‘Wonderboy’ Thompson now a legit UFC title threat

Former UFC welterweight Johny Hendricks takes a shot to the chin from Stephen Thompson. (L.E. Baskow/Las Vegas Sun via AP)

Three minutes and 31 seconds. That’s how long it took Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson to put former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks away last Saturday night. The fifth-degree Kempo Karate black belt put the entire MMA world on notice that he wasn’t just a title contender but potentially the next champion.

Wonderboy broke Hendricks down in ways no other fighter has ever done. We’re talking about the man who, despite losing a split decision, put a beating on the legendary Georges St-Pierre. The man who both champion Robbie Lawler and contender Carlos Condit couldn’t put away in 13 total rounds and a man who had never been finished or really even looked vulnerable throughout his seven-year UFC career. It didn’t even take a full round for Thompson to starch him.

Coming into the fight, Thompson was a 2-to-1 underdog and was facing a steep step-up in competition. While many recognized a path for him to win, very few foresaw him beating Hendricks the way he did. In fact, it marked the fastest win of his MMA career.

Thompson remarked how he would like a title shot next and it’s hard to deny him one after that performance. At worst, he’ll need one more impressive victory and he could potentially be fighting for the belt before the end of the calendar year. If he does get a shot, there’s a very a good chance he captures UFC gold. At this point, few fighters can match the striking prowess of the Simpsonville, S.C., native.

Lawler is coming off a razor-thin decision win over Condit and whether or not they have an immediate rematch is still unclear. The current champ is known for his aggressive boxing and grittiness. He enjoys marching his opponents down and can absorb a great deal of damage without getting finished. He managed to back the always-aggressive Condit down, however this strategy wouldn’t be a good idea against Thompson.

The karateka is big and long for his division and controls distance well. He is light on his feet and quick to evade attacks and rarely gets tagged despite keeping his hands low. Many point out to how elusive former light-heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida was with his karate style and Thompson is like him in the way he’s able to move out of danger before his opponent can reach him.

Thompson throws combos fluidly and has an arsenal of kicks he throws from several odd angles in successive fashion. He knocked out Dan Stittgen in his UFC debut with a head kick thrown seamlessly before he even fully completed his right cross.

But perhaps his ace up his sleeve is having Chris Weidman as a training partner to work on his weakness: his wrestling. His only loss in MMA was to fellow welterweight contender Matt Brown who used wrestling to neutralize Thompson. When the striking dynamo isn’t on his feet he is pretty much a sitting duck in a division filled with elite grapplers and wrestlers.

Fortunately for Thompson, Lawler is unlikely to shoot on him and trying outgun Wonderboy is a task and a half. As durable as Lawler is, he has absorbed a great deal of damage over the course of many championship fights and has been rocked repeatedly. Rory MacDonald almost finished him several times in their UFC 194 classic. As great as a striker Macdonald is, Thompson is better.

If Lawler approaches Thompson much like how Hendricks and others have, by stalking him and failing to cut off the cage, he’ll be picked apart and possibly even finished. The biggest threat to Thompson are fighters like MacDonald, Tyron Woodley and the returning Hector Lombard who can mix their striking with takedowns and if they can pull off what Brown did they'd have a great chance to end Wonderboy’s winning streak.

As it stands right now, Thompson is looking like the best pure striker in the UFC with 57 wins as a kickboxer and his only MMA loss coming via wrestling. With Weidman and GSP's trainer Firas Zahabi mentoring him, plus the fact he's relatively young in terms of MMA fight age, Thompson is primed to be the next big thing in the division and capturing the UFC title whether it be from Lawler, Condit or someone else is not only plausible but likely.

Watch out for the Wonderboy.