Stephen Thompson warned anyone who would listen this fight week that he would beat Johny Hendricks because the former welterweight champion had never faced anyone like him.
Then he made good on his promise. First he stood up after Hendricks landed a takedown, then he made Hendricks work, using his elite movement to not be there when Hendricks tried to charge forward.
After he moved, Thompson returned fire cerebrally and effectively, eventually overwhelming Hendricks and knocking him out cold.
More from Fight Night Las Vegas: Full results | Post-fight bonuses | Thompson pounces on Hendricks for victory | Nelson, Saint Preux and Benavidez wins take time | Gall gets job done to set up CM Punk clash | Burkman, Lewis among prelim winners | Backstage interviews: Stephen Thompson, CM Punk, Ovince Saint Preux, Joseph Benavidez, Misha Cirkunov, Diego Rivas | Octagon interviews: Stephen Thompson and Johny Hendricks, Mickey Gall | Watch: Post-fight press conference highlights
“The kicks were a little bit of a problem,” Hendricks admitted at the post fight press conference. “In training camp whenever I closed the distance on them they’d always fire back. He didn’t fire back. He would continue to move.”
Wonderboy walked into the Octagon at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, but out walked Wonderman – a new superstar hungry for gold.
Here are the Fight Night Las Vegas Talking Points:
1. Wonderboy – A Star Is Born
It wasn’t that Thompson beat Hendricks, it’s the way he did it. Nobody had ever finished “Bigg Rigg” in his 20 pro fights, and maybe even more impressive is that Thompson demolished him.
Right off the bat, Hendricks took Thompson down and hit him in the face a couple times. But Wonderboy was unfazed, getting back to his feet and back into his world.
“He just caught me up against the cage and once I was able to get out I felt at home,” Thompson said. “I felt comfortable. I knew if I could stuff that takedown and get back to the center I could put him away. That’s exactly what we worked on and that’s exactly what we did.”
The ensuing display was mesmerizing, as Thompson used perfect spatial adjustments to keep Hendricks off balance so he could land his impressive strikes. The kicks were there, like always, but it was the stiff straight left hands and the crisp, blistering combos that had Hendricks completely out of his realm.
Afterwards, Thompson made his case for a title shot. He knocked off a former champ and thinks that type of performance earned him the next shot.
We’ll see what happens, but Thompson vs. Robbie Lawler down the road? Sounds good.
“Defeating Johny Hendricks, he’s a top-ranked guy – former welterweight champion – and I’m asking for the title,” Thompson said. “I know there’s a lot of guys in line but I think after that performance I deserve it.
2. CM Punk relieved to finally get opponent
CM Punk spoke to UFC correspondent Megan Olivi backstage after Mickey Gall beat Mike Jackson to earn a date with the former WWE superstar.
It’s been 14 months since Punk announced he was going to try MMA, and now it’s just a relief to finally have an opponent.
“I feel (like it’s) Christmas in February,” Punk told Olivi. “I feel pretty stoked. Good for Mickey Gall; he seems like a really nice kid. I know that seems weird to say because we’re gonna punch each other in the face. But I asked him if he’s having fun, and he said he’s having a blast. And I think that’s the most important thing.”
After watching Gall’s first fight, Punk said even a second look at the youngster didn’t provide much Intel because he hasn’t had a ton of Octagon time. Punk said both fighters will probably have the same game plan going into their matchup.
“We’re both a mystery,” Punk said. “I don’t think he’s going to be training for me, necessarily; I just think he’s going to be working on what he does. And I’m going to do the same thing.”
Now the hard work begins for the 37-year-old Punk, who has been training at Roufusport and well-known head coach Duke Roufus.
“Everything changes, everything gets dialed in and my focus changes,” Punk said. “I still get excited to go to the gym everyday, but I just think it’s going to be a new level now.”
3. Mickey Gall punches CM Punk ticket
Mickey Gall put a lot of pressure on his back when he called out CM Punk on "Dana White: Lookin’ for a Fight.”
All week in the lead up to his fight against Mike Jackson on UFC FIGHT PASS, the 1-0 Gall was emphatic about being oblivious to the bright lights. He said he believes in his skills as a fighter and in Vegas against Jackson, Gall proved it.
“The whole time I’ve been having a lot of fun, even the media side of things,” Gall said. “I’ve been getting a lot more love than hate with it being my debut in the UFC. I know I’m ready for CM Punk.”
Punk was Octagon-side to take in Gall’s 45-second submission win, and then the former WWE superstar stepped inside to talk to Gall and pose for a picture ahead of their now official future bout.
“It was really cool to get a chance to talk to him, but now I’m ready to get back to training,” Gall said. “I love to be in the gym, it’s not really a grind for me, so I’m ready to get back to it.”
4. Joseph Benavidez returns to form – sort of
It’s hard to say that any fighter on a four-fight win streak and a winner of seven of eight needed an improvement, but Joseph Benavidez said it himself: he hasn’t felt like himself.
So Benavidez travelled from his home in Sacramento and Team Alpha Male to Albuquerque, New Mexico and then to Denver, Colorado to shake things up and try and get the most out of himself after a few lackluster performances in his own eyes.
“It’s kind of crazy to be like, ‘Guy’s on a four-fight win streak, what do you not feel good doing?’ I just knew,” Benavidez said. “I was better than the guys I was fighting, but I wasn’t better than the best Joe Benavidez. I wasn’t as good as I could be. I think you saw some improvements tonight.”
Benavidez looked quick on his feet and his striking looked the best it’s looked in years. He credits former coach Duane “Bang” Ludwig for the re-focused attention to his game.
As far as the future, Benavidez said he is going to continue working with Ludwig and other training partners to continue to try and improve.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it, I feel better,” Benavidez said. “That’s why I took the step in this camp. Working with Duane on the standup and everything, and I’ve always felt great with Duane. I’m going to always do as a fighter what I feel best doing, and that’s that moving forward.
“Those guys (at Team Alpha Male) are always family and they’ll always support me no matter what I do, whether I train over there for a little bit or whatever. But I feel better training (in Colorado). Especially at this point of my career, just evolving and mixing things up and getting out of my comfort zone (is important).”
Matt Parrino is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MattParrinoUFC