Josh Thomson is back.
Long before Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) found its spot in mainstream culture, thanks to the explosion of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) reality show back in 2005, mixed martial arts (MMA) practitioners were quietly logging frequent fighter miles on pay-per-view (PPV).
These are the old dogs.
But contrary to popular belief, they can still learn new tricks. When Thomson made his Octagon debut at UFC 44, guys like Tim Sylvia and Randy Couture were sporting division gold. Also breaking his UFC cherry at "Undisputed" was a square-jawed heart attack named Gerald Strebendt.
Known as "The Finishing Machine" from his apparent disdain for the judges' scorecards.
Thomson was not impressed, knocking out his fellow Californian at the midway point of the opening frame on the same card that featured the UFC debut of Nick Diaz, a talented young grappler who would come to be known as a member of Cesar Gracie's Stockton "Skrap Pack."
Over time, Thomson would come to know them well.
"The Punk" followed up his Strebendt win with a unanimous decision nod over Hermes Franca, but would soon find himself back on the regional circuit with a crushing loss to lightweight journeyman Yves Edwards. From there, he discovered a place to call home with Scott Coker and Co. under the Strikeforce banner in 2006.
Two years later, he would become their lightweight champion.
That involved a protracted feud with Skrap Pack pugilist Gilbert Melendez, who managed to claim a 2-1 lead in their 155-pound championship trilogy, despite a hotly-contested split decision in their 2012 rubber match. Nevertheless, Thomson was forced to concede defeat and wait for his phone to ring after UFC shut down the Strikeforce operation less than two years after purchasing it.
He didn't wait long.
UFC was compiling a fight card for its FOX 7 card on April 20, 2013 in San Jose, Calif., a place Strikeforce had called home for the duration of its six-year existence and the backyard of Thomson's training camp, American Kickboxing Academy (AKA).
Challenging him was Nate Diaz, younger brother of Nick and team mate to Melendez.
Despite his age and experience, "The Punk" opened as a +120 underdog. Probably because Thomson hadn't seen the inside of the Octagon in nearly nine years, and no one was quite sure what to expect. But the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt was ready to give the new generation of fans the same first-impression that he left with the old ones.
Diaz lasted just three minutes and 44 seconds before going down on strikes.
The win was good enough to give Thomson a crack at the division crown; however, reigning lightweight titleholder Anthony Pettis blew out his knee and was forced to go under the knife, sending "The Punk" into a five-round headliner opposite ex-lightweight kingpin Ben Henderson (more on that here).
They'll do the deed this Saturday night (Jan. 25, 2014) at UFC on FOX 10 in Chicago, Illinois.
Whether or not Thomson can rough up "Smooth" and move on to what would undoubtedly be another shot against "Showtime" remains to be seen, but based on what he's done across the better part of his career, it's hard not to like his chances.
Just ask the Skrap Pack.