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Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson believes he’s next for UFC title shot, but still keeping his fingers crossed

Stephen Thompson, right, kicks to the body of

Stephen Thompson, right, kicks to the body of Rory MacDonald during a welterweight bout at UFC Fight Night 89 in Ottawa, Ontario on Sunday, June 19, 2016. Credit: AP/Fred Chartrand

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson has learned that nothing is guaranteed in the UFC.

After his first-round TKO win against former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks in February, Thompson was certain it was his time for a title shot against current champ Robbie Lawler.

Instead it went to Tyron Woodley, a man who was promised the fight but hasn’t entered the cage in 18 months. Lawler and Woodley fight Saturday at UFC 201.

“It is kind of scary because you never know what the UFC is thinking,” Thompson said.

A former kickboxing world champion, Thompson (13-1, 8-1 UFC) is No. 1 in the UFC welterweight rankings, three spots ahead of Woodley (15-3, 5-2 UFC), a former Division I All-American wrestler at Missouri.

Thompson believes he’d done enough in February to be next in line, but didn’t let it get under his skin when he was passed over.

“I always knew it was a possibility,” Thompson said. “Maybe I should’ve jumped out and had the fans jump out and let the UFC know, ‘Hey, I’d rather see Stephen Thompson fight rather than Tyron Woodley.’ But my hat’s off to him, and the UFC promised him that so hat’s off to the UFC for going out there and doing what they promised.”

Thompson has tried to stay positive since the Lawler-Woodley fight was announced, adding a convincing win against former title challenger Rory MacDonald to his resume in June.

Still, it’s impossible to predict exactly what will come next and how much the widely criticized rankings really matter to UFC matchmakers. Thompson expressed concern with the current situation at middleweight, where champion Michael Bisping reportedly is set to defend his belt against veteran Dan Henderson, who is 4-6 in his current stint with the promotion. Both fighters have spoken publicly about the fight, but the UFC has yet to make an official announcement.

The bout would settle bad blood between the two that’s festered since 2009 when Henderson knocked out Bisping in spectacular fashion at UFC 100, but Thompson believes it wouldn’t be fair to others in the division.

“Look at Bisping, he’s fighting the 13th-ranked guy in the division. How does that work?” Thompson said. “They’re skipping all these guys who are there who deserve it and they’re going for Dan Henderson who has said he’s close to retiring.”

A similar situation at welterweight wouldn’t sit well with Thompson, but he now understands the uncertain reality of UFC matchmaking.

“You never know, but I’m putting my foot down, man, I’m getting this next title shot. There’s already talk about it and it’s what the fans want to see.”

“I do know that in my heart I feel I’ve got the next shot,” Thompson said. “Which will give me more time to prepare for whoever wins.”

And “Wonderboy” is using that time wisely.

The South Carolinian will be behind the desk at FOX Sports for the second time, providing analysis during the network’s pre-fight show on FOX Sports 2 and post-fight show on FOX Sports 1 for UFC 201.

The experience gives him an even closer look at two men he’s already gearing up to face.

“When I go in and break these guys down, see what they like to do, what kind of takedowns they do, how do they defend this, how do they attack, it will definitely help me out in the future preparing for these guys.”

Thompson will be working with bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, an added benefit he’s ready to take advantage of.

“I get to kind of tap into their heads and see what they say as well, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

He’ll be having fun behind the desk, but Thompson would clearly rather be in the cage with a chance to win his first UFC title. Until that happens, he says he’ll keep training and campaigning to the UFC and its fans.

Said Thompson, “I’m just keeping my fingers crossed, because you never know.”

New York Sports