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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 82's Stephen 'Wonderboy' Thompson resident fighter analyst -- and aspiring professional fighter -- Andrew Richardson breaks down the mixed martial arts (MMA) game of UFC Fight Night 82 headliner Stephen Thompson, who looks to knock out another opponent this Saturday (Feb. 6, 2016) inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Veteran kickboxer and knockout artist, Stephen Thompson, is set to battle former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight champion, Johny Hendricks, this Saturday (Feb. 6, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 82 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Thompson debuted in stunning fashion, earning him a great deal of hype straight out of the Octagon gate. That momentum was quickly disrupted by then-underrated scrapper Matt Brown, who went to war with the Karateka for three straight rounds to win a unanimous decision.

While many prospects -- especially those already nearly 30 years old like Thompson -- fade away after a tough loss like that, "Wonderboy" made me a fan with his dedication to improving the holes in his game. Since that loss, Thompson has won five straight fights and earn himself a high-profile match up here.

Let's take a closer look at his skill set:


With a fifth-degree black belt in Kempo Karate, a black belt in American Kickboxing and 20 professional kickboxing victories to his name, it's clear why Thompson is such a devastating striker inside the Octagon. Furthermore, he's one of the more unique kickboxers in the sport and has already pulled off some crazy knockouts.

The first thing to note about Thompson's striking style is his stance. While he primarily works from Southpaw, Thompson will occasionally move into Orthodox. Either way, Thompson keeps his stance very wide and stands nearly sideways, meaning that his foot is not pointing toward his opponent.

There are pros and cons to both aspects of this stance. With that wide stance, Thompson can move quickly and shift his weight back and forth easily, which helps him circle away and counter punch. However, it can leave him open to low kicks, as his weight is rarely correct to check the strike. Similarly, Thompson's lead leg pointing in exposes the back of his leg and allows it to be kicked out of position.

However, Thompson's distance control has largely kept him safe from that strike so far.

Regardless, that stance -- as well as excellent dexterity -- opens up many of Thompson's kicks, lead leg or otherwise. From the outside, Thompson does an excellent job of spearing his opponent with side kicks, hooks kicks, and other kicks stemming from his lead leg. He'll also throw more standard round kicks with solid power.

For example, Thompson made great use of his long kicks from range opposite Jake Ellenberger. Seeing as Ellenberger has no real distance attack, Thompson was free to open up with long distance strikes early. At first, he scored with a hard hook kick. Later in the bout, as Ellenberger was more hesitant to stand within Thompson's kicking range, Thompson used a step and a spin to close that increased distance and land a pair of hook kicks to knock his opponent out (GIF).

On a similar note, Thompson loves to attack with the lead leg question mark, which seems like a low or body kick before flicking up and over the shoulder at the last possible moment. Unlike some of the other aforementioned kicks, this requires some setup. Usually, Thompson will punctuate a punching combination with this kick, often after getting his opponents' hands out of position with a cross (GIF).

While Thompson will go on the offensive with punches, those moments are few and far between. Most of the time, Thompson will either look to catch his opponent off-guard with a quick flurry of straight shots or simply be trying to line up a kick.

However, Thompson is a stellar counter puncher who makes great use of lateral movement and pivots. Thompson is one of the few fighters who truly excels at getting a strong angle on his opponents, forcing them to turn into him and eat punches.

One of Thompson's favorite attacks of that style -- which can be used as his opponent comes forward or as a lead -- is the darting cross or drive by, a common tactic of men like Eddie Alvarez and Dominick Cruz. Basically, as Thompson steps into the cross, he allows the motion of the punch to carry him past his opponent into safety. If he chooses, he can plant his feet once more in the opposite stance after landing the dart and strike from an advantageous angle.

The difference between Thompson's use of the punch and most other fighters' is significant. Rather than look to merely touch his opponent and then follow up or slide away, Thompson springs into the punch with power. Thompson has a pair of knockout victories stemming from punches inside the Octagon, and both came from this set up (GIF). Additionally, Thompson mostly attacks with this strike from the Orthodox stance, which also helps catch his foe off-guard

What's more, Thompson makes use of his excellent distance control and movement to frustrate opponents and force them to reach for him. Once that happens, Thompson will look to sting his opponent with lead hooks or suddenly halt his movement with a hard plant cross (GIF).


Thompson got into MMA late in life and after an already taxing combat sports career, so the chances that he'll ever morph into an elite wrestler are slim. That said, Thompson really has done an admirable job improving on this aspect of his game, and it has paid off.

When looking for his own takedown, Thompson relies on strong, MMA-style running double legs that have become common for lanky strikers. He shoots for them as reactive takedowns, setting them up as though he were looking to counter punch, but instead changing levels and driving his opponent off their feet.

Additionally, Thompson has showed a bit more to his wrestling game. He's looked for the single leg takedown a few times with mixed results and has even scored with a knee pick. On the whole, his fluidity in grappling exchanges is far superior now when compared to his loss to Brown.

Defensively, Thompson is far improved as well. He wasn't tested too heavily until his most recent bout with Ellenberger, in which Thompson defended a few decent shots. In particular, he showed strong hips by reversing a fairly deep inside trip from the wrestler, landing in top position and hammering away at "The Juggernaut" with heavy punches.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Though he's purple belt, Thompson has yet to display much jiu-jitsu. He hasn't attempted a single submission inside the Octagon, nor has he really spent much time advancing position on the mat.

Defensively, the only fight that Thompson's grappling ability can be judged was his loss to Brown. While his guard was passed frequently, Thompson did defend several submissions, including a calf slicer. Since it's been nearly four years since that bout, it should assumed that Thompson's submission grappling has improved alongside his wrestling, though it's impossible to say for sure.


Thompson's loss to Brown -- who turned out to be a Top 10-caliber contender, after all -- turned out to be the best thing for him. He's improvements have been clear, and they may not have happened without that motivator. Rather than waste time, something the 32 year old "Wonderboy" can ill afford to do, he's instead been developing into a contender. That loss, the following growth and his win streak have lead him to this moment, as Thompson has a real chance to score a title shot with a victory here.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an undefeated amateur fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.

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