Ray Thompson stood at the foul line, braced for impact. He wound up a few backward at the elbow, a geographic displacement not unheard of on the basketball court at Madison Square Garden.
But this was mixed martial arts, not easily confused with the sport of throwing a round ball through a round hoop.
On a mat atop the Knicks’ hardwood, Stephen Thompson delivered a swift kick to the padded midsection of his father, all for the delight of the cameras, cellphones and 500 fans in attendance Wednesday at the UFC 205 open workouts.
The visual dichotomy of MMA on a basketball court served as the perfect backdrop for the unique striking style of “Wonderboy” Thompson, a karate-based fighter with a championship kickboxing pedigree before rising up the welterweight division in the UFC.
“I don’t think he’s ready,” Thompson said of welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, his opponent on Saturday. “It’s very difficult to figure out, to adapt to once you get out there in the octagon. I mean, everybody I’ve faced so far has tried it, brought in some of the best karate fighters in the world. I’m just a little different. It’s hard to figure out.”
The last seven opponents of Thompson (13-1, 8-1 UFC) haven’t been able to do so. Three of them didn’t get more than one round to even try.
Woodley has had his share of first-round knockouts as well, including his last fight, when he won the title from Robbie Lawler.
“It’s my time. I’m not losing to anybody,” Woodley said. “My last loss was my last loss.”
That loss occurred on June 14, 2014, by unanimous decision to Rory MacDonald. Thompson’s last fight was a unanimous decision victory over MacDonald. Woodley (16-3, 5-2) brings powerful hands and a wrestling pedigree with him into the octagon on Saturday.
The differences in Thompson’s style were evident immediately at the open workouts. He began in a karate stance, his body aligned perpendicularly to his father holding the pads. Of course, he switched things around to put on a show for the cameras, mixing in a few punches with his pushkicks, karate kicks, switch kicks, and some sort of jumping, spinning roundhouse kicks that show up more in movies than they do in MMA.
“Keep him at the end of my hands and feet, hit and move, baby,” an excited Thompson said after his workout, by far the most energetic of the six fighters on display at the Garden. “When I visualize this fight, it’s my hand raised and that belt around my waist.”
Thompson has spent much of the past three years training with Baldwin’s Chris Weidman, first as a sparring partner to mimic Anderson Silva’s style and later as a friend, regular training partner and brother-in-law.
“His movement is very frustrating, and then when you really start getting frustrated and you really try and lay into something, you’re going to get popped yourself,” Weidman said of Thompson. “He is so quick and technical, and when you’re not used to sparring with him, or fighting him, it’s going to be a very awkward thing for Tyron.”
Oddsmakers have Woodley as the underdog Saturday, just as they have done to him in his past six fights.
“They like to fuel my fire. I’ve proved them wrong every single time,” Woodley said. “I started fighting in a bar with smoke blowing into the ring as I was fighting. So to fight in Madison Square Garden, man, I’m gonna tear this place down Saturday night.”