB and BKFC—but I feel like a lot of these fighters that are marketed very well by the UFC and they get done, and then where do they go? Do they get a job at a gym? Where do they go? And so I feel like Fight Circus is gonna allow these guys another outlet. Another outlet to make some cash, have a great trip to Thailand. A lot of these guys haven’t even travelled outside of the States. They get to come over to Thailand, we all have fun together and make a great product.
VR: With the red tape and ensuring that fighters have adequate care, what is that like in Thailand? How difficult is it to procure the proper permissions and then have everything set up properly?
JN: We have to really regulate ourselves. We really do have to regulate ourselves. It’s the wild, wild west in Asia, right? Most countries, from Singapore, to Japan, to China—I’ve done tons of shows in China—a lot of the sports authorities, MMA isn’t regulated by the sports authority in Thailand. Obviously there’s quite a bit of—honestly, if I’m being straight up, it’s a lot of corruption. So for us, we have to regulate it ourselves.
I’ve just been in so many situations where, you know, how many ambulances are needed at a show? When I did Full Metal Dojo 7, we had one ambulance, because we went to all these shows and everybody only had one ambulance. Well, we got a guy get knocked out and he gets put in that ambulance and driven off. And then the next fight, another guy got juiced [cut], right? We needed another ambulance.
Now we have three ambulances at every show. We make sure that we have the proper [measures]. I think I was one of the guys that was pioneering MMA and that taught a lot of the referees and the officials, and then those guys went off and worked with other organizations where they got more experience working with it. Now we have guys that work at the highest levels of the game, guys that work with ONE, guys that work with PFL, the UFC, IMMAF, that kind of stuff. And now they work with us. We don’t have the same rules, the same kind of legislation that the States do. So it really is kind of on the education and the background and the CV promoters have out here, right? With us, having over a decade of education in the game, we gotta work on ourselves.
And believe you me, I still work with all the top guys in Thailand. All the top refs, all the top officials. So they know who we are, they like us. For Thailand, they really like that I’m considering myself entertainment, not technically sport. That does really well for all the regulatory people in Thailand. You know what I mean?
VR: Do you think that also facilitated things? I remember not too long ago MMA was, to put it nicely, given the side-eye by lots of regulators. There was some apprehension of having MMA encroach on the space that was being occupied by Muay Thai.
JN: Yeah, that was me. Oh yeah oh yeah. It was 2013, 2014 that we technically got it ‘banned in Thailand.’ But by being ‘banned’ in Thailand—that was a guy in the Muay Thai authority who basically just called us banned. But there was no legislation. My lawyers were on top of it. They said it was banned. But by being banned that just hindered me from getting other sponsors and getting other broadcast deals. Do you know what I mean?
VR: To clarify: it never stopped you from being able to put on an event, so it was more de-criminalized, perhaps?
JN: Yup. And with that, they were really doing it to hurt our purse strings, right? Because there’s only so much money in the industry as a whole and then there’s only so much money in terms of sponsorships. So when they were saying we were banned that basically meant that beer companies weren’t gonna get on board with us. Right? Different food companies weren’t gonna work with us. Different people that normally might sponsor combat sports, they wouldn’t get on board with us. So we looked elsewhere and we were lucky to have enough of an international audience, which allowed me to get sponsors on board from outside of Thailand.
VR: You have your partnership with CamSoda. How did that come about? Did you consider an adult platform would only limit the expansion of your audience.
JN: When the pandemic hit, I started reaching out to everybody I knew. I knew that in the States you guys couldn’t do shows at the time. We went on lockdown from like March 19th to about June. And you guys were still on lockdown for a little while longer. The UFC obviously went to Yas Island out of the country. We were still allowed to do shows here. You still couldn’t have more than 200 people. Obviously, everybody had to be masked up and spraying gel everywhere and all that type of stuff. But I got in touch with a friend named Ben Stark, former UFC fighter, and he is in Florida. I think he’s the owner of American Top Team Palm Beach.
He knew Icey Mike and he did CamSoda, CamSoda Legends and those guys were looking to do stuff that was not regulated by the Florida Athletic Commission. He and I got to talking, and looking to do stuff that was not regulated by the Nevada State Athletic Commission or the Florida State Athletic Commission—got to talking, got some ideas flowing and started doing some wacky stuff. And I guess, like you said, being on that site. I guess some of the people that I have around me—because I didn’t mind it, I was fine with it. I didn’t hold any judgment or care, to tell you the truth. But I had some of my guys say, “Yo, if this thing is gonna blow up in America, we can’t really be associated with that.” Which kind of was a bummer to tell you the truth.
On that site they were allowing me to do whatever I want. Now, I have a little bit of limitations, if you will. People taking the artistic and molding it, if you will.
