mma / Columns

Wonderboy Thompson’s Unenviable Position

May 21, 2018 | Posted by Dan Plunkett

The Wonderboy Thompson Position is a most uncomfortable predicament for an elite fighter.

Imagine having a strong believe that you are the best fighter in your division, and in your mind, you have already proven this twice against the titleholder. But in the minds of three people both times, you came short by the narrowest of narrow margins.

The smallest of changes could have forever altered your path. What is one or two different judges had been called upon? What if the same judges were seated elsewhere and saw the fight at a different angle?

Now there’s little chance your name will be called upon to fight that titleholder again, so you can keep plugging away and hope someone else beats him, or you can change weight classes, which presents another dilemma. Would you starve yourself to make the weight a class down, or hope your speed compensates for your size disadvantage a weight class up?

This is the position of Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, who could be the reigning UFC welterweight champion, except he’s not. In November 2016, Woodley drew with champion Tyron Woodley. The majority of the scoring media agreed with that judging assessment. The next time out, Woodley narrowly edged Thompson, taking him a majority decision and the belt. The narrowness of the bout is easy to see from the reported media scores. Eight members scored it a draw, six had it for Thompson, and five gave it to Woodley.

Take two other championship caliber fighters and place them in a similar scenario and they would be likely to meet for a third time. But Woodley and Thompson were not aesthetically pleasing dance partners: their 2017 rematch stood out as UFC’s worst pay-per-view main event fight of the year. Thompson’s only realistic hope of strapping the UFC welterweight title around his waist hinges upon Woodley losing the belt. For Thompson, who is 35 and could fall out of his prime at any time, that’s better happening sooner rather than later.

Thompson is in effect the intercontinental welterweight champion. He occupies a space barely below Woodley—a space nearly as difficult to defend as Woodley’s but is not nearly as lucrative and bringing far less glory. While waiting for Woodley to fall, Thompson will busy himself with rising contenders looking to take his spot, since for anyone else in the division, Thompson’s spot means a title shot.

Last November, Jorge Masvidal was the rising contender looking to take Thompson’s spot. Masvidal had barely lost his previous fight to eventual title challenger Demian Maia, and prior to that he mugged Donald Cerrone. Thompson had little issue sending Masvidal back, clearly winning all three rounds.

This Sunday, Thomson returns for another defense. His opponent, Darren Till, is a hungry, confident 25-year-old with boasting an unbeaten 16-0-1 record. Last October, Till scored the biggest win of his career by taking out Donald Cerrone in the first round. By fighting Thompson, he’s turned his attention to the hunting the biggest game in the division.

Till will enjoy the home crowd advantage—they headline UFC’s debut event in Till’s hometown of Liverpool—and momentum is certainly in his favor. Although Thompson is easily the biggest challenge of Till’s career, the betting odds are strikingly close, with Till being a slight underdog. Momentum and a hometown crowd are hardly non-factors, but Till will need much more than that to close the gap between him and Thompson.

The Woodley fights help define Thompson’s current status, but they do not define his success. With the exception of those two fights, Thompson has been largely dominant. Four years ago, he handed current middleweight champion Robert Whittaker has last loss in a first round stoppage. Two years ago, he hastened the downfall of Johny Hendricks by dismantling the former welterweight champion inside the first round. Then, Thompson soundly beat perennial top welterweight Rory MacDonald in a performance that sealed his title shot.

In the time since that MacDonald fight two years ago, MacDonald has won both of his Bellator bouts, leaving some to consider the world’s top spot at welterweight a race between him and Woodley. In reality, there is Woodley, then Thompson, and then everyone else until someone can prove otherwise.

A victory over Thompson should mean an immediate title shot for Till, but that seems to be an unlikely outcome as the next shot will go to the winner of next month’s inexplicable interim welterweight title fight between Rafael dos Anjos and Colby Covington. The winner of that bout, barring unforeseen circumstances, would be a step ahead of Till on the road to Woodley.

All Thompson can do is beat Till, the rest is out of his hands. Tyron Woodley could lose his next fight and open the door for a Thompson title challenge. Or Woodley’s reign could continue for years, in time either pushing Thompson so far out of his prime that he drops out of the title picture or pushing a fed-up Thompson out of the division. This is the unenviable Wonderboy Thompson Position.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.

article topics :

Stephen Thompson, Dan Plunkett