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Michael Chandler's UFC 274 KO Stirs Up Flashbacks for Stephen Thompson

'Wonderboy' sees the similarities between his fight against Anthony Pettis in 2019 and Tony Ferguson's brutal defeat last Saturday.

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

Michael Chandler’s delivered one of the greatest knockouts of all-time against Tony Ferguson at UFC 274, landing a front face kick that was an equally intoxicating blend of brutality and excitement.

The loss was especially humbling for Ferguson, an icon of the sport who entered the bout stuck in a three-fight losing streak. His spirits were momentarily uplifted after a competitive first round, one where he clipped Chandler in the right eye that, Chandler later admitted, affected his vision. The bruise around his eye was beginning to swell when Chandler ended the fight 17 seconds into the second round with that career-defining kick to Ferguson’s face, a moment that completely removed any and all of Ferguson’s brief momentum.

Among those watching was Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. For the storied 10-year UFC veteran, the moment brought flashbacks to his KO loss from three years ago against Anthony Pettis.

“I’ve literally been in Tony Ferguson’s situation,” Thompson said. “I’ve been there, and I feel for Tony.”

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson.

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson.

Thompson began his mixed martial arts career in impressive fashion, winning all but one of his first 14 fights. That put him in position to fight for the welterweight title, which he did against reigning champ Tyron Woodley at Madison Square Garden in November of 2016 at UFC 205. That bout ended in a draw, and Woodley then won the rematch at UFC 209 the following March. Thompson split his next two fights, then entered the cage against Pettis in pursuit of reattaining his championship goals.

Following a strong opening round, Thompson and Pettis went back-and-forth in the second. Just before that round came to a close, Pettis landed a ferocious right-handed Superman punch, knocking out Thompson with only five seconds remaining.

“I genuinely believe I was beating Pettis in the first round, just like Tony Ferguson was working against Chandler,” Thompson said. “He did damage on Chandler in that first round, and it was the same with me. I was ready to go back out there for the second round and put it on him. And then came the knockout. In this sport, that happens.

“But Tony hasn’t pouted. He reacted to it as a true martial artist. All you can do is grow from those kind of losses and become better.”

Anthony Pettis defeated Stephen Thompson during UFC Fight Night in March of 2019..

Anthony Pettis defeated Stephen Thompson during UFC Fight Night in March of 2019..

Thompson (16-6-1) still has a lot left to offer in the cage, but he is also one of the sport’s most insightful minds. That passion will be on display when he steps into a sensei/analyst role on the newest season of Karate Combat, which premieres this Saturday.

“This is a chance for people to see me out of the cage,” Thompson said. “Martial arts, it isn’t a job for me–it’s a lifestyle. We run a school out here in Simpsonville, South Carolina and we’ve got close to 830 students. Karate is my life, and it’s so cool to see it become a full-contact sport.

“And I love breaking down fights and breaking down the competitors, letting people know what’s going on inside the fight. I love this sport so much. Competing in front of the fans and putting it all on the line, it’s an incredible feeling. It’s you vs. your opponent, I love seeing that–and that’s what is captured on Karate Combat.”

Thompson will partner with the great Georges St-Pierre in the sensei role for Karate Combat, an incredibly innovative professional fight league that displays groundbreaking production technology and showcases karate fights in CGI environments. The newest season consists of four events, culminating in a live broadcast from Orlando, Fla. on June 25 that will consist of two world title fights.

“People want to see the beauty of the sport and they want to see knockouts, and that’s what you’re going to see on Karate Combat,” Thompson said. “This is something that I would have done had it been around before the UFC. It’s really special. Takedowns are allowed, you get 45 seconds of ground-and-pound, and then you’re back up on their feet. And the production is insane. It’s a virtual arena and it looks so amazing that it’s going to make you question if it’s even real.”

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Thompson will be seated ringside beside St-Pierre for the Karate Combat finale in June. Their connection and mutual respect dates back over a decade ago when Thompson was competing in a kickboxing tournament in Montreal, Canada.

“My opponent that night had GSP in his corner,” Thompson said. “Can you imagine that? I ended up knocking out the guy in the fifth round, and GSP came over and asked me to part of his training camp. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Of course.’ He became my inspiration to switch from karate and kickboxing to MMA. He was even in my corner for my first UFC fight in 2012.”

Stephen Thompson will partner with Georges St-Pierre in the sensei role for Karate Combat.

Stephen Thompson will partner with Georges St-Pierre in the sensei role for Karate Combat.

Now 39, Thompson–who will be known as “Wonderboy” even when he is a senior citizen–is coming off back-to-back losses to Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad. Currently ranked seventh in the division, his next fight will be an important step in re-establishing himself as one of the top welterweights in the UFC.

“After my last fight, I had a collarbone issue, ended up tearing the cartilage in my collarbone down close to the sternum, and I had a hard time healing up,” Thompson said. “The older you get, the longer it gets to heal, but I’m feeling good and I’m ready to step back out there.

“For my next opponent, I don’t care who the UFC gives me. I’m prepared for whatever. The last two fights didn’t go the way I wanted them to go. I think people are looking at those fights as the blueprint to beat me, but I’ve been working on my wrestling and my jiu-jitsu. My weight class is stacked with wrestlers, so I’m working on it every day.”

Thompson’s success has been defined by his relentless training regimen. He feels confident entering his next fight, and he is eager to prove he remains a top contender.

“Let people doubt me,” Thompson said. “I’m getting better. My last two fights, I didn’t take any punishment. I just got held down. With my style, I don’t take a ton of punishment, so I have a lot left in me. The challenge for me is to adapt with the new guys coming up. But I hope they doubt me. That would be their downfall.”


Kayla Harrison has unimpressive PFL showing

If Kayla Harrison is fighting to be the best in the world, last Friday wasn’t a great building block in pursuit of that goal.

Harrison (13-0) defeated Marina Mokhnatkina in her PFL season opener on Friday. Mokhnatkina is hardly a household name, nor is she considered one of the sport’s elite–yet she went the distance with Harrison in their three-round lightweight fight. It was a poor showing from Harrison, which she immediately admitted in her post-fight interview.

This isn’t to imply Harrison isn’t great. But until she fights some top-ranked opponents, there will always be legitimate questions surrounding her success. There isn’t a 155-pound division for the women in the UFC, so she would be fighting at 145. Would Harrison even crack the top five of UFC’s women’s pound-for-pound rankings? What about Mokhnatkina? Would she even be a top-15 ranked fighter in the UFC? If Harrison ever goes to the UFC, it’s no guarantee she takes anyone in the top-five.

Harrison desperately needs a fight against Cris Cyborg. That would be a great chance to prove herself against an elite opponent. That bout wouldn’t be a certainty for Harrison, who looked slow against Mokhnatkina. Even though Cyborg is no longer in her prime, she remains an elite fighter. That is a fight Harrison desperately needs in order to take another step toward the long climb to becoming the best in the world.


The Pick ‘Em Section:

UFC Fight Night light heavyweight main event: Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksandar Rakić

Pick: Jan Blachowicz

UFC Fight Night light heavyweight bout: Ryan Spann vs. Ion Cuțelaba

Pick: Ryan Spann

UFC women’s flyweight bout: Katlyn Chookagian vs. Amanda Ribas

Pick: Katlyn Chookagian

Bellator 281 interim welterweight title bout: Michael Page vs. Logan Storley

Pick: Logan Storley

Bellator 281 light heavyweight bout: Luke Trainer vs. Simon Biyong

Pick: Luke Trainer

Last week: 4-1

2022 record: 58-26

More MMA Coverage:

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.