VR: You were doing things like 1 on 3, or David and Goliath. Obviously different variations on the combat experience. You’ve got the tandem boxing you’ll be participating in this event which we’ll get to. But when it comes to things like the leg wrestling, or the tug of war with the butt plugs (note: there is absolutely no way we’re linking to that)…
JN: Oh. Ugh.
VR: I mean, like…
JN: (Raises arms) That wasn’t me, by the way! That wasn’t me!
VR: I’m just wondering, like, “Well this clearly isn’t combat related exactly…” I’m just wondering if there are any ideas where you were like “Yeah, maybe that should have stayed in the drafts”?
JN: Oh, for sure! I think Indian leg wrestling is dumb. I make fun of the girls even when they’re in there. I feel bad, but I think it’s stupid. Funny thing is the audience really gets into it. They get into it like people doing the flip cup game. You ever see people doing the water bottle games? A guy flips a bottle and he’s got a crowd around and the crowd flips out? That’s what it’s like with Indian leg wrestling. They understand it’s a joke. People understand that it’s comedy.
And again, bro, we did that Siamese Twins thing as a complete joke. And it’s just a joke that went too far. And people started liking it. The Thais see Muay Thai—[asks person next to him] How many fights are on this week? No, how many fights are on? [turns back to camera]—eight or nine fights. Eight or nine events this week on the island of Phuket. They see Thai boxing all the time, and if they’re not gambling on it they’re really not into it. It’s made for the tourism industry.
Well, our stuff is just as good for the tourist industry. It’s a show. So I get to capitalize on not just the tourists that are here but the Thais that want to do something else. Because when the Thais saw two Muay Thai fighters attached by the shirt? You should see their faces bro. They love—oh my gosh, bro. They think it’s great. They’re laughing, they’re pointing. They don’t know what to make of it. That joke, that joke just went a little too far. Who knew that were were gonna do it nine times? Now they bring us to the stadiums, to like Patong Stadium, and they have us do freakshow fights for them as a goof.
VR: I’m sure you keep your eye on other weird stuff around the world as well. Any sort of stunt fights, just unconventional things, that you’ve seen that are like “Yeah, that’s something we’re definitely not gonna do”?
JN: Man. Well for one, I don’t want anyone flashing boobs at my event. You know what I mean? I feel like every Russian or Polish organization has, like, 2 vs 2 females. The girls have to either make out or show their breasts or something like that. I don’t wanna go down that route. I don’t want kids [fighting]. I’ve never wanted kids to be into fighting. I still think that the UFC is like, man’s man shit, right? And I don’t think the younger generation needs to be throwing ground and pound.
They need to be getting into Taekwondo, Karate, the older traditional martial arts that teach them confidence and might further them down the path. But this is rated R stuff to me. I got a six-year-old son, I’m not letting him watch Quentin Tarantino films, right? I think that fighting is man stuff and I don’t think that I’ll ever go the route of—dude, I got integrity and I’ve got morals, right? Loosely, but I do. And I don’t really plan on doing anything that ever makes me, personally, feel uncomfortable. Also, we do a very good job of matchmaking.
If I take a Goliath, if you will, I’m gonna make sure that he’s not as skilled as the David. The David’s always gonna be more skilled than the Goliath. The two against the one are always not gonna be as talented as the one. And that’s the way you make almost, a fair freakshow fight.
No one is willing to fight the Undefeated Bank & No Money except Will “The Kill” Chope
— FMD ☣️ (@FullMetalDojo) October 30, 2021
VR: I remember seeing Will Chope, he had a 2 on 1 fight, but I’m like… that’s Will Chope. He’s had over, what? 150, 170 fights? (Note: This includes MMA as well as bare knuckle and Muay Thai bouts.)
JN: Yup. Yup.
VR: That guy had been very experienced. The other two guys he fought…
JN: Bank and No Money.
VR: Very clearly, they didn’t even look like hobbyists.
JN: Correct. One of them’s a B-boy. One of them’s a breakdancer, he’s not a trained fighter.
VR: Which I hear is a great foundation for grappling.
JN: And by the way, to go back to it—so you know, after Will fought those guys we’ve told anyone fighting MMA symmetrical: No guillotines in the first round. Because it’s been well-proven that, if I were to fight Bank and No Money again, I’d get a hold of that neck and use that guy as a shield and finish it off. The neck cranks and the guillotine that Will had, that was scary. We stopped that very fast.
VR: It’s a pain in the ass to get guillotined by a guy with long lanky arms as it is. I can’t imagine someone like him going up against someone that’s untrained, it’s gotta be even more of a nightmare.
