Josh Thomson is preparing for the next chapter in his career. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
While Josh Thomson doesn’t have any harsh feelings toward his former employer, he still wants to make one thing perfectly clear: He was not released by the UFC.
Although the way it might have happened is disputed by both parties, Thomson and the UFC parted ways following his unanimous decision loss to Tony Ferguson on July 15 -- his third consecutive setback in the Octagon. Less than a month later, “The Punk” inked a deal with Bellator MMA and immediately denied a report that his previous employer had declined to renew his contract.
In a release, Thomson claimed that the Las Vegas-based organization had been trying to re-sign him for the last two fights. Meanwhile, UFC President Dana White stood by the report that the company elected to part ways with the former Strikeforce champion.
“We told them we weren’t interested,” White told MMAFighting.com. “We released Josh. We didn’t even want to match. He was free to deal with whoever he wanted to after his last fight and they knew we weren’t going to match.”
Thomson still stands by his original statement.
“I didn’t take it personal at all. I looked at the facts, and the facts are I was never released. I was never given a release letter. I was never told I was released. That was it,” Thomson told Sherdog.com. “I weighed out the options. If you think about it, other guys have fought like three, four, five losses and they haven’t cut them. To think that I just co-main evented their last show and to think that they would cut me seems farfetched given they have so many shows.
“They need all the talent they can get, especially top talent like myself. At the end of the day it’s just business. I have no hard feelings whatsoever, despite whatever was said. It doesn’t bother me at all.”
Thomson added that it was more than just the ability to avoid the constraints of the Reebok sponsorship deal that made his new Bellator contract appealing.
“There’s significant money on the table that Bellator offered me,” he said. “It was more than the contract that they UFC offered me.”
Thomson quickly positioned himself for a lightweight title shot in the UFC upon his return to the organization in 2013. He knocked out the usually durable Nate Diaz at UFC on Fox 7, his first Octagon appearance since 2004. After an injury to T.J. Grant, Thomson suddenly found himself in line to challenge Anthony Pettis for 155-pound gold at UFC on Fox 9 in December 2013, but that bout was nixed when Pettis had to withdraw from the contest due to injury.
Back-to-back split decision defeats to Benson Henderson and Bobby Green would follow before the more decisive setback against Ferguson. Still, Thomson isn’t interested in playing the “what if” game.
“Everything happens for a reason,” he said. “Look at it this way: As soon as you fight for the title it automatically signs you up for a two or three more fight deal. Had I fought for the title, I’d still be in the UFC and I wouldn’t be making the money I’m making signing a contract with Bellator.”
Thomson will make his promotional debut on Saturday at Bellator 142 “Dynamite” against Mike Bronzoulis at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. The 155-pound contest is part of the evening’s main card, which airs on Spike TV beginning at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
While Bronzoulis doesn’t appear to be on the same level as some of Thomson’s recent foes, the California native hints that a lack of direction in the UFC’s lightweight division led to some of his struggles.
“I didn’t feel like Tony Ferguson or Bobby Green were on my level either, but you’ve got to go out there and fight. That’s the biggest thing. You’ve got to have the motivation. It’s easier to say that I have motivation now because I see the vision of exactly what’s going to happen if I win this fight... given that [Bellator President] Scott Coker has laid it all out for me,” Thomson said. “He said, ‘This is where I’d like to see the lightweight division go, and I want you to be part of it.’
“That was part of our contract negotiations and conversations. Past fights, there was no real like, ‘Hey this is gonna happen.’ You don’t ever get those conversations; you don’t get those talks,” he continued. “This fight is different. There’s a direction that I see Bellator going.”
After helping build the Strikeforce lightweight division due to his trilogy with Gilbert Melendez, Thomson says he is excited to do the same thing in Bellator with the likes of champion Will Brooks, former titlist Michael Chandler and the rest of the weight class. Overall, Thomson seems energized to be in a new home, which is a far cry from his mindset more than a year and a half ago, when his controversial loss to Henderson had him briefly contemplating retirement.
“I don’t really think about [the end of my UFC tenure]. I’ve got other things to do now with Bellator. A lot of people keep asking how would your life be different if you beat Benson or if you got that title shot. I don’t think about that way. I’m still blessed I’m in the situation I’m in now,” he said. “ I can’t imagine not being where I am now. This is a perfect situation. I’m fighting my first fight in Bellator; I’m fighting in San Jose on a card that has never been done before.
“I can’t say that I’m not happy. I’m exactly where I want to be. Everything happens for a reason and I couldn’t ask for a better place to be.”