The phrase commonly uttered by UFC president Dana White is so ingrained in his fighter’s minds that the words are actually etched above the door that leads to the gym where The Ultimate Fighter is filmed each and every year. Before every fight card, White steps into the back and has a private ‘fighter meeting’ where he lays out a motivational speech offering up bonuses to the biggest and brightest stars of the night, and almost inevitably at some point he drops that phrase on the 20-plus athletes gathered around in a semicircle listening to the boss talk shop.
Just saying those words doesn’t make it any easier to actually finish an opponent, especially when reaching the upper echelon of the sport. Sometimes judges have to get involved, but when they seemingly made bad calls at each and every fight card, it leaves doubt in the minds of the fighters and like a snowball, witch each bad decision doled out the momentum soon builds to an avalanche.
Until just recently, you couldn’t count UFC lightweight Josh Thomson as a fighter who really had much of a problem with the judging in MMA. Even though he made quite a bit of noise after losing to Gilbert Melendez in 2012 by split decision, Thomson understood the nature of how close fights work sometimes. But his eyes were opened wide after he lost a controversial decision to former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson earlier this year.
The bad taste left in his mouth from that fight nearly forced Thomson into retirement out of frustration that a win was taken away from him, not to mention the title shot that was likely going to be handed over with a victory.
"It does now and it never had before," Thomson told FOX Sports about bad judges’ decisions. "The Gil fight, yeah I felt like I won that fight, I felt like I definitely thought I did enough to win. I was upset that I lost, it was a split decision especially going into the UFC, I wanted the opportunity to fight for the title. Well I got that anyway, I knocked out Nate Diaz, I was supposed to fight Pettis, but that didn’t work out. The Benson (Henderson) fight, that’s the one that was really upsetting because I went back and watched the fight and I felt like I won four of the five rounds.
You start getting in the 185’s, 205, heavyweight, they start being one-dimensional, two-dimensional fighters. They’re not mixed martial artists. They’re not as good as the 55-pounders and below. They’re just not. To me that’s just a fact
— Josh Thomson
"I’d give myself three to two, but I felt like the judges could have given it four to one. I really don’t know. It does make me nervous now, the judges make me nervous now."
So the easy solution is to tell Thomson to stop worry about decisions and go out and finish his opponents, right?
Well as the former Strikeforce lightweight champion explains, finishes come at a premium in the lightweight division. The fighters in the 155-pound weight class are routinely considered some of the best pound-for-pound athletes in the sport, and the division has been one of the deepest in the sport.
Thomson goes a step further when discussing the lightweights because he believes when you get down to the fighters at 155-pounds and below, the skill level goes up a notch or two above everyone else in the world. Heavyweights have one punch knockout power, but maybe not the stamina that the lightweights do. Light heavyweights are a step away from that distinction, but again not on the same level as the 155-pound fighters, and Thomson would also group middleweights into that same discussion.
It’s not until you get down to welterweight and below where you find the real mixed martial artists in this sport according to Thomson.
"This is what I say — when you go up in weight, you should be saying it to those guys. Because those guys all have weaknesses. You hit 185, 205, and heavyweight, those guys are always just good at like one thing, two things, but they’re not great all the way around. There’s ways to finish them. So if you’re a well-rounded athlete, you can finish those guys. You can find ways to finish those guys," Thomson explained.
"With 55-pounders and below, good luck, man. Everybody’s good all around — they’re good wrestlers, they’re good jiu-jitsu guys, they’re good standup guys, they’re game to throw down and they’re always in shape. 170 is kind of like the limbo — like there’s some well-rounded guys in there. GSP was the champion so long because he was the most well-rounded and usually in the best shape. But that’s kind of like the whole new guy — that’s why Rory MacDonald does well. He’s in shape, he’s got pretty good jiu-jitsu, he’s hard to take down but he’s got good standup. He’s well-rounded with good shape. Those are the guys that are hard to beat."
Thomson looks at the bigger weight classes as the less evolved when it comes to the best fighters in the sport. He’s not saying they aren’t talented — he’s just saying they aren’t as talented as the fighters competing at 155-pounds and below.
"You start getting in the 185’s, 205, heavyweight, they start being one-dimensional, two-dimensional fighters. They’re not mixed martial artists. They’re not as good as the 55-pounders and below," Thomson said. "They’re just not. To me that’s just a fact."
So think twice before you tell Thomson ‘don’t leave it in the hands of the judges’ because in a perfect world he would never depend on three onlookers to determine who wins and who loses in his fights. But it’s not as simple as saying ‘go out and finish your opponent’ because the lightweight division is as good as it gets, and there’s never going to be an easy way out of any fight.
Especially not by thinking or believing that a phrase like ‘don’t leave it in the hands of the judges’ is really going to make that much of a difference come fight night.
"So you want to tell me ‘don’t leave it in the judges’ hands’ but where am I supposed to take this fight where this guy isn’t good? He’s good at stopping submissions, he’s good at wrestling, he’s good as standup and he’s generally in great shape. Tell me how when we start talking 55 and below, these guy are phenomenal athletes and they’re almost impossible to finish. People knock us for it, but guess what? Our weight classes are so much harder than the guys that are above us," Thomson said.
"Finishes like that are few and far between and you’ve got to be happy when you get them."