Stephen Thompson just needs one night to change minds, and his life
Stephen Thompson is on the verge of being a challenger for the UFC’s welterweight title. To push past that edge, he’ll have to beat former champion Johny Hendricks this Saturday in the main event of UFC Fight Night 82 in Las Vegas.
The former karate and kickboxing champion has only lost once in his MMA career. Still, he’s relatively new to the sport since transitioning from strictly striking sports.
As such, the areas where "Wonderboy" has always needed to improve the most are the grappling spheres – Brazilian jiu-jitsu and wrestling. Hendricks is one of the best wrestlers to ever compete in MMA, so it is an understatement to say that he’ll likely be the biggest challenge of Thompson’s career.
Even elite strikers can often freeze up a bit in an MMA fight when they face someone capable of taking them down and hurting them on the ground. So, as much as technical prowess, simple confidence that they can hang in the grappling department is paramount for a great striker like Thompson in facing such a fantastic grappler like Hendricks.
Speaking with FOX Sports and the Deep Waters podcast, Thompson said that he is indeed more confident than ever that he can let his strikes go, because of his improved grappling. "My wrestling and jiu-jitsu have improved tremendously, which is going to help my confidence out there for my stand-up," he said.
"I think I’ve improved as an all-around fighter."
Thompson has confidence, but not hubris. If he’s honest, he knows that many of his rivals in the top-10 of the welterweight division are simply more experienced and better than him at wrestling and jiu-jitsu.
"There’s a lot of guys in my division, I know they’re better than me," he admitted.
"I know their wrestling is better than mine, I know their jiu-jitsu is better. Maybe not their striking, but in those two aspects of the game, they might be better."
The thing about competition is that all that matters is what happens on game day. Thompson’s humility has driven him to do the hard work necessary to make leaping improvement.
Thompson may not be a good enough grappler to beat Hendricks every day of the year. The Karate Kid does believe, however, that he’s good enough to have a really good night on Saturday.
Hendricks can have every other day. Thompson just wants Saturday, and he knows he has what’s needed to take it.
"They might be better, but, I’m going to go out there, give it 110 percent and in my mind, I’m going to be better than them, that night," he explained.
"I train as hard as I can, with what I have good coaches, I have great sparring partners. To be honest with you, I’m blessed to be where I am and I’m going to keep trucking forward, my friend."