After two straight defeats, Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson recognizes that he requires a victory in his ensuing battle with Kevin Holland, but none of that implies he's throwing himself in danger.
Although he had been a mainstay in the welterweight standings for most of the previous ten years, the now-39-year-old veteran abruptly began to hear advice that he should think about retiring after his most recent defeat to Belal Muhammad.
“I can’t believe people are saying that I’m old and I should retire,” Thompson said on his YouTube channel just days after his loss. “I feel better than I was five years ago. I just don’t get it.”
Thompson hasn't evolved at all in the past 11 months, despite having struggled with a collarbone injury that restricted him from playing beforehand. After losing two contests with the welterweight title on the line, Thompson says that he's still aiming for the chance to become a UFC champion.
“If I’m fighting, I’m looking for the title,” Thompson said on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “I’m still going for the title. I’m not giving up on it. I feel good. I’m 39, I’ll be 40 in February, and I feel like I’ve still got more in me.”
Thompson is aware of the "inmate" mindset common in mixed martial arts, where competitors are often judged only on their most recent performance.
With that metric, he has certainly been up against it lately, especially considering that his most recent two rivals used a grappling-heavy tactic to virtually nullify his showcase striking. Thompson understands that Muhammad and Gilbert Burns took advantage of a strategy that has long been viewed as a vulnerability, but that won't persuade him to give up fighting.
If anything, Thompson claims that failing in that fashion simply gave him more motivation to try again.
“Coming in fairly later in the game and mostly doing striking and playing catch up with my wrestling and jiu-jitsu, it’s kind of like my No. 1 priority, especially after losing to those two guys by wrestling. Not just guys holding me there but guys win that way. I’ve got to be able to nullify those guys and to be able to not let that happen.”
Although wrestling and grappling have been a major part of Thompson's concentration over the previous year, he might not be required to put much of what he's mastered when he faces a renowned striker in Holland in his upcoming bout.
Holland, a former middleweight who switched to welterweight, has been an entertaining introduction to the 170-pound class. He was on an excellent roll until he decided to accept a catchweight bout with Khamzat Chimaev on a tight deadline, which ultimately resulted in a first-round submission loss.
However, that failure didn't seem to hurt Holland's attractiveness all that much because the UFC asked him to headline the upcoming card on December 3 versus Wonderboy only a few weeks later. Despite wanting to show that his wrestling has progressed, Thompson is thrilled to face a challenger who would almost certainly try to stand and exchange with him.