The bad blood between UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson began boiling moments after “The Chosen One” took the belt from champion Robbie Lawler.
Thompson, riding a six-fight win streak and fresh off a dominant win against Rory MacDonald, called for his title shot from the FS1 analyst chair during Woodley’s UFC 201 championship interview.
The new champ didn’t seem too enthusiastic about the idea.
“I think you said you wanted to fight Robbie Lawler, and you’ll get an opportunity to fight Robbie Lawler. Because who I want to fight now is – I think Nick Diaz comes off suspension in two days and he’s a money fight,” Woodley said.
Woodley was referring to comments Thompson made about his fight with Lawler. Wonderboy picked “Ruthless” to win and even said he’d prefer to fight Lawler for the title. Since then Woodley and Thompson have exchanged jabs through the media.
Woodley referred to Thompson as “Wonderwoman”; Thompson said Woodley’s Nick Diaz and Georges St-Pierre call outs were excuses not to fight him. All the while, UFC President Dana White put rest to the money fight hype and said Woodley vs. No. 2-ranked Thompson was the matchup.
After almost two months of speculation, Woodley vs. Thompson is the fight for the welterweight title and it’s going down on the biggest stage in UFC history: New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
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Woodley’s knockout against Robbie Lawler was one of those “holy sh*t” moments that come along every so often in the UFC. Lawler was on a five-fight winning streak that included two title defenses against MacDonald in the 2015 Fight of the Year and an early 2016 war with Carlos Condit.
Lawler was arguably the toughest champion in the sport. And just like that, with one punch, Woodley knocked him off his thrown in just over two minutes with a titanic overhand right.
That right hand may be the most dangerous single weapon in the welterweight division. Even Thompson admits it’s something he’ll have to watch out for.
“He keeps his left side forward and obviously loves to throw the big right hand,” Thompson said while on guest fighter duty in Vancouver in August. “He’s a very explosive fighter (but) doesn’t fight very well backing up. He starts to slow down after the first round because he’s an explosive guy. He’s not afraid to stand there and bang it out, but that’s also a plus for me.”
Thompson holds the longest active UFC win streak in the welterweight division with seven straight victories. Four of those wins came by knockout and his last two wins – a first-round TKO against Johny Hendricks and a chess match decision win vs. MacDonald – have demonstrated the scary evolution of this former five-time kickboxing world champion.
For many years, media professionals have prognosticated that the future of MMA meant prospects who trained all disciplines from their youth in the sport. Over time, it’s been fighters such as Ronda Rousey (judo), Daniel Cormier (wrestling) and Demian Maia (jiu-jitsu) -- well-rounded fighters who progressed from their area of expertise to overall MMA supremacy -- who tend to rise to the top of the game.
When it comes to that expertise, there may be no greater master of his domain than Thompson when it comes to the striking aspect of MMA.
Wonderboy posted a perfect 20-0 record as a professional kickboxer before turning his attention to MMA, where he’s gone 14-1 with seven knockouts.
After just six years in the sport Wonderboy is now just one win away from capturing one of the most prized titles in the UFC: a belt held by the likes of Georges St-Pierre, Matt Hughes and Lawler.
His style should present challenges for Woodley. MacDonald specifically prepared for the awkward striking of Wonderboy by bringing in kickboxing legend Raymond Daniels, but it was a futile exercise.
Woodley plans on solving the Wonderboy puzzle on the biggest night in company history.
“I think his fighting style has been frustrating for a lot of guys and not being able to identify his fighting style and have people that are actually in that fighter realm, the karate sport, the kickboxing and the tae kwon do, and can mimic that style. The frustration has been to not be patient and just come in,” Woodley said.
“I don’t think I’m going to be the underdog when I walk into the Octagon. Odds change. When they see my focus and what I’m bringing to the table – I think the odds will change.”
Tickets go on sale for UFC 205 in New York City from the famed Madison Square Garden on Sept. 30. Go to www.ufc.com/new-york for more details.
Matt Parrino is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MattParrinoUFC