Stephen Thompson is moving up the welterweight ranks. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
It was the biggest stage thus far in the career of young contender Stephen Thompson, but by the way he took apart Jake Ellenberger in "The Ultimate Fighter 21" finale main event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday night, it was as if he’d been here 100 times before.
Thompson was rocked by a lethal left hand from “The Juggernaut” early in the first round, but he was resilient and clinched with his foe until his head was cleared. It was a veteran move for somebody who, though he is 57-0 as a kickboxer, is still relatively green to MMA. Ellenberger paid for being unable to finish “Wonderboy,” as the South Carolina native recovered to take the longtime contender out in emphatic fashion.
A few nasty punches set Ellenberger up for the first of two highlight reel spinning hook kicks to the head. The first badly wobbled Ellenberger, whose knees buckled on impact. Thompson remained composed and when the time was right, he set up a second, more lethal spinning hook kick. His heel smacked off Ellenberger’s forehead and the Nebraskan crashed onto his backside. The fight ended 4:29 into round one, with Thompson’s spectacular knockout a perfect capper to a tremendous International Fight Week.
“I put on a show, and we definitely want to do it again,” Thompson said at the post-fight press conference.
“He was standing in front of me, not doing a whole lot of movement,” he continued. “I heard my head coach, Ray Thompson, my father, tell me to spin. So I spun. I knew I hit him on top of the head the first time. He told me to do it again because he was still dazed, and it landed.”
Thompson has now won five in a row in the UFC and instantly becomes a rising star in the welterweight division. His dazzling array of strikes and athletic ability could cause problems for any number of contenders. While Thompson is well on his way to becoming a fan favorite, he also stressed the need to be patient in the aftermath of his signature triumph.
As for his next challenge? Gunnar Nelson seemed to be a popular name on Sunday evening, and “Wonderboy” was receptive to the notion.
“I think that would be very exciting,” he said with a smile. “I want to make a run for the top five and that’s what we need to do. We fight the best.”