UFC welterweight Stephen Thompson is known as a fighter who can end a bout with one perfectly placed kick, yet his last five fights have gone the distance.
That stretch of fights has seen him earn victories over Rory MacDonald and Jorge Masvidal, while battling to a draw and a loss against then welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and most recently losing to Darren Till.
Now, heading into his Fight Night Nashville headliner against Anthony Pettis, the 36-year-old is focused on fighting his fight and not leaving the decision in the hands of the judges.
“That’s something we’ve been working on after the Till fight,” Thompson told the TSN MMA Show. “Just being more aggressive. Not being overly aggressive, not being stupid, but being smart out there and letting our opponent feel my presence in the octagon a little more. Obviously, we’ve been working really hard on my wrestling, so if I want to take the fight down to the ground I can do that as well.”
Petti is known for perhaps the most famous kick in MMA history, the “Showtime” kick that he landed on Benson Henderson in 2010. The chance to match skills has Thompson fired up for his bout against the former UFC champion.
“That’s one of the reasons why I was so excited for this fight, because I am a fan of Anthony Pettis,” said Thompson. “We both have similar styles. Of course, he comes from a taekwondo background; I come from a karate background, so it’s pretty much who is going to be the better ninja on Saturday.
“I know at some point he’s going to try to take the fight to the ground, like most people do, but I’m ready for wherever the fight goes and I’m looking forward to a pretty cool and fun chess match with him Saturday night.”
Woodley retained the welterweight title in back-to-back fights against Thompson at UFC 205 and UFC 209, but has since dropped the belt in a one-sided loss to Kamaru Usman.
Thompson believes Woodley’s defeat was a case of one fighter wanting it more and being in the right frame of mind.
“Usman was very hungry. He wanted to go out there and beat the crap out of Tyron and he did exactly that,” said Thompson. “If you look at Tyron, he didn’t have that flame. He didn’t have that fire that you normally see when he steps out there. He just couldn’t pull anything off.”
“I guess all fighters have their days and off days and sometimes you can pull stuff off and somedays you can’t. You gotta be ready and mentally 100 per cent before you step out there and have that mental game right before you step out there. I learned a lot from that last fight with Tyron Woodley.”
Masvidal may have moved into the pole position for the next welterweight title fight after his recent KO victory over Till in London. While Thompson lost to Till, he does hold a recent victory over Masvidal, but isn’t sweating it if the next crack at the title doesn’t come his way.
“I think with the performance Masvidal had, sure, give him the title shot and see what happens. But I’m going to be right there and whoever I have to face, obviously I have Pettis this weekend, but after that to make it to that title, whoever it is, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to go out there and give it my all,” said Thompson. “If Masvidal gets the title shot, congrats to him.”
So if the title shot goes to Masvidal, Thompson could be a couple fights away from his chance, but he plans to stay ready and keep racking up the victories he needs to get back into the championship picture.
“Worst-case scenario – I always look at it that way – I may have to get one or two fights before I have to step up and fight for the title and I’m okay with that,” said Thompson. “I’m 36-years-old, but I like to consider myself a young 36-years-old. I have plenty in the tank to keep going. I do have a small window to do what I want to do and that’s what I’m focused on. So if it is one or two more fights, so be it. I’m not giving up on it. That’s my goal. I will be there by the end of this year.”
Well before the end of the year, June in fact, the UFC will be heading to Greenville, S.C., for an event. Thompson, a South Carolina native, is very interested in being on that card, provided he comes out of Saturday’s fight unscathed.
“We’ve been working really hard to make that happen,” said Thompson. “It’s three months from now, so hopefully I come out of this event uninjured, with no hurt feet or hands or anything and I’ll be ready for that Greenville card. The plan is to headline that fight if possible.”