Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is never going to be confused with Conor McGregor when it comes to outrageous pre-fight promotion.
Coming from a traditional martial arts background, Thompson was raised on respect and he's rarely had a bad word to say about anybody while climbing up the UFC welterweight ranks over the last few years.
Ahead of his fight with Tyron Woodley at UFC 205, Thompson has somehow found himself mired in a bit of a war of words with his opponent and it all started when the karate prodigy was waiting to find out whether or not he was going to get a shot at the title.
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His public call outs and interviews seemed to get under Woodley's skin and after their fight was finally made official, the champion said he no longer respected Thompson as a man. For his part, Thompson isn't sure what he said that got under Woodley's skin so much, but he's definitely not upset about it.
“It makes me smile,” Thompson told FOX Sports when responding to Woodley's statement. “I don't know what I have done to make him not respect me as a man. I think it is the fact that he thinks I knew about the fight earlier on, which is not true. The only time I knew we were fighting is when he announced it on FOX Sports 1, but it doesn't bother me one bit.
“I've been fighting since I was 15 years old and I've had all kinds of things happen to me. People calling me “Wonder Woman” and “Wonder Bra” “Wonder Bread”. It does make me chuckle some and it does mean that I'm getting under his skin a little bit. Sometimes that can give you an advantage.”
After that altercation, Thompson then came face to face with Woodley for the first time in New York City when the UFC held a press conference to officially announced the event. The two fighters were cordial enough with each other, but Woodley got a harsh reaction from the New York crowd, who booed him mercilessly whenever he touched a microphone.
Woodley even reacted at one point, confused why the fans had seemingly turned on him, but Thompson just sat back and loved every minute of it.
The way Thompson sees it, Woodley was showing a crack in his armor already when he let the crowd get to him. It told the top ranked welterweight contender that if Woodley is struggling with being jeered, imagine what might happen when the fight doesn't go his way.
“This guy's breaking already and the fight hasn't even started yet,” Thompson said. “I could tell when we went out and stood in front of each other and he's looking at the crowd, I could tell. Going back and watching that, he's thinking a little bit too much into this and we'll see how it affects him in the fight.”
Of course, Thompson isn't betting on Woodley falling apart because the fans in New York might turn him into the villain on Saturday night, but when he deals with that potentially venomous reaction combined with adversity in the fight, it could all come crashing down around the welterweight champion.
“When he goes out there and he has trouble hitting me, that's when it's really going to surface. Right now, I'm under his skin. He doesn't know what to expect whenever I get out there. He's looking at my last fight, he's looking at all my fights and you're still not going to know what's coming,” Thompson said.
“That frustrates a lot of people and you do things that you don't normally do and that's when I've got you. When I frustrate you, then that's when I've got you.”
As much confidence as Thompson exudes, he's not even close to crossing that dangerous line into cocky. Thompson never allows himself to underestimate an opponent no matter what ranking or title sits next to their name.
Thompson is arguably the most dangerous striker in the welterweight division, but he's also well aware that Woodley possesses dynamite in both hands. Thompson has vastly improved his takedown defense over the years, but Woodley is also a former Division I wrestler from Missouri.
So when Thompson talks about predictions or how this fight will play out, he's not brash enough to suggest that this will be a one-sided beat down or that he's going to finish Woodley in a chosen round. Instead, Thompson prepares for the worst so that at the end of the night he's at his best.
And if Thompson is at his best, he knows he's going to leave New York with the UFC welterweight title wrapped around his waist.
“Mentally, I prepared for a five, five-minute round fight. That's just me mentally and that's how I go in looking at it just so I know I'm prepared for it. If the knockout happens, it happens. I know I can definitely touch him and put him out. He does throw an explosive right hand and some left hooks and some very powerful leg kicks so making him miss and countering off that is part of my game plan as well. He doesn’t know where all of my kicks are coming from,” Thompson explained.
“At the end of this fight, I visualize my hand being raised. Whether it's a knockout or it's a five, five minute round fight. I just let the knockout happen.”