Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson, a fixture among the top tier of UFC welterweights for the past several years, returns to the cage this Saturday for the first time in a year.
He'll face Kevin Holland in the main event at UFC Orlando, on ESPN and ESPN+.
Thompson spoke with Newsday on Wednesday about the upcoming fight, his desire to fight a non-wrestler, how at age 39 he plans to keep fighting and what goes through his mind walking out to the cage on fight night.
It's been a little while since we last saw you fight. Where you been?
"It's been almost a year. Around this time last year. I've had some, you know, collarbone issues, so trying to heal up from that, and trying to find the right opponent. But here we are, man, Orlando, getting ready to scrap this Saturday."
It doesn't seem like you're interested in fighting many wrestlers right now, from what I'm reading.
"Yeah. I mean, the last two guys I faced were heavy grapplers. And it wasn't fun for the fans. And it didn't make sense for me to do that again if the fans aren't into it. It was just a boo session. It wasn't like they were doing a whole lot of damage. It was kind of like just holding me down. So, you know, Belal Muhammad kind of took that blueprint from from Gilbert Burns. I'm in this to put on a show for the fans. I'm glad that UFC got around to me and Kevin Holland duking it out. No, he's not ranked, but he's found some of the best guys in the 185 division. And at 170. He will be ranked here pretty soon, if he keeps at it."
He's known for being a bit of a talker in the cage. Have you ever fought somebody like that?
"Yeah, man, actually, Tyron Woodley was that way. He would talk. He was more trash-talking. Kevin Holland just likes to chat with you out there. It's funny, after the Tyron fight, a lot of my sparring partners now they talk to me during the sparring session. I've gotten used to it a little bit."
Was that a conscious decision to get them to start talking to you during sparring?
"No, they just started doing it. And because, I'm not the only one of our fighters at our camp that has had somebody try to talk to him. And if you're not used to it, that can throw you off a little bit. While they're chatting with you, you're trying to think about what they're saying to you instead of punching them in the face. It gets a little confusing."
You dropped a little bit of news on Weidman's podcast, huh?
"Yeah. I shouldn't have said anything. As soon as I said that, I get a message from Jack Black saying he's not going to be able to make it. He's on tour right now. It was kind of up in the air but he was really wanting to come out and walk me out. So I don't think he'll be able to make it this time."
This has been baffling me for about two weeks. I get about 50 email pitches a day, and one of them was from a company who analyzed tweet sentiments of UFC fighters. And you, sir, I don't know if you're aware of this or not, you ranked number four on the list of most insulting UFC fighters on Twitter. What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. NMF?
"How is thaaaaaaat? I was insulting? That's gotta be just somebody pulling my chain. It's gotta be. I've never been disrespectful on Twitter. I've gotta look into this now. Wow, I guess I'm gonna have to give up the NMF belt now."
Where do you see yourself at this point in your career?
"I feel like I can still keep going. I'm 39 years old, but I feel like I'm 25. I'm feeling good. I haven't taken a ton of damage like a lot of these other fighters. I've been knocked out one time my entire fight career, and even after that fight everybody was talking about me retiring and then I come back and beat Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal. Yes, I got beat my last two fights but I didn't take any damage. It was just guys just holding me down. So, you know, I feel like I'm getting better every day and continue to get better. I'm still going. I'm going to keep going until my body doesn't allow me to or Pops tells me I'm done."
Is the goal to still chase the title? Are you just looking for exciting fights and paydays?
"Kind of everything. I'm still looking for the title but why not have some fun fights on the way?"
Going into a fight you know the style of the guy. You know Belal and Burns are going to try to get you down. You know Holland probably isn't going to try that. Is that more freeing for you in that sense when you think about the fight, when you spar, when you train, that this figures to be a stand-up fight?
"This fight definitely puts a smile on my face when I wake up for this training camp. It was kind of exciting for me. That's why I'm looking forward to this fight because I know he's not afraid to go out there and put on a show and that's kind of the bread and butter as a Kung Fu stylist and I want to go out there put on a show as well. So I'm expecting a stand-up fight. Now, will I look past him to try to set the submission? Not at all. So I gotta be prepared for that as well."
In MMA, you've got so much to think about from your opponent -- punches, checks, takedowns, everything. So when you're standing in front of your opponent, what are you looking at?
"I look at him, right, but it's kind of a blur. I know what my body's doing, I know how to react to the techniques. Sometimes they may be a little too slow, or he'll throw something and I don't react enough or fast enough in time. But, you know, it's all reaction. That's what I'm looking for. Subconsciously, my body's looking for openings. It's not like I'm actually thinking about it. It's just over time and many years of training, building that reaction time, building my techniques to where, whenever I need it, it's there. It's kind of all that combined."
I'm always curious on this one. What is the hardest thing about fighting?
"The hardest thing I would say about the fight is the training camp. Putting yourself through the training, training two to three times a day, watching your diet, making sure you're getting enough water intake, making sure your body is healthy. That's a lot of stress, not just on your body, but mentally and physically. So I think that is the hardest part. And of course, the I think like behind that the older I get the the harder it is to cut the weight, to get down to 170. So I have to make sure that my weight's good leading up to that."
What goes through your mind from the time you hit that arena and you see fans to the time Bruce Buffer is screaming your name?
"Man, number one, especially leading up to it, It's one of the most scariest moments anybody could go through. And I feel like if I was president of the United States, that everybody has to go through a training camp because you learn so much about yourself, what you're capable of, what your limits are, mentally physically, emotionally. When you step out there in that fight, man, it's the scariest moment of your life. But it's such short-lived. The walk-out, it doesn't take long for you to get out to the cage, but in that walk it seems like it's days. People are cheering for you to win or booing you to lose. But as soon as you step out there and that cage closes, it's go time. I don't remember anything else. But for some reason, that walkout leading up, it feels like it takes hours."