Josh Thomson may have spent the entirety of 2016 on the sideline, but he has no doubts about his standing in Bellator MMA’s lightweight division.
“I already know I’m the No. 1 contender. There’s nobody else ahead of me,” Thomson recently told Sherdog.com. “I’ve been offered the title fight probably twice or maybe even three times. One before the injury. I couldn’t get the timing down. We were trying to organize between Benson [Henderson], myself and [Michael] Chandler and we just couldn’t get it down.”
While an injury to Thomson scrapped a proposed bout with Chandler at Bellator 154 last May, the rest of the American Kickboxing Academy product’s year-long hiatus was by design.
“Once I got injured going into that fight, I just told myself I was going to take the rest of the year off, so [the layoff] wasn’t frustrating at all,” he said.”I think had I planned on trying to come back and couldn’t get healthy again or whatever it was, it probably would have been frustrating. Once I got injured for that fight and that fight wasn’t going to happen anymore, I just told myself take the rest of the year off and enjoy your year.”
Thomson will return to action for the first time since December 2015 when he takes on former lightweight title challenger Patricky Freire in the Bellator 172 co-main event at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday night. The card is headlined by a showdown between Fedor Emelianenko and Matt Mitrione and airs on Spike beginning at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT.
While Thomson was enjoying life, Chandler was busy knocking out Freire to capture the vacant lightweight strap and defending the title in a contentious unanimous verdict against Benson Henderson. “The Punk” has been targeting Chandler since signing with Bellator, but he knows that if he doesn’t defeat Freire, that desired matchup may not come to fruition.
“This is a tough fight. He didn’t have a great performance his last fight but he did a lot of good things for however long that fight lasted with Chandler,” Thomson said. “I think in his mind it was all about stopping the takedown against Chandler. He went out there and he did that. The problem was he was more focused on the takedown and he got clipped on the way in. Hat’s off to Chandler for doing his thing.
“I can’t go out there and underestimate ‘Pitbull.’ He’s dangerous, he’s got heavy hands. He throws his punches in combination and he doesn’t mind taking them on the chin. It’s gonna be a tough fight.”
That said, Thomson doesn’t believe Chandler deserved to retain the lightweight belt after his battle with Henderson at Bellator 165. The former Strikeforce champ acknowledges that it was a close fight, which seems to happen quite often when Henderson is in the cage. Thomson would know: He lost a controversial split verdict against “Smooth” at UFC on Fox 10 in January 2014.
“I thought [Chandler] lost. I’m not saying [Henderson] got ripped off. I could see how it could have went either way, but I had Benson winning in rounds 2, 3 and 5,” Thomson said.
The 38-year-old Thomson has struggled with injuries throughout his career, but after a short camp preparing for Freire, he says he will enter Bellator 172 with a relatively clean bill of health. Thomson dismisses the notion the AKA fighters are more injury-prone than those from other top camps.
“It’s just bad luck. People want to make something out of it. A couple times guys have gotten hurt, they didn’t even get hurt at our gym,” Thomson said. “They got hurt back at home wherever they train at. People are gonna make more out of something that’s not there. It’s just another way for people to write stories.”