Posts Tagged ‘Welterweight’

The stars are aligning for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight contender Stephen Thompson.

With a recent five-round dissection of perennial title hunter Rory MacDonald back at UFC Fight Night 89, “Wonderboy” has now won seven in a row in a crowded 170-pound division. He has finished the likes of Johny Hendricks, Jake Ellenberger, and Robert Whittaker along the way.

As the consensus No. 1 contender moving into the second half of 2016, Thompson has set himself up to fight the winner of Robbie Lawler vs Tyron Woodley currently scheduled to go down at UFC 201 on July 30 from Atlanta, Georgia. But with one of the most unique skill sets in the game today, Thompson is more than confident in a potential tilt with current champion Lawler.

“I know I can knock Robbie Lawler out,” said Thompson in a recent interview with FOX Sports. “He’s going to move forward and he’s going to end up walking into something.”

While “Wonderboy” has looked spectacular in finishing the opponents he has, “Ruthless” hasn’t been stopped by strikes since Nick Diaz knocked him out cold at UFC 47. Since then, Lawler has become a human wrecking ball inside of the Octagon.

“I think I am the better striker,” added Thompson. “He’s the type of guy that stands in front of you, he’s very, very tough. I believe he’s slower than Rory MacDonald. I believe I’m faster than him. The speed is going to be tough for him, and I think the angles are going to be tough for him. But he’s a champion, he’s going to be coming with his ‘A’ game. I need to be ready for the best Robbie Lawler in the world.”

Thompson was nice enough to detail Lawler’s upcoming title defense opposite Woodley.

“Just from what I’ve seen in the past from both fighters, Robbie Lawler gets stronger as the fight goes on,” said Thompson. “He breaks a lot of guys mentally that way. When guys are starting to get tired, Robbie Lawler’s just picking it up. Tyron’s the opposite of that.”

Whoever is able to capture gold at UFC 201 next month, they better prepare for the most puzzling striker in mixed martial arts (MMA) since the arrival of Lyoto Machida.

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Few fighters have had as challenging a path to the top as Stephen Thompson.

Written off as a busted prospect following a decision loss to Matt Brown back in 2012, Thompson has since rebounded with seven consecutive victories over the cream of the division. Former top contender Rory MacDonald fell to Thompson in five rounds in Ottawa on June 18, and before that, Thompson melted former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks in just three minutes, 31 seconds.

For comparison, welterweight champion Robbie Lawler won three in a row to get his first shot at Hendricks. Hendricks won six in a row to get his crack at Georges St-Pierre, while the legendary former champion needed two, four and two wins to place himself in title fights.

By any metric, Thompson has done what’s necessary to secure a shot at the winner of the upcoming title fight between Lawler and Tyron Woodley, who will meet at UFC 201 on July 30.

Given the ease with which Thompson has dealt with his last seven opponents, will Lawler or Woodley simply be keeping the belt warm for the South Carolinian karate king?

Whether it’s Woodley or Lawler who emerges victorious from UFC 201, the winner will have a tough fight on his hands with Thompson. The formerly one-dimensional karateka has transformed himself into one of the most dangerous all-around strikers in the UFC, and he has added the wrestling, clinch and grappling skills to stay out of danger even outside his areas of expertise.

Since his loss to Brown, Thompson has beaten former NCAA wrestling champions like Hendricks, all-terrain masters like MacDonald, power-punchers, slick-strikers and durable veterans. While Woodley‘s combination of blazing speed, big power and wrestling acumen—he was a two-time All-American at the University of Missouri—wouldn’t be a walk in the park for Thompson, he has beaten fighters of that stripe before.

Lawler presents an entirely different puzzle, though not one Thompson is incapable of solving. In fact, Thompson matches up better with the welterweight champion than practically any fighter currently in the top 10.

By nature, Lawler remains a power-puncher. His game has improved by technical leaps and bounds during his second run in the UFC, adding a crisp jab, a master’s understanding of setting a rhythm and then breaking it and the instincts to exchange in the pocket with real skill.

At heart, however, Lawler is always trying to knock his opponent’s block off. He’s willing to give away rounds while patiently waiting to place a dynamite shot on the chin, as he did against Carlos Condit in January and MacDonald before that last July.

This is, after all, a man who seems to genuinely believe that his punches can steal an opponent’s soul.

