When Kamaru Usman knocked out Jorge Masvidal at UFC 261, fans began speculating who would be next for the welterweight champion. Usman has defeated every contender inside the top five, with the notable exception of Stephen Thompson.
The former title challenger has been quietly creeping back toward a third title shot after earning consecutive victories over Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal. Thompson is scheduled to square off against another former title challenger in Gilbert Burns at UFC 264. A win over the Brazilian will likely throw ‘Wonderboy’ into the title picture once again, where he would likely be the front runner for a title shot.
When asked about the matchup with Burns, Thompson expressed his excitement with the matchmakers choice of opponent.
“I’m glad the UFC is giving me someone ranked higher than me,” Thompson told Cageside Press recently. “The last several fights have been guys ranked significantly behind me. They are putting me in the right direction [with this fight] and that is towards the title.”
Perennial contender Thompson currently sits at #4 in the welterweight division, and with a win could leapfrog Burns, who is ranked at #2. As an undefeated kickboxer whose talents carried over with him to the cage, many feel Burns will likely attempt to grapple Thompson.
In order to prepare for the grappling of the 2nd degree jiu-jitsu blackbelt, Thompson has been emphasizing wrestling drills. In fact, Ryan Hall has been training at Upstate Karate alongside Thompson as well.
“I know at some point in time he is going to want to get it to the ground. I am constantly working on my wrestling defense and getting back to my feet,” said Thompson. “I have been training with [Ryan Hall] for many many years now and he has helped me tremendously.”
Stephen Thompson will be entering the UFC octagon for the 17th time come fight night. At 38 years old, this could be his last run at the 170lb title.
UFC 264 will be taking place on July 10 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. A lightweight bout between Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier will serve as the event headliner. Our full interview with “Wonderboy” is available above!