Three title fights headline the UFC's first card in New York (at Madison Square Garden) and only one challenger is the favorite—Stephen Thompson.
There is a good reason he's expected to dethrone welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in the co-main event at UFC 205, not the least of which is his seven-fight win streak. Here are five keys to victory for Thompson to win his first UFC title.
1. Mix up striking attacks
Thompson is a prolific striker who can attack on his feet in a variety of ways. His background in karate and as a kick boxer has helped him develop an arsenal of kicks that are hard to predict, coming from all angles.
By using all the kicks in his arsenal, mixing in the jab with his lead hand and switching stances he can prevent Woodley from settling in, getting comfortable and finding a rhythm to take advantage of and shoot for a takedown.
When strikers face talented wrestlers, and Woodley certainly falls into that category, they continuously move and circle to prevent a takedown. Thompson did as much in his victory over Johny Hendricks, a talented, former Division 1 wrestler.
By staying active and moving, Thompson can make it significantly harder for Woodley to land the takedown, which keeps the fight on the feet, a matchup that favors Thompson.
3. Maintain distance
Distance, like movement, is a key to preventing a grappler from landing a takedown. Fortunately for Thompson, maintaining distance is one of his strong suits. At 6'0″ he is already taller than Woodley, and tall for his division, but he fights even longer. Not only does the distance make it harder for Woodley to reach Thompson, but also it gives Thompson more time to react, whether it be strikes or defending the inevitable takedown attempts.
It also allows Thompson to utilize one of his best weapons, the counterpunch. Instead of attacking Woodley and putting himself in harms way, he can make Woodley try to close the distance, which makes Woodley vulnerable. Woodley will have to lunge at Thompson, making himself vulnerable.
4. Stop the takedown
It is inevitable that Thompson will find himself in a situation that requires him to defend the takedown, and he needs to do so successfully. Thompson has been training with Chris Weidman, a strong wrestler, and has improved. But has he improved enough?
Thompson thinks so, and his ability to maintain distance will help him avoid the takedown as much as possible. He needs to be able to sprawl and fight off the takedowns to stay on his feet. If Woodley does get the fight to the ground, Thompson needs to fight his way back to his feet instead of being content to grapple with Woodley.
5. Push the pace
Thompson can wear Woodley down and chip away at his cardio by trying to push the pace. Wrestlers are known for their cardio, and by peppering Woodley with strikes and attacking the body with kicks, Thompson can chip away at his opponent's endurance.
Being content to push the pace and pepper Woodley with strikes, not necessarily looking for the finish, creates a situation similar to point fighting in boxing. Not forcing or hunting for a finish, just out-striking his opponent and avoiding taking damage at the same time, could enable Thompson to win on the scorecards.