By dissecting the man who once had current UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler reeling, Stephen Thompson seemingly placed himself in prime position to be the division’s next No. 1 contender.
“Wonderboy” cruised to a five-round unanimous verdict over Rory MacDonald in the UFC Fight Night headliner Saturday night in Ottawa, earning his seventh consecutive 170-pound triumph. While the bout started slowly, Thompson was in complete control throughout, frustrating his opponent with his movement and striking variety. The South Carolina native broke things open in the final stanza, bloodying MacDonald’s nose and doing some of the most significant damage of the fight.
All told, it was an impressive showing against “The Red King,” who fought for the first time since his classic against battle Lawler at UFC 194 last summer. MacDonald was often reduced to hunting for single shots on the feet, while his most memorable moments were a series of unorthodox sliding leg lock attempts that were ultimately unsuccessful.
“I expected it to be more of a war than that,” Thompson said during an interview on Fox Sports 1. “I didn’t feel that he was going to be as fast. I knew he was going to shoot for the takedown. but as soon as I went out there in the first round and he got in his stance, I knew it was going to be a chess match.
“It was weird,” Thompson said of the submission attempts. “Rory’s always evolving. He’s a young fighter. That’s why he’s been at the top of the game for so long. He’s always getting better, so I knew he was gonna come out there and try something real tricky, and I just had to be aware of it. A lot of guys wanted to see a little bit more of the movement out there, but I knew once I blitzed him he was going to change his level and try some of the tricky stuff.”
When MacDonald did connect cleanly, which wasn’t often, it had little effect on Thompson.
“He caught me with some short elbows,” he said. “Nothing that hurt — I felt them — but nothing that made me see stars or anything. It kind of woke me up a little bit, made me a little more aware, and I just felt great out there.”
While Thompson previously spent time at Tristar Gym, that was not an option when matched against one of the the Montreal-based camp’s premier fighters. Instead, Thompson supplemented his training with former middleweight champion Chris Weidman, something which he says benefitted his wrestling considerably.
“Our camps overlapped a little bit,” Thompson said. “He was supposed to fight two weeks ago [at UFC 199]. It’s been tremendous having someone like Chris Weidman, such a technical wrestler, such a strong wrestler, that’s helped my game so much. Having somebody at 170, when you’re used to having someone at 205, 215 on you makes them seem easier.”
The way things look now, it would be hard to deny Thompson the next welterweight title shot even in a talented and crowded division. Lawler is scheduled to defend the 170-pound title against Tyron Woodley at UFC 201 on July 30. Thompson has no doubt about which potential matchup would be most appealing to him.
“I think definitely me and Robbie Lawler would put on a better show. Tyron Woodley is an explosive guy, he is a wrestler, but I think people want to see a striking war,” Thompson said. “People want to see someone get knocked out. I’m not saying Tyron can’t do that, but I figure fighting him, he’d be shooting more toward the legs trying to get me down on the ground.”
Lawler is universally recognized as one of the hardest punchers in the sport, but Thompson believes he has some advantages to exploit against the American Top Team product’s hard-charging approach.
“He is the type of guy, he gets stronger as the fights go on, so I’ve got to be the best shape of my life if I step in there and fight against Robbie Lawler,” Thompson said. “He does stand there in front of you. I like guys that stand there in front of me. I can use my movement, use my kicks. Switching sides, kind of frustrate him a little bit. I tried to do that with MacDonald a little bit. It worked a little bit but I just couldn’t get inside. He’s got such a long reach. But I had to go out there and play the game.”