Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson brings a karate background to mixed martial arts, a style that often draws its share of excitement from fans when he lands a kick.
Just don’t expect Jorge Masvidal, his opponent at UFC 217 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, to be mesmerized by it.
“I’m not impressed by the flashiness,” Masvidal said Wednesday. “I’m going to get in his face and fight. I’m going to make him fight.”
Thompson’s unconventional style presents challenges to fighters, even those with 45 professional fights on their resume thus far. It’s not common for fighters to train against karate-style fighters (especially those with a 57-0 record in kickboxing before moving to MMA) as part of their normal routine.
Masvidal, 32, said he has faced similar fighters in a career that began in 2003, and that he brought in a few specialists to prepare for Thompson. He also said this: “I watched a lot of Bruce Lee movies, a lot of Karate Kid, I trained my [butt] off.”
Fighters such as Thompson present unique challenges. The way they stand. The way they can throw a kick. Their angles. Their explosive bursts.
Masvidal sees something else.
“They like to run and not fight a lot of times,” said Masvidal (32-13), who is coming off a split-decision loss to Demian Maia in May. “That’s kind of unique to me in a fight.”
Masvidal wants to fight Saturday. He’d fight right now if New York’s athletic commission allowed it. This will be Masvidal’s eighth fight at welterweight since moving up a weight class two years ago.
“He is very good at what he does and that’s just basic Muay Thai,” said Thompson (13-2-1). “But he can put it all together and he’s good everywhere. He’s very crafty on the ground, as you saw against Demian Maia. He defended against Demian, which very few people have done that in the UFC in that division. He’s very crafty. His fight IQ is up there, which is why he’s ranked No. 4 right now.”
Masvidal said he plans to pressure Thompson into fighting, a reference to Thompson’s last fight against welterweight champion Tyron Woodley which no one would recall as an action-packed 25 minutes of fury. Thompson expects Masvidal to move forward, like he usually does.
“He will not be able to take that pressure,” Masvidal said of Thompson. “Pressure busts pipes and he’s about to get busted up.”
Masvidal then turned his attention to after the fight and taking a victorious place in the center of the octagon.
“The most important thing will be the post-fight speech,” Masvidal said. “We can all tell that’s what gets you title shots. Craziness like that. So I’ll be looking to do something spectacular after the fight. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’ll do something ratchety for everybody watching. It’ll be real ratchety and reality TV like for everybody to enjoy.”