Top UFC welterweight contender Stephen Thompson will be challenging Tyron Woodley for the title. Here are his five keys to victory.
On Saturday night, the biggest event in UFC history is officially happening. It’s been a long time coming, but with MMA finally legalized in New York, UFC 205 is making history.
UFC 205 consists of many incredibles fights, such as Conor McGregor vs. Eddie Alvarez in the main event of the evening. This is only one of the three title fights happening on the card. In the co-main event, Stephen Thompson will fight UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley for the title.
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Thompson has truly made waves in the welterweight division. He holds very impressive victories over Johny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald. He’ll look to add Woodley’s name to his win column, along with the UFC’s welterweight belt.
Woodley is no pushover, though. In order for Thompson to win, he’ll have to do certain things in the fight.
5. Stop the takedown
With Woodley being such a decorated wrestler, there’s no doubt that he’ll be looking to take Thompson down. Thompson will have to keep this fight on the feet to have the biggest advantage.
It’s no surprise, but Thompson is a devastating striker; that’s how he wins most of his fights. But, his grappling has drastically improved and it’s evident in his most recent matchups.
Hendricks is a great wrestler and he was able to stop every takedown attempt to keep the fight on the feet. Eventually, he stopped him with strikes in the first round. MacDonald is a well-rounded grappler and has showcased his grappling skills throughout his career. Thompson neutralized his game as well.
If history repeats itself, Thompson should be able to do the same against Woodley. But, Woodley brings one thing to the table: explosiveness. He’s a very explosive fighter and he’ll look to use that to land those takedowns. Thompson needs to be ready for it.
LAS VEGAS, NV – SEPTEMBER 27: (Top) Josh Thompson punches Patrick Cote in their welterweight fight during the UFC 178 event inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena on September 27, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
4. Go for takedowns
This may not be the first strategy Thompson will resort to, but it may definitely work. Being that Thompson is primarily a striker, Woodley probably isn’t training much takedown defense. Based on this, Thompson can capitalize on that.
In his career, Thompson has come a long way with his grappling. Since going to train with Chris Weidman, who’s a high-level wrestler, we’ve seen those improvements in his fights.
In his bout with Jake Ellenberger, he was able to take him down, which showed everyone that he’s not just a striker. He’s constantly looking to round out his game and become more well-rounded.
In his most recent fight against MacDonald, he was able to secure some top positions as well. When MacDonald went for a takedown, Thompson was able to stuff it, but he also reversed the position and ended up on top. This is a technique he can utilize.
Going straight at Woodley and trying to get a takedown may not work but using Woodley’s aggressiveness to his advantage is a recipe for success. Setting up those takedowns with his striking is also a great strategy to secure the takedown.
As stated before, Woodley isn’t expecting any takedowns from Thompson. So, when Thompson actually goes for one, it may surprise him.
Jun 18, 2016; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Stephen Thompson (blue gloves) fights Rory MacDonald (red gloves) in the fourth round of a welterweight bout during UFC Fight Night at TD Place Arena. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
3. Maintain distance
Most of Thompson’s success has come from maintaining his distance. He’s a tall, lanky fighter, and in this fight, he’ll have the height and reach advantage. This is also something he’s a master at.
In every fight, we see Thompson keeping his opponents at bay. With this strategy, he’s able to land his punches and kicks without getting punished for it. Whenever he does try to close the distance to land shots, he jumps right back into the range he wants to be.
We’ve seen this time and time again throughout his MMA career and he’s not going to change anytime soon. With someone like Woodley, who excels with pressuring fighters and landing huge bombs, it’s essential that Thompson keeps him away.
Not only does Woodley land bombs by closing the distance, but it also gives him the opportunity to go for the takedown. With keeping his distance, Thompson will be killing two birds with one stone. He’ll avoid the power strikes from Woodley, and he’ll avoid being taken down.
Most importantly, he needs to be on the offensive with keeping his range. He shouldn’t simply use this distance for defensive purposes. He needs to land strikes and land them often to find the most success. Of course, he’s very good at this, so it should be no problem.
Jun 18, 2016; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada;(EDITORS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT) Stephen Thompson (blue gloves) fights Rory MacDonald (red gloves) in the fifth round of a welterweight bout during UFC Fight Night at TD Place Arena. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports
2. Keep him guessing with versatile striking
Primarily a kicker, we saw Thompson’s vicious kicking prowess from the moment he made his UFC debut. Facing Daniel Stittgen, he landed a vicious head kick which put him to sleep.
He has stopped many of his other opponents with his kicking game. For example, in his fight against Ellenberger, he landed not one, but two spinning heel kicks. The second one put him away for good.
Finally, in his fight against Hendricks, before stopping him with a flurry of punches, he landed a nice spinning back kick which start it all off. Needless to say, his kicking game is second to none.
But, other than his kicks, he has many striking tools in his arsenal and he’ll need to use them. Just using kicks against someone like Woodley could be dangerous. Woodley is very fast and is great at closing the distance. He could very well catch Thompson if he counters that kick with one of those blitzing right hands.
Woodley can also catch the kick and get the takedown, which is also something Thompson needs to be careful with. Thompson will need to mix up his whole striking game and keep Woodley guessing. Being the rangier fighter, Thompson can land some of those straight punches he loves and still be out of danger.
He needs to throw from all angles in this fight. He can set up his kicks with his punches and vice versa. From short range, he can utilize knees and elbows to hurt Woodley. It’s safe to say that he’ll have a huge advantage on the feet. He just needs to make sure he uses all of his weapons.
OTTAWA, ON – JUNE 18: (L-R) Stephen Thompson of the United States punches Rory MacDonald of Canada in their welterweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside the TD Place Arena on June 18, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
1. Go for it
The most important key to victory for Thompson is simply going for it. Being a five-round championship fight, it’s a long 25 minutes inside of the cage and he needs to capitalize on every opportunity presented.
If he’s finding success with his striking, he needs to stick to that to get the finish. For example, if he hurts Woodley, he can’t hesitate. Someone like Woodley, who has vicious knockout power, needs to be put away. Thompson can’t give him any room or give him a chance to get his game going.
If the grappling seems to be working for him, then he should stick to that as well. Being that Woodley is the superior grappler here, this scenario is unlikely. But, this is MMA. Anything can happen. If he sees the takedown and thinks he can get it, then he needs to secure it.
All in all, Thompson needs to seize the moment, as this is the biggest fight of his career. With the skills he has, even if he does lose, he’ll be back in title contention in no time. But, he has all the tools to dethrone Woodley and become the new welterweight champion.
From striking, to his ever-improving grappling, he needs to be willing to engage in every aspect of the game. If he does this, he’ll find success.