Stephen Thompson was only in his seventh pro fight when he lost to current No. 6-ranked welterweight Matt Brown.
An innovative striker and a former kickboxing world champion, “Wonderboy” landed his shots in that fight, but he couldn’t keep Brown from closing the distance and putting him on his back.
More on Fight Night Las Vegas: Reasons to watch Fight Night Vegas | Full fight card | Watch UFC Countdown: Hendricks vs. Thompson | The Match Up - Nelson vs. Rosholt | Open Workouts Recap | Top 5 Media Day moments | Hendricks - A new man | Wonderboy's Rise | Inside 'Wonderboy' Stephen Thompson's world | Hendricks still motivated | Fight Night Vegas Fantasy Preview | UFC Rankings Report | See the fights live in Las Vegas
The end result was Thompson’s first and only defeat in MMA.
“After my fight with Matt Brown I learned a lot about my weight cut. I knew what I had to go back and work on, which was my wrestling, my takedown defense, and my jiu-jitsu,” Thompson said. “And I’ve been working on it religiously ever since. I think I’ve improved and I’m ready to move up.”
That belief motivated Thompson to ask for No. 2-ranked Johny Hendricks at Fight Night Las Vegas tonight on FS1. “Bigg Rigg” is a former UFC welterweight champion and a four-time All American wrestler at Oklahoma State University.
Hendricks is just about the toughest challenge Thompson could find in a division of absolute studs. But Wonderboy needs Hendricks to prove to the UFC that he’s ready for the next level.
“My goal is to get the title,” Thompson said. “I want that title around my waist, I mean who doesn’t? I wanted the UFC to know that I’m ready for that next step – that next level of competition. So we asked for Johny Hendricks.”
Thompson asked for Hendricks and it’ll be the most prepared Hendricks that has stepped inside the Octagon in years.
After failing to even attempt to make weight in his last scheduled bout against Tyron Woodley at UFC 192 because of an intestinal blockage during the cut, Hendricks came in this week basically on weight.
Early in his career, Hendricks was known for his big left hand and he’s reminded the world about his world class wrestling during his recent run at the top of the division.
Hendricks said he hasn’t faced anybody that kicks like Thompson, but he’ll be ready.
“I know what he wants to do because I’ve watched footage on him. Whenever he does best is against guys that stay in front of him at his distance (so) he can throw kicks,” Hendricks said. “I either have to play inside that range, which I’m perfectly fine with doing, or I play outside that range. And I can close the distance inside and out easily.”
More on UFC FIGHT PASS prelims: UFC Minute: Mickey Gall, Mike Jackson talk fight | CM Punk talks about Gall | Gall vs. Jackson preview on UFC FIGHT PASS | Read: Gall ready for bright lights, Jackson and Punk | Jackson prepping to seize opportunity | Artem Lobov looking to bounce back | Lobov expecting a KO | Join UFC FIGHT PASS
Thompson says it’s a whole different style of fighting that Hendricks will face against Wonderboy.
“He’s faced some very good strikers, but not with my movement. My karate background, the way I move, my distance management that I implement in my fights is very hard to deal with and it’s frustrating. Once I got you frustrated, I got you.”
With the weight issues behind him, Hendricks said that this week in Las Vegas has been a breeze.
“I still feel good,” Hendricks said. “I’m still feeling good. I’m still feeling strong and doing five rounds – rolling or hitting mitts, whatever it might be. It’s just like a training camp but into the fight week. Now I get to train all the way up to (Thursday) and then let my body recover.”
A healthy and confident Hendricks will be everything Thompson asked for – and he’s ready to prove he belongs.
“I think it’s my time. I’ve come a long way from when I first started,” Thompson said. “This is the time to shine.”