Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson’s fanciful footwork and enigmatic fighting style has him favorited heading into a title fight against welterweight champion Tyron Woodley on Saturday at UFC 205. There is only one way Woodley can bridge the technical gap and ensure the golden strap remains around his waist: He must make it an ugly fight.
The MMA world nearly imploded when Woodley uncorked a right hand imbued with the power of Zeus on Robbie Lawler to win the UFC title in July. Like former champion Johny Hendricks, Woodley makes up for his technical striking deficiencies with world-class wrestling and the punching power to take a man’s head clean off his shoulders.
Lawler, a crafty veteran of the sport, made a slight misstep of circling towards the power hand, and it was all over two minutes into the first round.
There were many different layers to the surprising upset that shook the UFC welterweight division. Woodley wasn’t believed to be particularly deserving of a title shot coming off over a year of inactivity and two straight wins over Kelvin Gastelum and Dong Hyun Kim. There was also the shock factor from the actual fight itself. Lawler seemed locked in for an extensive title run after wins over Hendricks, Rory MacDonald and Carlos Condit.
There are still numerous critics with valid arguments leading into Woodley’s fight with Thompson. The fight with Lawler didn’t last five rounds, and Woodley has shown a tendency to slow down late in fights. Lawler simply got caught and wasn’t beaten technically. Thompson has defeated a higher quality of competition, and he is the most versatile striker Woodley has ever faced in his MMA career.
“When [Woodley] goes out there and he has trouble hitting me, that’s when it’s really going to surface. Right now, I’m under his skin. He doesn’t know what to expect whenever I get out there. He’s looking at my last fight, he’s looking at all my fights and you’re still not going to know what’s coming,” Thompson told FOX Sports.
“That frustrates a lot of people and you do things that you don’t normally do and that’s when I’ve got you. When I frustrate you, then that’s when I’ve got you.”
The common belief is that Thompson will utilize his footwork to stay on the outside and pound away on Woodley’s carcass like a slab of meat hanging up in a butcher’s freezer. He has done it to some of the best welterweights in the world.
But Woodley’s explosiveness and one-punch knockout power gives him a real opportunity to poo-poo on Thompson’s title hopes. “Wonderboy’s” chin isn’t Woodley-proof.
Although it was only his second fight in the UFC, Thompson’s chin got cracked in his decision loss to Matt Brown. Woodley should take notes from that performance when formulating a game plan for the fight. He has to crowd Thompson’s space, cut off the cage and make him feel the heat from the standup exchanges. Dirty boxing and wrestling played a big role in Brown’s victory.
The outcome of this fight will weigh heavily on Woodley’s legacy as a UFC champion.
A win would prove his placement atop the welterweight division. It would prove that his win over Lawler was more than simply being in the right place at the right time. It would also prove that he isn’t a one-hit wonder.
“Stephen Thompson will be knocked out stiff at UFC 205. I will have the most memorable performance on the card,” Woodley told BJPenn.com.
One punch is all that is needed to change the narrative.