Nova Scotia

Extreme Cage Combat's Andrew Thomas ready to turn pro

Andrew Thomas dropped out of the University of New Brunswick to fight for a living. This is not a metaphor: he left the classroom for the cage and a shot at mixed martial arts glory.

'You have to be good in every round and good in every skill,' says mixed martial artist ahead of sixth fight

Andrew Thomas trains full time at Titan's Academy. (CBC)

Andrew Thomas dropped out of the University of New Brunswick to fight for a living. This is not a metaphor: he left the classroom for the cage and a shot at mixed martial arts glory.

The East Preston, N.S., native had wrestled for years and knew it would serve him well in the sport of mixed martial arts.

​He first made the walk to the cage in Moncton four years ago to take on a local athlete in a 200-seat club.

"People were booing me, telling me to go eff myself. It was a good time," he said with a smile.

He won that fight with a first-round technical knockout, which is when the referee stops the fight because the loser is unable to defend himself. Thomas has since run his amateur record to 4-1 and fights again this Saturday with Extreme Cage Combat (ECC) in Halifax.

He'll take on Mark Hebert in an amateur lightweight bout. Thomas says his game plan for the fight depends on what he sees in his opponent. 

"It all depends on the guy, strategy-wise. If he's a striker, take him down, but if he's a ground guy with not good striking, then we'll stand with him," said Thomas. 

Cross-training in the martial arts

He started wrestling in school and then with the Metro Amateur Wrestling Club in Bedford. He went to the 2009 Canada Games and wrestled at the University of New Brunswick. He started helping others prepare for fights.

"Then I got the bug and I started training and had my first fight. The rest is history," said Thomas. 

He trains today at Titan's Fitness Academy in Bayers Lake five or six days a week. When the sport started in the early 1990s, it usually pitted say a karate expert against a judoka, but these days fighters train in multiple disciplines to be a more complete martial artist with skills in sports like jui-jitsu, judo and boxing.

"The days of being a one-dimensional fighter are over," said Thomas. "You have to be good in every round and good in every skill."

Andrew Thomas plans to become a professional fighter after his next amateur bout. (CBC)

Thomas plans to turn professional after that and fight for a spot in the world's top fighting promotions — either the UFC or Bellator. More techniques are allowed — and he can start getting paid. Today, he relies on sponsors.

"I'm not going to rush it. I'm going to build my skills and see where it goes," he said.

He may move to Ontario to fight on a bigger stage en route to the top.

Learning from losing

Retired Canadian fighter Robin Black says Thomas is bound to learn about himself on that journey. Black had a career as a musician, playing with bands like the Ballroom Zombies and Robin Black and the Intergalactic Rock Stars in the early 2000s.

But he gave up the stage for the cage in 2008. He took part in his first fight 10 days before he turned 39.

"I was flash knocked-out in the first 15 seconds and my mind literally said, 'This is not over, it can't end this way, you're going to fight back.' That was a beautiful thing to find out about yourself," said Black.

He kept fighting, and kept getting hit — 30 or more times — and realized he was going to lose his debut.

"That's another thing you find out about yourself that isn't great. That eventually, like all people, you have your breaking points," he said.

Black returned to the cage eight more times, building a 4-5 record. He tells young fighters like Thomas that while the lights get brighter, the game remains the same.

'I get excited for people ... starting to fight'

"Truthfully [turning professional] is not different than the ... amateur fights that he had. He's in a cage with a man competing in a martial arts event where it's all about how well he performs. The truth of that fight doesn't change in any way whether we call it amateur or pro," said Black.

Today, Black breaks down fights for the UFC and for Canada's Fight Network. He's a sought-after analyst who uses slow-motion replays to show the technique beneath the chaos.

He has a reminder for Thomas as he prepares for his next fight.

"I get excited for people when they're first starting to fight. Don't forget that you love this. If you go in worried about the consequences of a fight, you won't perform as well," he said. "You don't have to fight — you get to fight."

Saturday's fight card at the Halifax Forum is headlined by an ECC title fight at featherweight between Gavin Tucker and Chris Coggins.

Extreme Cage Combat runs its next event on July 23 in Halifax.