VR: Now, as far as your upcoming event: Rampage Jackson. Did it take much convincing to get him involved?
JN: Well, at first he—bro, when he came first to Thailand and we showed him the shirt for the video shoot, he said “I thought you guys were joking until the shirt came out. You know, I thought you guys were full of shit until the shirt came out.” He’s already here, but Rampage has been friends with Bob (Sapp) for two decades. Since the PRIDE days. So Bob gets it, right?
Bob is a very intelligent human being. He’s one of the most interesting men I’ve ever met. He is just—I love him. He’s a friend, I hope to be working with him for a very long time. He’s got some of the best stories I’ve ever heard. When Bob approached me, he said “Alright, what kind of fighters do you wanna get? Who do you want to do this with?” And he brought up Rampage and I was like, “I can’t think of anybody better than Rampage.” And obviously we were right away thinking of an homage to Rocky.
“I thought you guys were joking until the shirt came out You know, I thought you guys were full of shit until the shirt came out” – Rampage Jackson
So they’re the perfect Apollo Creed to my Sloppy Balboa, if you will. Rampage gets it too. Rampage thinks it’s fun, he understands the comedy. We have a comedian doing commentary with our team, Ron Josol from Canada. They know each other. We’re gonna rotate comedians. I do plan on getting the Ari Shaffirs of the world, the Tom Greens of the world to come over here. If Bert Kreischer would come over here that would be a blessing.
VR: I don’t think his heart could handle it.
JN: I know, right?
VR: Well, number one, he’d be shirtless the whole time. Number two, he’d have a stroke.
JN: (Laughs) But he would love Thailand, man. The place where we’re doing the fights, Bangla Road, in Patong? This is like, again, it’s the wild, wild west. For Americans that have never experienced anything like Patong before? They get there and it’s just heaven or hell or uh, Peter Pan Never Never Land or Pinocchio, Fantasy Island kind of stuff. Patong is a crazy place.
VR: Not to look too far ahead of the upcoming event, but what other big ambition or what other big format of fight are you looking to do that you just haven’t been able to pull off yet?
JN: We wanna do a lot of game show fighting. I really want to bring a lot of game shows…
VR: Like a spin-the-wheel type of thing, or rolling a die?
JN: Yeah. We do Wheel of Violence. We have Wheel of Violence on this card. I’d like to make Wheel of Violence its own thing and do a whole card of Wheel of Violence. We’re doing Musical Chairs of Doom. All these things that can lead to fights are the direction that we’re gonna go. So if I can do like The Price is Right or Jeopardy! or Family Feud and have it actually turn into a feud and have them actually fight at the game, the competition? Then that’s the direction we’re gonna go.
I know that after this show, later in April—mid-April we have what’s referred to as Songkran, which is Thai New Year. It’s also the largest water gun fight on the planet. It’s seven days here and it’s crazy. During that time, we’ve rented out a paintball course already. I’m gonna do dueling for fights. So ten guys back to back take their ten steps, turn and shoot. The guys that get hit, they’re out, the last two get to fight.
VR: Elimination style until they have to fight?
JN: Elimination style until they have to fight. Correct. Like a lot of different games. Plus the homage to film. We wanna do a lot of scenario fights. John Wick being as big as it is, I would like to get fights in a bathroom. We definitely wanna put VIPs, not sit ringside, not sit cageside… sit in the ring. Right? Wanna know what the best seats are in the house? The two people sitting directly in the middle of the ring while the fights go on.
VR: Logistically I not sure how that—I’m not trying to pooh-pooh your thing, I’m just not sure. It seems, to put it mildly, a bit challenging.
JN: Domestic Pancrase, which we did on the fourth show, it’s hard to get couches. Like, I don’t wanna get anybody hurt on wood or metal frame of a couch, right? So all furniture was inflatable. All the furniture we had in there was inflatable, boxes, Styrofoam. I can picture us doing the same thing in the situation we were just talking about.
VR: Interesting. Well, any final message for viewers or readers?
JN: Again, I hope that you guys enjoy the show. This is made for the internet. It’s made for TikTok, it’s made for social media. I don’t care how many people watch it live, I don’t care what the gate is. The point is the business model doesn’t really work like that. I want the viewers to get it out there, I want them to make memes of the videos and put them out and have the stuff go viral. The thing that I just keep saying when we’re in these meetings is that we’re not the WWE and we’re not the UFC. We’re our own new genre of combat sports and we’re gonna go our own route, our own path. Carve our own niche, right? That’s what we’re doing.
Fight Circus: The Rise Or Fall Of Sloppy Balboa takes place this Saturday, April 1st, starting at 7:00pm EST for those of us Stateside. The event will be available for purchase via Fite.TV.
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