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Nice Guys Finish Last: Wonderboy’s Run of Luck

Former title challenger Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson still intends to make another run towards a UFC title.  However, at 39 years old, his chances continue to decrease.  Though he recently beat Kevin Holland in convincing fashion, Thompson’s weaknesses are apparent.  He has tough stylistic challenges against the grapplers at the top of the division.  Combined with his age, it is unlikely that he can overcome this obstacle in his quest for UFC gold.

Thompson has come incredibly close to winning the belt on multiple occasions.  He first challenged for the belt at UFC 205 against Tyron Woodley.  He fought Woodley to a draw in an epic contest.  Though Woodley dropped Thompson and had him in a deep guillotine, Thompson somehow survived and managed to win the final round.  The UFC decided to book a rematch between the two at UFC 209.  This fight underwhelmed many fans as both fighters fought cautiously and strategically.  Woodley ultimately dropped Thompson in the final seconds of the fight, and squeaked out a narrow, controversial decision victory.  

Though Thompson was still a dangerous prospect, he has been unable to earn another title shot since the Woodley rematch.  He put on a clinic against Jorge Masvidal at UFC 217 and scored a dominant victory.  However, he then lost yet another controversial decision to rising upstart Darren Till, who missed weight for the bout.  

Wonderboy next faced former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.  Despite being in control of the fight, Pettis caught Wonderboy with a superman punch in round 2.  The blow knocked Thompson out cold in shocking fashion, and further derailed his title aspirations.

Nevertheless, Thompson impressively bounced back against rising contender Vicente Luque at UFC 244.  The fight was another masterclass, as Wonderboy dropped Luque several times and won a lopsided decision.  Thompson continued the momentum in a five round fight against another contender in Geoff Neal.  Though Neal himself is a sharp striker, Thompson outclassed him for five rounds and looked to reestablish his momentum.

Unfortunately, Wonderboy then faced Gilbert Burns, another former title challenger.  Burns quickly snapped Thompson’s streak, controlling him on the ground for three rounds to win a dominant decision.  Thompson then fought Belal Muhammad, who essentially used the same gameplan to score his own victory over Wonderboy.  

 Thompson has undoubtedly worked on his takedown defense throughout his career.  However, he simply does not have the foundation to stop takedowns from the division’s elite.  Many of them have wrestled from an extremely young age and no amount of training can realistically bridge the gap.  It is unlikely that Wonderboy can overcome opponents such as Colby Covington, Kamaru Usman, or Khamzat Chimaev to get to the title.  All of them will be able to replicate the Burns fight.  They can threaten Thompson enough on the feet and transition into an easy takedown, where they will control Thompson for the remainder of the round.  Moreover, as Thompson continues to age, new contenders such as Shavkat Rakhmonov are only sharpening their wrestling skills.  Though he has been so close to touching UFC gold, it seems that Wonderboy’s window of opportunity has passed.

Stephen Thompson nevertheless remains a legendary fighter.  He has some of the most high level striking in the entire promotion.  His speed, accuracy, and footwork have left countless fighters confused, damaged, and sometimes unconscious.   He may never wear the belt, but he easily deserves a spot in the promotion’s Hall of Fame.

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