Anyone that’s followed mixed martial arts for any significant amount of time is well aware of the standard, pre-fight interview tropes.
I’ve had the best training camp of my life. I’ve never felt better. This is the best I’ve ever been.
Only after a fight is over do we really learn what was going on during a training camp, and then at that point most of the time fighters are branded as making excuses for a loss or a poor performance. It’s a vicious circle really.
Well, as FOX UFC Saturday in Chicago approaches, main event fighter Josh Thomson is tearing down those walls and being brutally honest about the training camp he’s about to wrap up in the next few days. He’s not going to feed you a line of clichés that could probably be pulled from any fighter’s interview, rewrapped and packaged as a quote of his own.
It’s been a long, just distracted kind of camp, it’s been really weird.
Instead he’s just laying out the facts about his training camp — it sucked.
"I’ve gotta say it’s probably been one of my worst camps I’ve ever had in my history of fighting. Just being honest," Thomson told FOX Sports ahead of his bout against Benson Henderson in Chicago. "It’s been a rough camp, been a long camp.
"I think what happened was four weeks with (Anthony) Pettis then I took a week off because the fight was canceled and then I got the call to fight Benson (Henderson) so I thought, don’t break the routine too much, jump back into camp and I think what happens when you have such a long camp it just starts dragging on and on and on. You’re just not feeling it anymore. You’re losing motivation, whatever the reason being. It’s been a long, just distracted kind of camp, it’s been really weird."
Thomson steamrolled Nate Diaz at UFC On FOX 7 last April.
Thomson was originally scheduled to fight in mid-December in a UFC lightweight title bout against champion Anthony Pettis. Unfortunately, Pettis suffered a knee injury that forced him to go into surgery and the fight had to be scrapped. Shortly thereafter, the UFC came calling with a new five-round fight to entice Thomson, which is his current bout on Jan 25 against former champion Benson Henderson.
Any fighter will say prior to competing that one of the biggest keys of a well-timed training camp is to peak at the correct time. Peaking, in the case of an MMA fighter, means pushing a training camp at optimum speed to allow a competitor to soak in maximum knowledge and technique while maintaining health so when the curtain goes up and they walk to the cage, there’s no doubt they will be performing at their absolute best.
In Thomson’s case, peaking for the fight with Henderson has been next to impossible because of the odd timeline he had to prepare for the Jan 25 showdown. He spent a month getting ready for Pettis — a fighter primarily known as a striker with range and dangerous kicks — before shifting to Henderson, who is a wrestler by trade with a stand up arsenal that’s far less flashy than his original opponent.
By the time his camp wraps up, Thomson will have spent nearly three and a half months in preparation, which is an exhaustingly long time for any single fight by all comparisons. It’s definitely taken its toll on his body and psyche.
"You really don’t want to over train so you try to dial it back, and then you dial back and then you’re like maybe I should pick it back up. As you pick it up you’re like man, maybe I dialed it back too much so you start doing more. Then you’re not sure if over trained or if you just didn’t train enough because your mind starts playing tricks on you. It’s been a long camp. It’s been a total of about 14 weeks all together even with that week off," Thomson explained.
Child’s play: Benson Henderson will be a much tougher face-off for Thomson in Chicago.
What didn’t help matters much either was for virtually the entire month of December, Thomson was running solo as he got ready for his fight against Henderson. The holidays are a notoriously tough time for any fighter to compete around, and even with Thomson’s camp at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose being one of the biggest and best gyms in the world, high-caliber sparring partners were at a minimum for weeks leading up to his bout.
"Any time you take a fight during the holidays you just have no one to train with," Thomson said. "Your gym becomes a ghost town. Basically from Thanksgiving to New Year’s there’s no one in the gym and we’ve got one of the biggest camps in the world. Our gym it was like a ghost town. For about two or three weeks there right before Christmas, my only grappling partner was Luke Rockhold so there’s just a difference."
If there is a positive spin to put on Thomson’s ordeal getting ready for the fight against Henderson it’s the fact that he’s gone through 26 fights during his career that’s spanned over 13 years inside the cage and ring. Experience won’t win every fight, but these are the times when Thomson is glad he can draw back upon other times in his career when things just didn’t go right for him, but he made it through.
There’s no excuses, I’m just telling you like it is.
For instance while going through the rigors of this training camp, Thomson harkened back to 2008 when he was preparing for a Strikeforce lightweight title fight against Gilbert Melendez. Thomson remembers it as an eerily similar situation when Murphy’s law bit him in a big way – everything that could go wrong, did go wrong in the lead up to the fight.
The end result was a far cry from the abysmal training camp he endured as Thomson soundly defeated Melendez in one of the defining moments of his career.
"I look back at my first fight with Gilbert (Melendez) and all this same stuff happened. I got staph (infection) for that fight, I got sick for that fight, I actually got a little banged up at the beginning of that camp. A bunch of little things happened for that camp and I still came out and fought probably the fight of my life," Thomson said.
Thomson will look to find this same kind of energy on Jan 25.
"So people will sit here and say ‘oh he’s already making excuses’ and that’s what they were saying before that fight. There’s no excuses, I’m just telling you like it is. The thing is sometimes it makes me rise to the occasion so that what I’m hoping happens. I can’t say it’s going to look pretty in this fight, but I’ve got to go out there and get the ‘W’ no matter what happens."
Having the perfect training camp doesn’t always lead to victory the same way that enduring an awful one doesn’t necessarily predicate defeat. The mental acuity Thomson uses to get past poor preparation leading up to his fight with Henderson is pretty basic because it’s another old adage that works well in any MMA circumstance.
Thomson doesn’t have to be better than Henderson every night — only on Jan 25.
"This is what I tell everybody — I don’t have to be better than Benson every single day of my camp, I’ve just got to be better than him on one night," Thomson stated. "So I’m not really concerned about everything that’s happened during this camp.