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Stephen Thompson presents unique challenge to Rory MacDonald at UFC Fight Night 89

Welterweight fighter Rory MacDonald salutes the crowd during

Welterweight fighter Rory MacDonald salutes the crowd during weigh-ins for UFC 189 mixed martial arts bouts, in Las Vegas on Friday, July 10, 2015. Credit: AP / L.E. BASKOW

Rory MacDonald has plenty of things to worry about on Saturday night inside the octagon. There’s how he’ll respond 11 months after one of the most devastating fights in UFC history, and then, of course, there’s the matter of having to face a dynamic striker in Stephen Thompson.

Not just Stephen Thompson, but also Stephen Thompson. Huh?

“He’s like fighting two guys in one,” said Brian Stann, a former fighter and now an analyst on Fox Sports 1. “When you strike with Stephen Thompson, depending on the stance he’s in, you get two totally different dudes.

“If he fights you righty, you’re fighting a guy who’s a little more what you’re used to. If he fights you lefty, you’re fighting something totally different and it can be very frustrating.”

Thompson has a karate background, one he has used to help win all 57 of his pro and amateur kickboxing matches and 12 of his first 13 mixed martial arts bouts. Thompson and MacDonald meet in the main event of UFC Fight Night 89 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on Fox Sports 1. The winner likely figures to get the next welterweight title shot after champion Robbie Lawler faces Tyron Woodley at UFC 201 next month.

“If he’s fighting you out of a southpaw stance, you’re getting more of a traditional style of striking,” Stann said. “That right leg is in front and it’s very hard to get past.”

Thompson’s arsenal of leg kicks helps him establish distance and make it harder for opponents to get inside. And, of course, the presumptive key to this fight for MacDonald is get inside.

“I think Stephen Thompson’s style is the hardest striking style to wrestle against,” Stann said. “He forces you to fight him from such a great distance away that you’re shooting from a mile and you can’t take him down.”

One of MacDonald’s strengths is his ground game, which makes range a key for both. Also, there’s this for Thompson (12-1, 7-1 UFC) to consider, Stann said: “Rory is excellent, not just good, he’s excellent at catching kicks.”

MacDonald (18-3, 9-3) hasn’t fought since last July when he lost a brutal battle with champion Robbie Lawler. Both fighters were bloodied and beaten before MacDonald lost in the fifth round by TKO.

“I think he’s still got it in the tank,” Stann said of MacDonald, 26. “I think he still comes and he’ll be prepared and he’s still got some years left to showcase his skills.”

New York Sports