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What’s it like to get soccer kicked in the head? Just ask UFC vet and FMD star Tommy Hayden

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There aren’t many promotions around these days that allow soccer kicks. But fans with fond memories of seeing Mauricio “Shogun” Rua treat Quentin Jackson’s face like a football will enjoy Full Metal Dojo (FMD).

The Thai mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion positively encourages soccer kicks and we frequently see fighters use them to good effect. But what’s it like to be on the receiving end? Former FMD lightweight champion Tommy Hayden is the perfect person to pose that question to after his recent TKO loss.

”Well, I do quite enjoy the ruleset and I didn’t mind the soccer kicks. It was the first time I have been soccer kicked so it was an interesting experience. I will tell you this, getting hit by a taxi in Bangkok hurts a lot worse! So yeah, I didn’t mind them. I heard that some people gave (referee) Olivier grief saying he stopped the fight early. I want everyone to know that I agreed with his decision.”

Hayden saw a three fight winning streak going all the way back to 2014 snapped by last November’s loss to Jason Ponet at Full Metal Dojo 15. It was a major disappointment for the American, but things could be a lot worse.

He could still be stuck in his hometown doing a soul-destroying 9-5 job while reflecting on a UFC career that didn’t quite turn out the way he planned,

”After getting dropped from the UFC my dad told me to get a real job. So I did, I worked for a company called Hill-Rom. They pride themselves on being the worlds No. 1 hospital bed manufacturer. Well I was working in QA, checking paperwork to meet FDA standards and helping engineers circumvent problems that could kill people in field. I was put on the an integration team for a new company and made to work seven days a week getting only one Sunday off per month. I ended up working under an “engineer” who was a high school drop out, only had a two year degree in business management and was not qualified to do any sort of engineering work. She couldn’t even do simple arithmetic without a calculator. On top of that the environment working there was so hostile and negative that I couldn’t get over working under such rude disgusting unqualified people. So I found a job in Thailand.”

Hayden wasn’t exactly “living the dream” back home. He had featured on Season 9 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) and subsequently strung together a four-fight winning streak which took his overall record to 8-0 and secured a UFC contract.

However, he was released after just two defeats and found himself making the unpleasant transition from MMA to medical manufacturing. it’s worth nothing that former lightweight champion and No. 1 welterweight contender Rafael dos Anjos also lost his first two UFC bouts, which goes to show how thin the margins between success and failure can be in the MMA game.

But while Hayden wasn’t given ample opportunity to realize his UFC ambitions, he has succeeded in establishing himself as Bangkok’s toughest teacher. After moving to Thailand to work at a school he says a chance encounter rekindled his interest in MMA.

”Honestly I never planned to get involved in fighting competitively in general when I moved out here. I was done. Then one day I was walking around a university campus and I saw a sign that said MMA on it. I was surprised and curious so I walked in. That day I met the man who changed my life here. I rolled with this dude that introduced himself as Jaa and from that point forward I was back in the game. I became the head coach at Hero Factory a small gym outside of Bangkok that was about two and a half years ago. From there I met the FMD crew and started fighting again. Now I own gyms and I focus on teaching Thais MMA and how to integrate their Muay Thai styles into MMA.”

Hayden featured on episode one of Rich Franklin’s “Warrior” series which was partly filmed at the Fight Lab in Bangkok. He taught an aspiring Indian fighter a harsh lesson about the sort of skills and experience required to succeed in the sport.

That said, Hayden believes there is a lot of talent in the region and hopes to see several of his training partners make the breakthrough this year.

”I currently train with a good number of talented fighters and up and comers. Shannon Wiratchai and Rika Ishige are both in ONE FC and doing well. I also have a few ONE FC prospects that I am training with. On top of that both my boxing coach and my No Gi coach are coming along quite nicely. 2018 looks like it will be promising year for us.”

Hayden has seen strawweights like Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke and Pongsiri Mitsatit enjoy success with ONE Championship and been a part of the growth of Full Metal Dojo. He says it’s an exciting time to be involved in MMA in Thailand.

”I feel like Thailand has the potential to produce some world level contenders, especially in the lower weights. I also see how hard Jon and the FMD crew works to promote MMA here and they are doing a great job! FMD is a show like no other. It’s not just a fight it is an experience! An over the top 90’s movie-esq experience that fans can’t find anywhere else on the planet. I am super thankful to get to work with them because they are so incredibly different from any other promotion I have had the pleasure of working with.”

Hayden has several goals for 2018. But his top priority is to secure a rematch with Ponet and restore his status as an FMD champion.

“My immediate personal goals are to kill the next guy I fight, so Jon will give me a rematch against Jason. I will get my sword back this year. After that I want to continue to grow my schools, get a few of my Thai fighters into world level organizations and continue to grow my MMA and BJJ brand.”