Wonder no more about how Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson would look in his return to the octagon after being knocked out for the first time in his career in his last fight.
He was the “Wonderboy” you remember from his seven-fight win streak and run through the welterweight division that led to back-to-back title shots against then-champion Tyron Woodley. The one with the karate-style background. The one with the flashy leg kicks and quick-fire strikes.
And, on Saturday night at UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden, with President Donald Trump in attendance, he was the vintage Thompson who picked apart Vicente Luque for a unanimous decision victory. The judges scored it 30-26, 30-26, 29-27.
“He was a tough guy. I hit him in the head as hard as I could and he just kept coming forward,” Thompson (15-4-1) said after the fight. “I’m ready to come into this cage and fight the hardest wars possible.”
Luque had his best success in the first round, landing quite a few good shots and enough for one judge to score the round in his favor. But absorbing those shots gave Thompson added confidence.
"It was really cool to be able to take those shots and keep going, especially after getting knocked out during the [Anthony] Pettis fight," Thompson said. "A lot of guys are worried about that, and that was something mentally that I was prepared for going into this fight. I didn’t hesitate one bit, I didn’t think I couldn’t take his shots at all. I think that helped me a lot. A lot of guys that get knocked out, they rush in there too soon, barely get clipped and out they go.”
He left the cage with what he thinks is a broken right hand suffered after he punched Luque in the head, Thompson said in his post-fight interview. He showed his hand to reporters, pointing out a knuckle that is currently in a place where it wasn't when the day started.
Thompson had one win in his previous four bouts. Against Luque (17-6-1), who had won his last six in a row including five finishes, Thompson looked dominant. He dropped Luque several times throughout the bout with various kicks.At one point in the second round, Thompson dropped Luque with a side kick, but he rolled back and got up to his feet. The two fighters touched gloves and continued fighting. Thompson wobbled Luque and continued to push forward, at times picking his shots and landing clean, powerful strikes.
Thompson dropped Luque again in the third round with side kicks to the midsection and moved in for some ground and pound. But he wisely backed away after landing punishing shots and told the referee to stand Luque up as Thompson wanted to avoid any ground game after having such success on the ground.
"I felt great to be honest with you," Thompson said. "He hits hard. I think he has a harder head than I do, but it was awesome. I knew he would be a tough guy to put away, so I was ready for a three-round war."