For Stephen Thompson, the UFC welterweight title has been a sad case of being so close and yet so far. His two previous cracks at bagging the belt went to the judges. On both occasions, he failed to take the title from Tyron Woodley. After suffering back-to-back losses against Darren Till and Anthony Pettis, many were starting to write off ‘Wonderboy’ as being past his prime.
Fortunately, the NMF champ has turned things around, picking up hard fought decision victories over Vicente Luque and, most recently, Geoff Neal. At UFC 264, Thompson will take on BJJ wizard Gilbert Burns. Burns is coming off a loss to current welterweight kingpin Kamaru Usman.
Thompson vs Usman is a dream fight, one we’ve never caught so much as a glimpse of. ‘Wonderboy’ has made his intention to challenge ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ loud and clear. Having run through most of the division like a wire through cheese, Usman is lacking Thompson’s scalp in his trophy cabinet.
For the fight to happen, Thompson will need to defeat Burns this weekend. If he does, it’ll be hard to argue he’s not more deserving of a shot than Colby Covington is. Covington has already tasted defeat at the hands of Usman and many have been left scratching their heads at the decision to give him another shot so soon.
Should the stars align, Kamaru Usman might find himself on the tail end of a major upset against Stephen Thompson.
Here are three reasons why:
#3. Thompson’s diverse fighting style
While he’s best known for his karate-based offense and stance, Stephen Thompson is also a black belt in Kempo, kickboxing and Jujutsu as well as a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. One of the most versatile and seasoned strikers in the UFC, Thompson can change it up in the blink of an eye. On the feet, Thompson is more than a match for ‘The Nigerian Nightmare,’ even with Usman’s constantly improving knockout power and ferocity.
As an accomplished collegiate and freestyle wrestler, Usman would of course have the advantage on the ground. That being said, Thompson’s wide stance makes it difficult to go for takedowns without risking a front kick to the face. Furthermore, Thompson is experienced enough in the mat work of BJJ to remain mobile and guarded on the ground should it come to it. Thompson’s grappling know-how was enough to get him through five rounds with renowned wrestler Tyron Woodley twice.
#2. Usman isn’t hugely experienced against karate-focused fighters
During his reign as UFC welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman is yet to face a truly karate-oriented opponent. So far, Usman has bested two wrestlers, Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington, and a BJJ maestro in Gilbert Burns. The closest to a karate master that Usman has encountered at this point is Jorge Masvidal.
In their first fight at UFC 251, an on short notice Masvidal managed to go the distance with Usman. While their UFC 261 rematch displayed Usman’s knockout power, a hint of a potential chink in the armor has been revealed.
If Usman takes on a lifelong practitioner like Thompson, he may be in for a rude awakening. ‘Wonderboy’ has a mastery of the kicks and explosive strikes of karate that more than rivals the likes of Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz. On top of that, he has the cardiovascular conditioning to keep the pressure on all the way into round five. His durability was on full display in his recent unanimous decision victories over Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal.
If Usman were to fail to land a knockout on Thompson early on, he could be in for a world of trouble in the later rounds. Especially considering a certain aspect of Karate (and MMA as a whole) that Thompson is possibly the best at…
#1. Thompson is an exceptional counter striker
At 75 inches, Stephen Thompson boasts a distinct reach advantage over many of his fellow welterweights. With his wide, side-on stance and mastery of jab kicks, one might assume Thompson is all offense. Instead, he often chooses to keep his hands low, luring over-eager strikers into his circle of danger in the hopes they might clip his chin.
Given Usman’s recent penchant for punching his foes into oblivion, he could be in serious danger of falling right into Thompson’s hands. If Usman were to overstep when going in for the kill, Thompson’s exceptional footwork would allow him to pivot and lay in with his own jab. Exposed mid-punch, it could be lights out for ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ if he’s not super careful.
Additionally, Thompson’s gift for counter-striking plays perfectly into his devastating kicks, including his patented front jab. Well prepared for all manner of striking, Stephen Thompson’s counter abilities could be his ticket to UFC gold before all is said and done.
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