Stephen Thompson had two shots at the UFC welterweight title in the past 12 months. He didn’t win either.
After 10 rounds against champion Tyron Woodley — the first five culminating in a majority draw at UFC 205 last year, and the next five ending in a majority decision at UFC 209 in March — is it feasible he could get a third shot against the reigning 170-pound king?
“I think about that all the time, which really fuels me to train as hard as I can, to really get a good ‘W’ out there November 4th,” Thompson said. “If I am exciting, really go out there and put on a show, I think they’ll be apt to give me another shot.”
Thompson, a dynamic striker with a karate and kickboxing background, gets the opportunity against Jorge Masvidal at UFC 217 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 4.
In that first title shot against Woodley, they conducted what many considered the best fight of 2016, or at least No. 2 on that list.
Their second bout was looked upon far less favorably, with some calling it the worst title fight in UFC history. Recency bias likely played a part in such a moniker, but the excitement from Woodley-Thompson I certainly did not get written into the sequel.
Thompson heard all the negativity afterward and said it didn’t really bother him.
“The people who are talking all the trash, they’re not the ones out there facing off against a monster like Tyron Woodley,” Thompson said. “But when you’re facing off against somebody, his style, who just backs up and backs up and backs up, you have this feeling, and I know it. You have this feeling that he’s waiting for me to come in to do something so he can either hit me with his right hand or take me down. And it makes for a very boring fight. I mean, you saw his last fight against Demian Maia. It broke records for being one of the most boring fights ever.”
Yes, Woodley’s third successful title defense drew more ire than his second despite the fact that Woodley stuffed all 21 takedown attempts by Maia, one of the best jiujitsu practitioners in mixed martial arts.
Before that fight, UFC president Dana White said Woodley, if he won, would fight Georges St-Pierre next. Shortly after the fight, St-Pierre was booked against middleweight champion Michael Bisping at UFC 217.
Thompson sees a different fight unfolding against Masvidal.
“It is, though, who you face, stylistically,” Thompson said. “Jorge Masvidal, he’s just got that style where he just comes forward and he’s always game. So it just makes for a freakin’ fantastic fight. Fireworks. He’s not going to back up. He’s going to come forward in my face, which is going to cause for those awesome exchanges. So that’s what I’m looking forward to the most.”
The down time during fight week also appeals to Thompson (13-1-1). His last five fights were either title fights or main events or both, which brings with it added obligations beyond two extra rounds. His last two fights were title fights, which adds more interviews and media exposure to the daily schedule during fight week.
And that first title fight was last November in New York City, the first MMA event in Manhattan since the sport was legalized in the state after an eight-year political battle, adding even more hype and requirements for “Wonderboy.”
For UFC 217, Thompson is the second fight on the main card, just before a run of three title fights. There is much less focus on him now as St-Pierre makes his return from four years away, Cody Garbrandt defends his bantamweight title against former teammate TJ Dillashaw, and Joanna Jedrzejczyk goes for her sixth title defense against Rose Namajunas.
“I can just sit here and focus on my fight, which is a relief,” Thompson said. “This is a three-rounder, which gives me the confidence. I can do three fives easy. I’m able to go five five–minute rounds non-stop. Three rounds, I’ll be able to go all out.”
Thompson certainly would benefit from a standout performance against a tough Masvidal (32-12), who’s coming off a split-decision loss to Maia in May. Thompson is the No. 2 ranked fighter in the welterweight division, with Masvidal at No. 4.
The No. 1 ranked Robbie Lawler, a former champion, is scheduled to face No. 5 Rafael Dos Anjos, a former lightweight champion, in December, with that winner in line for the next title shot against Woodley. That, of course, is in the distance since promised title shots often vanish as quickly as they appear.
But Thompson has more than a few opponents to fight through. He also must convince the people and the powers that be that Woodley-Thompson III is a fight fans are going to want to see/pay to see.
“There are a lot of good guys in the top 5, top 10, going for that title. You got Carlos Condit coming back, so he’s in the mix. The 170-pound division is booming,” Thompson said. “I’m not giving up on that title yet.”