Former UFC Welterweight champion Johny Hendricks now has 25 minutes to fend off upstart contender Stephen Thompson in the UFC Fight Night 82 main event tonight (Sat., Feb. 6, 2016) inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Originally set for a co-main event spot on the now-defunct UFC 196 pay-per-view (PPV), injuries to both Heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum and former titleholder Cain Velasquez caused UFC brass to eliminate their tilt and rename the event entirely.
"Bigg Rigg" hasn't fought since UFC 185 nearly one year ago, where he soundly defeated the always entertaining Matt Brown. However, another poor weight cut cost him a chance to shut down his old collegiate wrestling buddy Tyron Woodley in Oct. 2015.
"Wonderboy," on the other hand, is coming off of an electrifying knockout win over power-punching wrestler Jake Ellenberger back in July and has won five in-a-row overall.
The winner of this high stakes main event could find themselves in a 170-pound title affair in the not too distant future. What does each talented combatant need to do to ensure themselves a "W?"
Read on to find out:
1. Break out the kicks early ...
There's a reason Thompson's striking is so highly regarded, with his main staple being his kicks. The undefeated kickboxer boasts six career knockouts to his credit, with two coming via his legs. Thompson is at his best when he's bouncing and weaving, while switching back and forth between stances. When he's lost and he's only been ousted once, it's been because of him staying too flat-footed.
For the most part, Hendricks has fought mostly standard boxers, or seemingly less mobile strikers. Where he's ran into trouble is when pitted against a fighter who utilizes a lot of movement. Former interim Welterweight champion Carlos Condit gave him fits with his diverse stand-up technique. The combinations of "Natural Born Killer" made it much more difficult for Hendricks to advance and land takedowns, though he did concede quite a few.
Condit also took up kickboxing early in his combat sports career and is one of the more unpredictable strikers in the 170-pound division. Thompson's skill-set is similar, but his ability to throw shots effectively from both stances is his trademark.
Starting off the contest with several kicks to the body and head will go a long way towards keeping Hendricks honest, but he will need to be careful as to when he throws them because it will leave him potentially off balance.
2. Target the left side ...
Hendricks' biggest weapon is his left hand as it's helped him achieve eight career knockouts.
But, if Thompson is looking to counter -- and he should -- it would be best to go left. Kicks to the both the head and lead leg will work.
When looking at some of his past outings, Hendricks ate a slew of shots to the body, specifically during his title loss to current 170-pound king Robbie Lawler at UFC 181 back in Dec. 2014. In fact, "Ruthless" connected 45 times. And while that's not necessarily Thompson's strong suit, it would help wear down Hendricks over the course of their headliner.
Thompson doesn't throw a whole lot of punches, so I could see him attempting some front or body kicks to cause damage.
3. Do not overcommit ...
This key is pretty self explanatory. Hendricks changes levels on a dime, sometimes with or without setting it up with a combination.
With that being said, Thompson's composure will play a crucial role in the outcome of this fight. Yes, he's shown the ability to fight off of his back, but does he want to be there? The answer is no.
The South Carolina native has rarely made a mistake during his four-year tenure with UFC. Thompson does an excellent job of pouncing when he smells blood in the water, but he usually picks apart opponents on the outside until then. If for whatever reason he's not having success landing, he can't just lunge into striking range with an ill-advised punch or spinning attack, otherwise Hendricks will definitely make him pay.
It's not as if he hasn't been in a few barnburners with several of the division's elite before.
1. Think TAKEDOWN ...
It's not flashy and he doesn't care. The man has to earn his paycheck by any means necessary.
The four-time All-American from Oklahoma State University desperately needs this win to erase the entire UFC 192 debacle from the memories of everyone. Hendricks should look for the takedown early and test Thompson's mettle.
The 32-year-old has landed a takedown in all but four of his 15 Octagon tilts. Thompson's lone blemish on his resume is a loss to "The Immortal," who Hendricks ravaged in his last win. What Brown was able to do is take Thompson out of his comfort zone and back him up. He was then taken down, bullied and elbowed.
It's not uncharacteristic of many rangy fighters to dislike being put in reverse. Thompson was bullied and bloodied once before, why not try and see if you can't do it again?
How he does that is a different story.
2. Double and triple up on the jab ...
The jab. It's one of the most underrated aspects of striking in MMA, which kind of reminds me of the mid-range jump shot in the NBA.
It's thought to be the lowest percentage shot you can take, but for a player, adding it to your arsenal can be highly valuable in a case in which the paint is clogged.
When it comes to MMA, a jab is valuable in a sense that it disrupts timing, helps set up combinations, and it can get you close enough so that you can clinch your opponent. That's what Hendricks wants to do without having to take much in the way of damage.
Seeing as how Hendricks heads into this pivotal meeting short on reach by six inches, it's going to make it harder for him to land shots and implement his wrestling game. His jab is already solid and although it may not connect partly because Thompson fights tall -- he's 6'0" -- it will surely aid him in securing the clinch.
Doubling, even tripling, up on the jab will also mask the huge left hand he possesses. Do it, Hendricks.
3. Chop down the lead leg ...
This preview would be a failure if I failed to mention the fact that both men are southpaws. It's potentially a hazard for both men as Hendricks derives his wicked power, as well as his world-class shot, from his lead leg.
As for Thompson, you can cut out all that agility in a snap with a few hard kicks to the leg. An underrated part of Hendricks' offense are his leg kicks.
Hendricks landed a combined 70 kicks to the leg of Lawler in their two title fights back in 2014.
Thompson has yet to face someone with the leg-kicking ability Hendricks has. It's a great way to finish a combination, or just simply throw it to counter an incoming punch.
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