Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight knockout artists Johny Hendricks and Stephen Thompson will clash TONIGHT (Feb. 6, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 82 inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Because of some issues with his weight cut, Hendricks hasn't fought in nearly one year. With this bout, Hendricks has an opportunity to return to the spotlight ... and he needs to make the most of it.
Meanwhile, "Wonderboy" has been consistently improving, creating some seriously stunning finishes in the last couple years. Still, this is a major step up in competition for Thompson, and the result will have a serious impact on where he goes from here.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Robbie Lawler (UFC 171), Carlos Condit (UFC 158), Matt Brown (UFC 185)
Key Losses: Robbie Lawler (UFC 181), George St. Pierre (UFC 167), Rick Story (TUF 12 Finale)
Keys to Victory: Hendricks is one of the most physical fighters in UFC. He's got dynamite in his left hand and tends to simply overpower his opponents in grappling exchanges, making him a difficult fighter to resist.
On the whole, Hendricks fights far, far better when he's the one pressuring. Against an opponent attempting to keep distance, Hendricks can lunge in with his massive overhand and easily set up his takedowns.
Luckily for him, Thompson is very much a kickboxer who prefers to work from the outside. While Hendricks may need to be a bit more wary of counter punches on the way in, that definitely suits his style.
Really, once Hendricks closes the distance, he should be in his wheelhouse. Thompson has improved his grappling defense greatly, but it's hard to catch up to a two-time Division 1 National Champion wrestler. Furthermore, Thompson has proven to be far more hittable in clinch exchanges, and Hendricks does keep his power while striking from close range.
That could be a deadly combination for "Wonderboy."
Key Wins: Jake Ellenberger (TUF 21 Finale), Patrick Cote (UFC 178), Robert Whittaker (UFC 178)
Key Losses: Matt Brown (UFC 145)
Keys to Victory: A fantastic karateka and kickboxer, Thompson really has come a long way with his defensive grappling. Along with his conditioning, that will be extremely important if "Wonderboy" is going to have a real chance at knocking Hendricks out.
Most expect Thompson to attempt to keep his range, look for long kicks and attempt to counter Hendricks on the way in. That's not a bad gameplan by any means, but personally, I don't see it going very well. Hendricks is simply very dangerous with his lunging punches and is deceptively good at closing the distance.
Simply put, it's not a strategy that's really been successful against Hendricks. Now, Thompson has a different skill set than anyone Hendricks has fought, so maybe it could work for him wonderfully, but I see Hendricks finding too much success setting up his shots for Thompson to really get comfortable and find his range.
Alternatively, Thompson could switch things around and take the fight to Hendricks. He'd still have to keep his foe on the end of his strikes, but aggression would likely surprise Hendricks. More than that, Hendricks simply doesn't fight all that well from his back foot, so it Thompson may actually have an easier time defending his opponent's takedown attempts.
Furthermore, this fight was changed to five rounds at the last minute. Forcing Hendricks to react to him -- even if it means losing some early rounds due to top control -- will cause his opponent to slow down. If "Wonderboy" can stay relatively fresh, a tired Hendricks would be a golden opportunity for him.
Bottom Line: This is an important bout for the Welterweight division, as there's no clear contender next in line for Robbie Lawler.
While this may not be a title eliminator bout for Hendricks, it's nonetheless a very important bout for him. Each of his recent losses have been to the highest level of competition, and he arguably won both fights. With a win, he's right back in the mix to challenge for the title again soon.
However, a loss would be a major setback. "Wonderboy" may be seriously talented, but he's done nothing to prove himself as the same caliber of either aforementioned champion. Coming off a layoff like this, defeat is absolutely the last thing Hendricks needs right now.
Without a doubt, this is the biggest opportunity of Thompson's career. He's such a fun striker that there's no question UFC would love to have him in a title fight, and who could say he's undeserving with a victory over the former champion?
On the other hand, a loss would cost Thompson much of the momentum he's built up. Furthermore, while there may not be a clear immediate contender, there are a fair few fighters on the cusp of earning a title shot. If Thompson comes up short, he's behind all of them once more.
At UFC Fight Night 82, Johny Hendricks and Stephen Thompson will scrap in the main event. Which fighter will have his hand raised?