The evidence demonstrates that Lawler isn’t wrong in that belief. He shattered MacDonald’s nose, dented Condit‘s adamantium chin and broke Jake Ellenberger for good. That’s just in his current UFC run; his list of victims runs much, much, much longer in the context of his career.

Lawler could separate Thompson from consciousness. He makes the most of his opportunities—he exploded in ultra-violent bursts against Condit, which won him the fight even as Condit landed with regularity throughout—and rarely struggles to pull the trigger. 

What makes Thompson so good is how few opportunities he gives his opponent. It’s not that Thompson is unhittable, but that it’s difficult to get into position to land the kind of clean, fight-ending shots on which Lawler relies.

Thompson is a pure outside fighter who uses his long kicks, footwork and movement through the cage to create a long distance between himself and his opponent. The karate master then plays with that space, either leaping in with combinations or more usually forcing his opponent to lead and responding with devastating counterpunches.

He’s not a defensive maestro; he moves his head and fights hands, but nobody will confuse him with Floyd Mayweather, Muhammad Ali, Jose Aldo or Anderson Silva. Thompson’s genius instead lies in his feet, and his ability to be a few inches too far away or to step to the side to avoid an onrushing opponent.

This means, in the parlance of the fight game, that Thompson is rarely “there to be hit.” When trapped in front of his opponent, Thompson eats shots with regularity. Per FightMetric, his career striking defense is 58 percent, a shade below MacDonald‘s and Lawler‘s 62 percent and well below a real master like Aldo at 72 percent.

The problem for Thompson’s opponents is the difficulty of putting him in that position. MacDonald landed an excellent percentage of his shots when he could get into range, for example, but only succeeded in hitting Thompson 61 times over the course of the fight. 

Thompson has always been good at keeping his back off the fence and staying in open space, where he has the distance to play his preferred game.

He’s getting better at it now, though, and boasts some of the best ringcraft—the combination of footwork, movement and spatial awareness necessary to control the space of the ring or cage—in the history of the sport.

The karate master is a devastating offensive striker and excels at keeping himself at the distance he wants to both land his shots and avoid his opponent’s. Opportunities to land fight-changing shots on him come but rarely, and in the meantime, he scores enough to win rounds with kicks and punches even if he can’t find the finish himself.

Lawler is one of the best in MMA at pulling the trigger when given an opportunity, making the most of his chances with ultra-violent flurries that play off his crushing, once-in-a-lifetime power.

That dynamic is what makes a matchup between Lawler and Thompson so compelling: a fighter who excels at limiting his opponent’s opportunities and keeping them at bay against one who exploits every opening like a man possessed. Thompson would win rounds, but the threat of Lawler‘s ability to snatch his opponent’s soul with a single strike would always be present.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with a Woodley-Thompson meeting for the belt should Lawler‘s improbable title reign end at UFC 201.

Lawler-Thompson, however, is a potential matchup for the ages.

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Donald Cerrone picked up his second straight win in the Welterweight division by knocking out Patrick Cote in the third round of their co-main event fight at UFC Fight Night 89 — which went down last night (Sat., June 18, 2016) in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

See it again here.

Now that he’s proven he can knock heads at Lightweight and at 170 pounds, “Cowboy” has a bevy of options moving forward. But in what division will he fight next?

According to his comments during the post-fight presser, it all depends on which division has the next available opponent.

“I don’t know. 155 or 170, either way. Whatever the fastest trip to the next fight is, whether it’s 155 or 170, that’s the route I’m going. I felt good. I probably was literally 176, 177 walking into this fight tonight. I felt good, but I’m not disregarding 155 at all, either way”

Prior to moving up a weight class in February of this year, Cerrone had competed at 155 pounds his entire mixed martial arts (MMA) career.

But after having his eight-fight win streak snapped by lightweight king Rafael dos Anjos, Cerrone decided it was a change of scenery. And it’s been a fruitful decision, as “Cowboy” has proven he can bang it out with the bigger boys, too.

Who would you like to see Cerrone face off against next?

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OTTAWAChris Weidman, one of Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson’s main training partners, joked that the last place he’d ever want to be is standing across the Octagon from Thompson in an actual fight.“Across the Octagon from Wonderboy? You scared me,” Weidman said. “(When I fight Wonderboy) it’s just training.”The former middleweight champion obviously doesn’t fear any fighter, but Thompson presents a perplexing puzzle for any fighter in the welterweight division to try and solve. Just ask Johny Hendricks – the form … Read the Full Article Here

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